Users' perception of internet characteristics in the academic environment

Authors


Abstract

This paper examines the characteristics of internet that affect its adoption by faculty members of Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University (IMSU) in Saudi Arabia. The framework of the study was the attributes of innovations offered by Rogers. The result revealed that the majority of IMSU faulty members used the Internet for research and academic activities twice a month or less, indicating a low Internet adoption rate. Multiple regression analysis showed that all attributes of innovation individually predicted Internet adoption. The combination of all attributes indicated the model could predict Internet adoption among faculty.

Introduction

Adopting new innovations is one of the major areas in information technology that has been researched extensively in order to determine the primary factors influencing people to accept technologies and implement them in their activities. Among different types of technology, the Internet as a research tool has remained the most valuable source of information. In academic environment practically, researchers from different disciplines have become aware of the potential benefits of the Internet not only as a research tool but also as a communication medium. Multiple communication applications provided by the Internet inspire scholars and professionals to keep in contact with each other regularly and exchange information in a short period of time. To conduct their research studies, scholars and university faculty members have access to a wide variety of services, including information sources, electronic mail, file transfer, interest group membership, interactive collaboration, and multimedia displays (Cohen, n.d.) Moreover, Web 2.0 applications have added new ways for faculty members to obtain and organize information. These applications include but are not limited to blogs, wikis, Webcasts, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networks, tags, and AJAX. Hence, the diffusion of Internet adoption can be considered as the most important event of the late 20th century (Vadillo, Bárcena, & Matute, 2006).

In spite of the increasing contents of scientific information published on the Internet, Saudi Arabia as a developing country was late in connecting the Internet to the public compared to other countries. As a result, IMSU was provided with Internet services at a later period, and the faculty, until a short time ago, was unable to access the Internet through the university. Therefore, it is important to study the effect of this delay in adopting the Internet for academic and research purposes and to understand Internet characteristic encouraging or preventing faculty members from the adoption.

Butler and Sellbom (2002) state many factors and predictors affect users' decisions and the rate of adoption, including an innovation's characteristics and economic, sociological, organizational, and psychological variables. The current study focuses on innovation attributes as they appear in diffusion of innovation theory created by Rogers to determine Internet characteristics impacting IMSU faculty members' decision to adopt or reject the Internet in their research activities.

Two core research questions can be formulated to explore the situation concerning this issue including:

  • 1.To what extent do faculty members at IMSU adopt the Internet for academic purposes?
  • 2.Do the attributes of innovations: relative advantage, compatibility, results demonstrability, ease of use, image, visibility, voluntariness, trialability, as perceived by faculty members predict their Internet adoption?

Previous work

The region or the country where people reside plays a major role in accepting new innovations. For example, a comparative study of home computer adoption in the United States, Sweden, and India showed that Indian households are still behind those of the United States and Sweden (Shih & Venkatesh, 2003). The reason for the difference in use might be attributed to the various infrastructural and cultural factors in countries' communities. Cultural differences around the world result in both divergent attitudes toward technology and culturally distinctive ways of implementing and utilizing technologies (Tully, 1998).

Among other institutions, universities sector particularly between countries differs in the abilities and support regarding technology tools provided to their faculty members. Research revels that the type of support to faculty members has a big influence on their attitude toward accepting the technology. In the United States, Dewald and Silvius (2005) surveyed business faculty members to assess their satisfaction with Web information compared with subscription database usage. The survey measured five factors of user satisfaction: content, accuracy, format, ease of use, and timeline. The study reported significantly higher levels of Web usage than subscription databases usage; however, faculty members were not satisfied with free Web information sources for their own professional research. In another study, Al-Asmari (2005) investigated the use of the Internet by teachers in Saudi Arabian. The result confirmed the existence of a positive correlation between teachers' level of use of the Internet and independent variables including computer and Internet expertise, place of accessing the Internet, perception of the advantages of the Internet, and computer and Internet experience. Nasir Uddin (2003) measured the level of Internet usage for information and communication needs by faculty members of the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh, related to five categories of Internet activities: e-mailing, browsing, downloading, using newsgroups, and recreation. The major finding of the study revealed that the Internet is not popular among faculty members mainly because of the high cost of communication systems in the country. Results also showed that academic rank was a significant predictor to identify the level of Internet use and the priority of information needs.

Methodology

This exploratory study surveyed full-time faculty members of IMSU in Riyadh to examine their Internet adoption for academic and research purposes. The population included all faculty members who had PhD degrees. Lecturers with master's degrees, teaching assistants, teachers with bachelor's degrees, and staff were excluded. Also, faculty members who had administrative responsibilities without teaching or giving lectures were not incorporated in the study.

