Internet use among university students in
Kenya: a case study of the University of
Mercy Waithaka, Omwoyo Bosire Onyancha
and Patrick Ngulube
University of Nairobi
Omwoyo Bosire Onyancha
Department of Information Science
University of South Africa
Department of Interdisciplinary Research
University of South Africa
This study investigated Internet usage among students at the University of
Nairobi using a quantitative case study design. A questionnaire-based survey
was done among 381 students while face-to-face interviews were conducted
with the university’s library staff. The research findings indicate that the
students' level of awareness of the Internet services offered at the university was
high. The students had good basic computer and Internet skills; however, they
lacked more advanced skills and this negatively affected their use of Internet
resources. The students used the Internet for various purposes, including to
study, teach and do research; to communicate; and for social interaction. The
major recommendations of the study include providing formal Internet training
and adequate facilities; implementing a better, inclusive policy on Internet use;
and better co-ordinated university efforts. Free Internet access should be made
available to all members of the university community.
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 46
Keywords: Internet use, information needs, online databases, e-journals, social
networking sites, computer-mediated communication, user studies, University
Introduction and background to the study
The Internet is arguably one of the most significant technological developments
of the late 20th century. It is a tool for information dissemination and a medium
for collaborative interaction among individuals and between individuals and
their computers without regard to the geographical limitations associated with
space (Leiner et al 2000). The Internet has transformed all facets of human life
since it became globally accessible to the public in the 1990s. Luambano and
Nawe (2004: 16-19) confirm that the Internet has become an important
component of academic institutions as it plays a pivotal role in meeting the
information needs of these institutions. They sum up the importance and
benefits of the Internet as follows:
• It increases access to information all over the world.
• It provides scholars and academic institutions with an avenue to
disseminate information to a wider audience worldwide.
• It enables scholars and students at different locations on the globe to
exchange ideas on various fields of study.
• It has enabled the growth of distant learning, both within nations and
across international borders.
• It provides students and lecturers with a communication system that
they can use to communicate with each other irrespective of distance.
According to De Fleur and Dennis (2002: 42), academics (including scientists
and professors) use the Internet extensively and this explains why educational
institutions were early adopters of the Internet. Dawson (2005) explains that the
strengths of the Internet for academic work include currency of online
information sources, accessibility to multimedia resources, and information that
is not limited by distance or time constraints. With improved Internet
connectivity, academic institutions in developing countries are tapping into the
many opportunities offered by modern information societies (INASP 2003).
The increased use of the Internet in academic institutions worldwide means that
educational researchers recognise the significance of, and understand how and
why target groups (including the students), use it. Studies on Internet usage
among university students are desirable as students are heavy Internet users
(compared to the general population) and using the Internet is a matter of daily
routine for them (Jones and Madden 2002). In order for students to make
47 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
effective use of the Internet, students must know the services and the resources
that are available on the Internet and what they are used for. These services
include Computer Mediated Communications (CMC) which constitutes e-mail,
chat rooms, instant messaging (IM), the World Wide Web (WWW), Internet
relay chat, File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Usenet Newsgroups, Listservs and
Social Networking Sites (SNS) among others. Some of the resources that are
found on the Internet are e-journals, e-books, e-newspapers and online
Research problem and purpose of the study
Many academic institutions are rapidly adopting information and
communication technologies (ICTs), including the Internet infrastructure.
Kenyan institutions have followed suit. However, studies have shown that while
students in Kenya use the Internet extensively, it is rarely used to further their
academic or educational goals as expected in this information technology age.
For example, a study by Wambilyanga (2002:39) revealed that the youth in
Nairobi did not consider the Internet as an academic hub while Kwanya
(2005:36) found that most of the students who participated in the study did not
visit websites for academic purposes. Jones and Madden (2002:23), too,
observed that it is not surprising that university students use the Internet more as
a medium for social communication than for academic purposes. Seboru (2015)
concurs with Jones and Madden and reports that students in Kenyan universities
and particularly on the University of Nairobi’s main campus, use the Internet
Another development that has been promoted by tertiary institutions’ adoption
of ICTs is the provision of electronic resources or digital resources (e-
resources). Academic libraries, and especially university libraries, subscribe to
these e-resources as additional resources to their print-based ones. However, it
is discouraging to note that e-resources are not adequately utilised. In a study on
college students’ use of the Internet in the library, Jones and Madden (2002)
found that the students used the Internet for e-mail, IM and Web surfing. There
are several reasons why students use the Internet inadequately or ineffectively,
but the major reason is lack of skills to use Internet resources (Luambano and
According to these authors, insufficient awareness of internet resources that
could enhance learning and students’ lack of motivation were attributed to
lecturers not encouraging them (the students) to use internet resources.
