Student Sample and Data Collection Methods

This report is based on information gathered from public middle and high school students across the United States via two methods: focus groups (which included the administration of questionnaires to focus group participants) and the solicitation of online student-written stories.

Focus Group Sample and Methods

We conducted a total of 14 focus groups of students drawn from 36 different schools: 12 focus groups of heavy-Internet using students and 2 of low- or non-Internet using students.  A total of 136 public middle and high school students—11 to 19 year olds—participated in focus groups run between the months of November 2001 and February 2002.  The focus groups were held in the greater metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., Detroit, Michigan, and San Diego, California.  The sample of students was balanced by gender and school-level.  Self-reports of students’ race/ethnicity indicated that the overall student sample was 55% White, 26% Black or African-American, 13% Asian, and 6% Hispanic or Latino.

Students were intentionally selected into focus groups based on their self-reported use of the Internet.  “Heavy Internet-using students” who made up the participants in 12 of our 14 focus groups were defined as students who used the Internet at school, spent at least five hours per week online, and who believed they used the Internet a lot.  “Low-” or non-Internet using students who made up the participants in our other 2 groups did not meet one or more of these criteria.

Each group was moderated by the study co-authors in tandem, with assistance from a third researcher who operated a video camera, tape recorder, took notes, and otherwise helped manage the logistics and flow of the group.  Focus groups lasted approximately two hours in duration and began with students completing a brief questionnaire.  When possible, groups were also briefly divided by gender to probe gender-specific issues.

Solicitation of Online Student-Written Stories

During the months of February and March 2002, we held an online contest at that asked students in middle and high school to submit a story of at least 250 words in length detailing the many ways they or their friends use the Internet for school.  Students were also asked to provide innovative ideas about how to use the Internet for school in the future.  The Web site was advertised via organizations and individual email networks with great reach in education communities.  We received nearly 200 online narrative submissions and over 50,000 hits to our Web site.   

While not all storytellers disclosed personal information to allow us to characterize them, many did.  Of those who did, it was not surprising to learn that they were not as diverse a group of students as our focus group participants.  While our online storytellers were balanced by gender, the vast majority reported themselves as being White (85 percent) and in middle school (70 percent).  Our online storytellers also reported being from 13 different states across the country, with the majority being from Midwestern or Southern states.

About the Authors

Douglas Levin

Mr. Levin is a Senior Research Analyst specializing in national and international educational technology and e-learning policy issues for the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C.  He played a key role in the development of the nation’s first educational technology plan in 1996 and more recently led the development of the revision to that plan, e-Learning: Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children.  He is the author, editor, and reviewer of numerous national and international studies and reports of distance education, teacher use of technology, and the availability and use of computers and the Internet in schools and classrooms.  His work has been cited by the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, Forbes, Education Week, and other national publications and media.  An alumnus of the Institute for Educational Leadership Policy Fellowship Program, Mr. Levin holds an A.B. in English from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. in Quantitative Sociology from the George Washington University. 

Sousan Arafeh

Dr. Arafeh is also a Senior Research Analyst at the American Institutes for Research and is interested, among other things, in how education and telecommunications/ technology policies impact people “on the ground.”  She has worked in the fields of education, communications, and organizational equity and development as a classroom teacher and researcher for over 15 years.  Her areas of expertise include education technology policy, telecommunications policy and media analysis, video and new media production and analysis, and facilitation of diverse groups and organizations.  Dr. Arafeh has authored articles and papers on the cultural and policy impact of technology on educational and research institutions, and has testified to the Congressional Web-based Education Commission.  Currently, she is exploring image-based methods of data collection and analysis and how these can inform both policy and legislative decision-making and organizational activities.  Dr. Arafeh received her B.A. from Hampshire College in Classics, her M.A. from the University of British Columbia in the Sociology of Education, and holds two Ph.D.s from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in Education Policy and Communications and Cultural Studies.

About the Pew Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Internet & American Life Project creates and funds original, academic-quality research that explores the impact of the Internet on children, families, communities, the workplace, schools, health care, and civic and political life. The project is an independent, nonpartisan organization fully funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

End Notes

  1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2000a).  Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2000, NCES 2001-071, by Anne Cattagni and Elizabeth Farris.  Project Officer: Bernie Greene. Washington, DC.  Available at:
  2. Unpublished Pew Internet Project survey of 2,501 Americans conducted between June 26 and July 26, 2002. The sample includes 1,527 Internet users. The margin of error for the entire sample is plus or minus two percentage points. For the Internet sample, the margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
  3. Pew Internet Project data from June 26-July 26 survey. Also, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (February 2002).  A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet.  Washington, DC.  Available at:
  4. U.S. Department of Commerce (February 2002), Ibid.
  5. The Pew Internet & American Life Project (September 2001).  The Internet & Education: Findings of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, by Amanda Lenhart, Maya Simon, and Mike Graziano.  Washington, DC.
  6. The Pew Internet & American Life Project (June 2001).  Teenage Life Online: The Rise of the Instant-Message Generation and the Internet’s Impact on Friendships and Family Relationships, by Amanda Lenhart, Lee Rainie, and Oliver Lewis.  Washington, DC.; U.S. Department of Commerce (February 2002), Ibid.
  7. Tapscott, D. (1998).  Growing Up Digital:  The Rise of the Net Generation.  New York: McGraw-Hill.
  8. See, for example, reports of the Teaching, Learning, and Computing Study: 1998.  Available at:; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2000a), Ibid.; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2000b).  Teacher’s Tools for the 21st Century: A Report of Teachers’ Use of Technology, NCES 2000-102, by Becky Smerdon, Stephanie Cronen, Lawrence Lanahan, Jennifer Anderson, Nicholas Iannotti, and January Angeles.  Project Officer: Bernie Greene.  Washington, DC.  Available at:; Rockman ET AL and Grunwald Associates (2002).  Are We There Yet?  Research and Guidelines on Schools’ Use of the Internet.  Alexandria, VA: National School Boards Foundation.  Available at:
  9. See, for example:  Grunwald Associates (2001).  Children, Families, and the Internet: 2000.  Burlingame, CA: Author.; Just Kids, Inc. (2002).  An Environmental Scan of Children’s Interactive Media from 2000 to 2002.  New York: Markle Foundation; Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research (2002).  How Children Use Media Technology.  Westfield, NJ: Author.; Roban, W., Groppe, L., and Schilt, K. (2002).  The Net Effect: Girls and New Media.  New York: Girl Scout Research Institute.
  10. The Pew Internet & American Life Project (June 2001).  Teenage Life Online; op. cit.
  11. The Pew Internet & American Life report (May 2002). Use of the Internet at Major Life Moments.