The instrument used was adopted from a general purpose scale created by Moore and Benbasat (1991) who aimed to measures individual's perceptions regarding the use of a technological innovation. The framework of their instrument was based on Rogers (2003) five attributes of an innovation: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, observability, and trialability. Based on reviewing related literature, Moore and Benbasat modified the attributes and developed a scale to measure the following eight attributes:

  • 1.Relative advantage defined as the degree to which an innovation is considered a better than an alternative innovation. The greater the degree an individual perceives the advantages of an innovation to be, the more rapid the innovation's rate of adoption will be (Rogers, 2003).
  • 2.Compatibility which is the degree of the consistency of the innovation with the existing values, past experience, and needs for potential adopters. If an idea is inconsistent with the values of a society, it will not be adopted in the same rapidity as if it is compatible (Rogers, 2003).
  • 3.Ease of use which is defined as the degree to which an individual believes that using a particular system will be free of physical and mental effort (Davis, 1989).
  • 4.Result demonstrability is the tangibility of the results of using the innovation, including their Observability and Communicability (Moore & Benbasat, 1991, p.203).
  • 5.Visibility is the degree to which others can see that an innovation is being used (Benham & Raymond, 1996).
  • 6.Trialability is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis. The trial provides individuals with less uncertainly and gives them the opportunity to learn and practice by doing (Rogers, 2003).
  • 7.Image is “the degree to which use of an innovation is perceived to enhance one's image or status in one's social system.” (Moore & Benbasat, 1991, p.195).
  • 8.Voluntariness is “the degree to which use of innovation is perceived as being voluntary or of free will” (Moore & Benbasat, 1991, p.195).

Data analysis

Distribution of the Rate of Adoption

The rate of adoption was determined by providing faculty members with five options to report their frequency of Internet use for academic and research purposes: I do not use it, rarely (once a month), sometimes (twice a month), often (once a week), and constantly (once or more a day). Among all participants, the highest number (30%) reported that they used the Internet twice a month, 29.1% of faculty members used it once a week, 16.3% used it once or more a day, 14% used it once a month, and 9.9% did not use the Internet at all (see Figure 1). Although a small number of participants did not use the Internet, the results indicated a low Internet adoption rate among users.

Table 1. Distribution of the rate of Internet adoption
RateFrequencyPercentCumulative percent
None349.99.9
Rarely481423.8
Sometimes10630.854.7
Often10029.183.7
Constantly5616.3100

Faculty Members' Perception of Internet Attributes

A multiple regression analysis was conducted to determine the relationship between Internet adoption and each one of the following attribute: voluntariness, relative advantage, compatibility, images, ease of use, result demonstrability, visibility, and trialability. The multiple regression model used each attribute as an independent variable and Internet adoption as the dependent variable. This technique provided comprehension of the most influential predictors of the decision to adopt the Internet as perceived by faculty members.

Before analyzing each predictor variable individually, a multiple regression analysis was applied to the entire model of innovation attributes to account for the variance in the dependent variable, Internet adoption. As shown in Figure 2, the analysis of the combined variables indicated that the entire model was statistically significant in predicting Internet adoption at the level of .05. The R square value for the model was .332, which means that 33.2% of the variance in Internet adoption by faculty members was explained by the eight predictors together.

Table 2. Regression Analysis of the Eight Attributes Perceived by Faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFPR2
Regression94.597293.2624.791< .001.332
Residual190.642280.681   
Total285.239309    

Affect of voluntariness attribute:

The results of multiple regression analysis indicated a significant statistical relationship between Internet adoption and the independent variable of voluntariness. As Figure 3 shows, voluntariness explains 3% of variance in predicting the adoption of Internet by faculty members. The p value = .009 < .05, meaning that the voluntariness is a statistically significant predictor of the dependent variable adoption.

Table 3. Voluntariness attribute perceived by faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression8.53524.2684.735.009.030
Residual276.704307.901   
Total285.239309    

Affect of relative advantage attribute:

Multiple regression analysis using relative advantage variable as the predictor was also conducted. The analysis indicated that relative advantage is a statistically significant predictor for the Internet adoption at the .05 level (see Figure 4). The R square value in this model was .126, meaning that 12.6% of the variance in predicting Internet adoption is explained by relative advantage. Therefore, faculty members who perceived the Internet as more advantageous were more likely to adopt it in their academic activities.