Lecturers, instead, emphasised print resources and this was one of the reasons
for minimal internet usage. Mutula (2001:36) also points out that in East Africa,
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 48
users are not taught the necessary skills to use the Internet effectively. Jones and
Madden (2002:33) further observe that although academic resources are offered
online, students may not yet have been taught, or have not figured out how, to
locate these resources. It is also important to note that many people still think of
the Internet as simply a tool for e-mail communication and not for other Web-
based applications (CIDCM 1998).
It is therefore evident and disappointing to note that although there are increased
efforts by universities to provide Internet services and e-resources to students,
few students use them to further their academic goals. This has caused a lot of
concern to university administrators as well as library administrators. It also
causes concern to those who are involved in designing e-learning websites and
other internet-based resources. As Kwanya (2005: 38) acknowledges, if students
do not fully utilise the internet and e-resources that are available in the libraries,
the efforts invested in their development and provision are in vain. Simply put,
it is a waste of resources.
As a result, this study sought to examine the usage of the Internet among
university students in Kenya with special reference to the University of Nairobi
• Ascertaining the level of students’ awareness of the Internet services
offered by the UoN
• Assessing students’ skills in accessing the Internet services
• Determining the factors affecting students’ effective use of the Internet
• Examining the use of different types of Internet applications (for example
e-mail, social networking tools, the WWW and search engines)
• Establishing the kind of information students look for on the Internet
• Establishing the problems students experience in their efforts to use the
A quantitative case study design was adopted to conduct the study. A case study
is defined as a research design that provides a detailed story of the case under
investigation or study (Hancock 2002; Johnson and Christensen 2004; Key
1997; Myers 2007; Tellis 1997; Bryman 2012). The case study design was
deemed appropriate for the study as its application was meant to yield an in-
depth analysis of the case under investigation. The case of study was the UoN.
49 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
The study targeted 50 000 students and 89 professional library workers. The
students were drawn from all the six colleges (see Table 1) that constitute the
UoN. Due to the large population in each college, a stratified sampling
technique was used to select a sample from each college. The stratified
sampling technique allowed the researchers to exercise some control over the
selection of the sample – to guarantee that the crucial people were covered and
in the proportion that they existed in the wider population (Johnson and
The students were grouped into the colleges in which they were enrolled. The
university registry office was very helpful in the identification of the target
population as it provided the list of all students according to colleges.
Ultimately, a sample of 381 students (both under-graduate and post-graduate)
was selected using Krejcie and Morgan’s (1970) formula for determining a
sample size from a given population at a 95% confidence level, as advised by
Ngulube (2005:135). Ngulube (2005:135) argues that “a sampling error of 3%
and a 95% confidence level mean that we can be 95% confident that the
population resembles the sample.”
In addition, a purposive sampling technique was used to select six library
workers who were thought to be closely associated with the provision of
Internet or Internet-related services in the library. The library workers
comprised the e-resources librarian, the ICT librarian, two senior library
assistants in charge of the Internet/e-resources laboratory, the Internet
laboratory assistant, and the systems librarian. Data collection was done by
using questionnaires which were administered among the students and
conducting interviews with the six library workers. A total of 381
questionnaires were distributed to the selected students in each College of the
UoN (see Table 1).
The respondents were asked to complete the questionnaires and to return them
to the issue desk of their respective college libraries. A total of 264
questionnaires were completed and returned, thereby accounting for a 69.3%
response rate. The quantitative data was analysed and presented according to the
objectives of the study and the qualitative data obtained through the interviews
was analysed thematically according to the research objectives.
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 50
Table 1: Distribution of respondents according to Colleges of the UoN
Education and External Studies (CEES)
Humanities and Social Studies (CHSS)
Biological and Physical Sciences (CBPS)
Health Sciences (CHS)
Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences (CAVS)
Architecture and Engineering (CAE)
Results and discussion
The findings are presented and discussed in line with the research objectives
outlined above, namely:
• Level of students’ awareness of the Internet services offered by the UoN
• Students’ skills in accessing the Internet services
• Factors affecting students’ effective use of the Internet services
• Use of different types of Internet applications (for example e-mail, social
networking tools, the WWW and search engines)
• Type of information students look for on the Internet
• Challenges students face in their efforts to use the Internet services.
Respondents were asked to provide details about their college affiliation (Table
1), level of study, gender, and age bracket. Regarding the academic status and
level of study of students, 68 (26.0%) respondents were postgraduate students
while 196 (74.0%) were undergraduate students. This distribution is not unusual
as universities, world over, offer more undergraduate programmes than post-
graduate. In the postgraduate category, 11 respondents (16.2%) were pursuing
doctoral degrees, 37 (54.4%) were pursuing a master’s degree while 20 (29.6%)
were postgraduate diploma students. In the undergraduate category, 10.2% of
the students were in their first year of study, 28.6% students were in their
second year, 31.6% students were in their third year and 29.6% of the students
were in their fourth year of study. In terms of the composition of the students
according to gender, 184 (70.0%) were male, 72 (27.0%) were female and eight
(3.0%) did not specify their gender. The age group distribution of the
respondents was as follows: 16-20 (122 or 46.2%), 21-25 (78 or 29.5%), 26-30
(48 or 18.1%), 31-35 (12 or 4.5%) and 36+ (4 or 1.5%).
