WASHINGTON – High school senior Amanda Campbell says the Internet makes getting started on her school assignments easier, but she still values the time she spends with books in the library.
"The Internet makes it too easy sometimes," said Campbell, a 17-year-old from New London, Pa. "I still think you should go to the library.
She says her teachers require her to have three book sources and one Internet source for school research projects, a mix of research sources similar to those often required by teachers.
A majority of teens say they can find on the Internet very nearly all of what they need for school projects. American adults, however, have a mixed view of the importance of Internet skills for children to do schoolwork, an Associated Press poll found.
About half in the poll said the ability to use the Internet is very important, and the other half said it is somewhat important or not important at all, according to the poll conducted for the AP by ICR of Media, Pa.
Some educators, like Vermont principal Elizabeth LeRoy, wonder with Amanda Campbell whether the Internet makes things too easy.
"My concern about using the Internet is that students might take an article directly off the Internet rather than reading it and summarizing it," said LeRoy, principal of the Craftsbury School, a K-12 school in rural Vermont. "Usually, teachers require something besides a Web reference, like an encyclopedia. The students can't just use the Web."
Other educators are less hesitant about the Internet.
Bruce Whitehead, principal at Hellgate Elementary in Missoula, Mont., pushes pupils to develop Internet skills quickly at his school, which emphasizes technology. The school gets computers into the homes of students through tax write-off and donation programs.
"Some teachers use it extensively," Whitehead said. "Parents can log in and go right to their child's folder, find out what their assignments are."
The percentage of adults in the poll who felt Internet skills were very important for students dropped steadily the older the respondent. The poll of 1,006 adults was taken July 27-31 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Residents of metropolitan areas were far more likely than those in rural areas to say Internet skills were very important for children in school. Older respondents were less enthusiastic than young adults.
"I think it's all right to a certain extent," said Lawanda Jackson, a 60-year-old grandmother from Middlesboro, Ky. "But ... they used to need their brains a little bit more."
While adults wrestle with their attitudes about the Internet, young people appear to be plunging forward.
More than two-thirds of teens said in a survey last December that they use the Internet as their major resource when doing a big project for school, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Trends in public opinion have shown increasing enthusiasm for Internet use as access has grown, said Larry Cuban, author of "Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom." His research has found that word processing and Internet searches were the two most frequent computer activities for students.
"Most students depend on the Internet to get their stuff," said 16-year-old Jeff Sands of Horsham, Pa. "You can most find anything by going onto Yahoo," an Internet search engine.
The use of the Internet for schoolwork has renewed questions about the authenticity of information and the temptation to plagiarize, educators say. While neither issue is new to education, the convenience of the Internet has renewed worries about both.
For Kelly Wehrle, a 46-year-old father of three from Madison, Neb., it's very important for his children to have Internet skills to do their work. "There's so much information they can use for schoolwork; it's easier to look up stuff," Wehrle said.
Kalieta Grant, a 28-year-old mother of two from Friendly, W.Va., has a far more cautious outlook for her younger children. "The computer is a great thing, having access to everything," she said. "But I don't think a child should rely on a computer for answers."
The unbridled enthusiasm for computers and the Internet in education has been tempered in recent years, some researchers say.
"People are realizing the limits of technology for education," said University of Buffalo education professor Hank Bromley. "The technology becomes an end in itself."