Table 4. Relative Advantage Attribute Perceived by Faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression36.06675.1526.245< .001.126
Residual249.172302.825   
Total285.239309    

Affect of compatibility attribute:

Multiple regression analysis showed that the independent variable of compatibility has a statistically significant relationship with the dependent variable at the .05 level as shown in Figure 5. The R square value in the model was .135. This indicates that the compatibility variable explained only 13.5% of the variance in Internet adoption.

Table 5. Compatibility Attribute Perceived by Faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression38.50149.62511.898< .001.135
Residual246.738305.809   
Total285.239309    

Affect of image attribute:

Multiple regression analysis of composite scores of image showed this variable as a significant statistical predictor for Internet adoption at the .05 level. The R square value for image was .089, which means that 8.9% of the variance in predicting Internet adoption is explained by the image variable (see Figure 6). Consequently, faculty members who perceived the Internet as a factor to enhance their status in the university were more likely to adopt the Internet.

Table 6. Image attribute perceived by faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression25.41746.3547.459< .001.089
Residual259.822305.852   
Total285.239309    

Affect of ease of use attribute:

The analysis of composite scores in this model indicated that ease of use is a significant statistical predictor of Internet adoption among faculty members at the .05 level. The R square value was .084, as shown in Figure 7. This shows that ease of use explained only

8.4% of the variance in Internet adoption, which can be an indicator that faculty members who believed that using the Internet is free of difficulty are more likely to adopt it.

Table 7. Ease of Use Attribute Perceived by Faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression23.85454.7715.549< .001.084
Residual261.384304.860   
Total285.239309    

Affect of results demonstrability attribute:

Multiple regression analysis revealed a significant correlation between result demonstrability and faculty members' Internet adoption at the .05 level. As shown in Figure 8, the R square value for this variable was .073, meaning that 7.3% of the variance in Internet adoption is explained by this variable.

Table 8. Result Demonstrability Perceived by Faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression20.888210.4447.459< .001.073
Residual264.351307.861   
Total285.239309    

Affect of visibility attribute:

Figure 9 indicates that visibility is also a statistically significant predictor for faculty members' Internet adoption (p = .006 < .05). Also statistically significant, the R square value suggests that only 4% of variance in predicting Internet adoption is explained by this factor. The frequency to which faculty members saw the Internet as accessible inside or outside the university influenced their Internet adoption can be inferred from this result.

Table 9. Visibility perceived by faculty
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regression11.48033.8277.459.006.040
Residual273.759306.895   
Total285.239309    

Affect of trialability attribute:

Similar to other variables in the model, Figure 10 shows trialability is a statistically significant predictor of Internet adoption (p = .006 < .05). The R square value was equal to that of visibility (R2 = .040). This means that the trialability variable explains 4% of variance of predicting Internet adoption.

Table 10. Trialability Perceived by Faculty Members
 Sum of SquaresdfMean SquareFpR2
Regressio11.29625.6486.330.002.040
Residual273.942307.892   
Total285.239309    

Other impacts on Internet adoption

One open-ended question was included in the questionnaire to identify the most common barriers preventing faculty members from using the Internet for research and academic activities. While some responses confirmed some of the obstacles found in previous studies, other responses pointed out new obstacles. Out of all faculty members included in this study, 60 (17%) members answered the open-ended question.

Quality of Internet connection

The low quality of Internet connection was reported as the most common barrier by 49 faculty members. This included slow speed and frequent disconnection during browsing. One respondent stated that “the recurrent disconnection makes me discourage my students to use the Internet for course assignments.” Another respondent complained that “the Internet is supposed to reduce the time spent to find information, yet with continuous interruption, I sometimes find it easier to use the library to meet my information needs.”

English proficiency

Faculty members who reported the English language as a major barrier to using the Internet confirmed the results found in similar studies (Al-Salih, 2004; Al-Salem, 2005). The demographic analysis shows that 70% of the participants were at or below the average level in English proficiency. This common barrier might be due to the rareness of academic and scholarly Arabic Web sites. Two faculty members stated they had problems with a lack of adequate Arabic search engines to locate needed information, especially classified and specialized resources. Some popular search engines, such as Google, provide Arabic translation for retrieved Web sites, which might solve part of this problem. However, one respondent said, “The need of translation software built cooperatively with Arabic specialists in each discipline arises today, especially with the inaccuracy of the translation of foreign search engines.”

Filtering system

All incoming Web traffic to Saudi Arabia passes through a proxy system to filter forbidden Internet contents. Blocked Web sites include those that contain content in violation of Islamic tradition and national regulations as well as pornographic sites. Faculty members complained that inaccuracy of a filtering system resulted in overblocking of unrelated contents. In fact, one faculty member asserted, “Even some academic and research sites are blocked…. I do not request to unblock those sites because it wastes my time to do so.”

Internet access points

The availability of Internet access throughout the university was addressed as another common barrier to the diffusion of the Internet. Forty-five faculty members reported a lack of enough access points in the university. Surprisingly, the result indicated that the female campus was not connected to the Internet. One female faculty member said, “The Internet is not provided for our campus even in faculty offices.” Another female faculty member commented, “By not connecting our campus to the Internet, the university seems to not encourage faculty use of the Internet.”

Although Internet access in the male campus was much better, some responses indicated that not each faculty member had access to the Internet. “I am not provided with Internet access

in my office, so I have to go to the library sometimes to browse the Internet,” one faculty member stated.

The lack of Internet in the classrooms was also mentioned as a barrier to adopting the Internet for instructional and research purposes for both faculty members and students. As one faculty member complained, “Students need to be taken to the computer lab if the instructor wants to show them Web sites related to their assignment.”

Cost of the Internet

The cost of Internet access has been an issue since the service was implemented in Saudi Arabia. Some faculty members reported the cost as one of the barriers to Internet diffusion among faculty members. One faculty member said “I decided to switch to DSL connection because of the bad connection of dial-up, but I found it unaffordable to pay for DSL.”

The expensive cost of the Internet is not only a barrier because of the connection expenses, but also because of funds needed to purchase resources available through the Internet. One said, “Most academic databases in my field are not free on the Internet, and the library does not subscribe to them.” This result is in accordance with other studies that considered cost as a barrier to adopting the Internet in Saudi Arabia. (Al-Fulih, 2002; Al-Kahbra, 2003).

Resistance of technology

One of the listed issues against diffusion of the Internet was the university administration's awareness of the importance of the Internet in teaching and learning. “The university is still unaware of the valuable information on the Internet, which resulted in not providing the classrooms with computers and Internet,” one faculty member said. The lack of knowledge about the valuable resources on the Internet also includes some faculty members who still have negative views toward electronic resources. As one faculty member said, “Some professors ask students to obtain information from books, not from the Internet or even other electronic resources.”

Conclusion

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are presented for enhancing IMSU of faculty members' adoption of the Internet:

  • 1.All attributes of innovations examined in this study were found to be statistically significant predictors of Internet adoption, so it is recommended the IMSU administration concentrate on the factors that enhance aspects of each one of the attributes to allow all faculty members to utilize Internet resources in their research and teaching activities. The strategy should be planned based on the needs and skills of faculty members through conducting relevant research for this purpose.
  • 2.IMSU administration needs to develop a new strategy plan to integrate Internet applications into the academic environment. This might include providing each faculty member with a computer and Internet access in his or her office. The findings disclosed that female faculty members are not provided with Internet connection. Thus, their campus needs more attention to give equal service for both genders.
  • 3.Many of faculty members did not receive adequate technology training opportunities. To overcome this barrier, training programs should be held on a regular basis to instruct faculty members on the use of different Internet applications and services. The library may take the responsibility for arranging such activities and provides locations for training. Individual training upon request by faculty members is another way to diffuse Internet adoption. Individual training is critical to address individual faculty members' unique needs. During training, increasing the trialability should be taken into consideration. The perceived attribute of trialability was not statistically significant predictor of Internet adoption. Therefore, faculty members should be given the opportunity to try out different Internet applications, especially applications that support research and teaching activities.
  • 4.Faulty members' English proficiency needs to improve since the majority of Internet content is written in English. The findings of this study revealed that the English level of most faculty members is average or below. This skill can be improved by encouraging faculty members to enroll in English courses. Additionally, IMSU could offer faculty members scholarships to English speaking countries, especially for faculty members who received their degrees from Saudi Arabian or Arabic universities.
  • 5.Increasing the awareness of the importance of the Internet in teaching and research is recommended. Many methods are available to spread awareness among faculty members. One method is to demonstrate successful experiments and projects implemented in similar environments, particularly in developed countries. Another method is to provide more computer labs through IMSU and to connect classrooms with the Internet.
  • 6.Faculty members should be supported and encouraged to employ Web-based instruction in class activities and assignments. This can be accomplished by creating an interactive Web site for classes where students can access class assignments, supplemental information related to study topic, and communicate with each other through discussion forums. Entire courses can also be taught using appropriate software such as WenCT.

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