51 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
Level of students’ awareness of the Internet services offered by
It was found that all 264 students were aware of the Internet services offered at
the UoN. The largest number of students (105 or 39.5%) indicated that they
learned about the services through the library orientation programme and library
staff, while 55 (20.8%) and 44 (16.7%) learned of the Internet’s existence
through fellow students and notice boards, respectively. It is gratifying to note
that the library was actively engaged in creating awareness of the Internet. The
high rate of awareness of Internet services among students aligns with the
findings reported in related studies (Kaur and Verma 2008; Moghaddam and
However, similar studies reported by Hinson and Amidu (2005) and Sinha
(2008) found a low level of Internet awareness among students in Ghana and
India, respectively. Note is taken that the reported studies were conducted more
than nine years ago and therefore may not account for recent changes in Internet
access and use. The interviews conducted among the library workers revealed
that the library was well aware that students’ awareness would increase Internet
usage as observed by Asemi and Riyahiniya (2007). The library workers stated
that the library provided awareness of the Internet services through library open
days, orientation programmes, digital banners and posters.
Students’ competencies and skills in using computers and the
Table 2 indicates that most of the respondents, accounting for 72.8%,
considered themselves as having good to very good computer skills. The same
trend was reported for Internet skills, with 67.8% of the respondents saying that
they had either good or very good Internet skills. This suggests that those
students who had good computer skills also had good Internet skills.
Table 2: Students’ level of competencies/skills in using computers and the Internet (N=264)
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 52
Contrary to this study’s findings about the possession of skills on the part of
students, Makori (2013), in his study on the use of ICTs in education and
training of undergraduate students in two selected universities in Kenya, found
that the students lacked preferred ICT knowledge, competencies and skills that
are important in the modern environment. He outlined the areas in which the
students lacked knowledge, competencies, and skills and these included Web
technologies, information programming, software development, distribution
systems, virtual libraries, and digital information systems.
When asked how they acquired the skills to use computers and the Internet,
most of the students reported that they were either self-taught (112 or 42.4%) or
learned these skills from colleagues. The rest of the respondents (84 or 31.8%)
were trained in-house in courses organised by the university or by the library.
Related studies reported in Al-Ansari (2006) and Ngulube et al (2009) concur
that Internet users often learn how to use the Internet on their own. It is evident
that self-training or assistance from colleagues is the mainstay for learning how
to use the Internet whereas formal training played a minor role. It could be that
formal training programmes were not properly marketed or their scheduled
times may not have been convenient for the students. Self-taught methods have
their limitations since the students are often not exposed to various aspects of
network literacy and only learn basic skills that help them to use the Internet in
a limited manner.
Concerning the respondents’ competence in handling various tasks on the
Internet and computers, in general, most respondents had good basic computer
literacy skills and were good at downloading, saving and printing information as
reflected in Table 3. As these are tasks that do not require a lot of technical
training and can be self-taught, it could explain the reliance on the self-taught
mode of learning on how to use computers and the Internet. Library workers
who were interviewed in this study supported this observation as do related
studies (Kamonde 2003; Njiraine 2000). However, in areas such as search skills
and strategies in using information gateways, using search engines, evaluating
information and Web design, most respondents indicated that they were not
confident in using them.
53 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
Table 3: Competencies and skills in handling Internet and other computer tasks (N=264)
Basic computer skills
Using internet search engines
Using subject information gateways
Downloading and saving information
Search skills and strategies
Use of databases
When the respondents were asked whether the UoN should train students on
how to use computers and the Internet, all the respondents (students and library
workers) answered in the affirmative. The following were listed as the key areas
in which students should receive further training: information searching, using
subject information gateways, using databases, using search engines, evaluation
of information for reliability, accuracy and validity, and web design. It is worth
noting that these desired areas of training proved to be the areas in which they
lacked competence. The studies of Kamonde (2003) and Al-Ansari (2006)
agree with these findings.
Access to Internet services in the library and other sites within
The questions on access focused on the spaces as well as the technological
devices that students used to access the Internet services.
Spaces used by students to access the Internet
It was found that all the students had an “avenue” or space to access the Internet
(see Table 4). Some of them accessed the Internet from personal offices (26 or
9.8%); others from departmental offices (78 or 29.5%); 122 (46, 2%) from the
library; 258 (97.7%) from cyber cafés; eight (3%) from home and 10 (3.8%)
during laboratory workshops. The results show that almost half of the students
accessed the Internet from the library placing the library second to cyber cafés
as the most frequented place for access.
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 54
Table 4: Avenues used by students to access the Internet (N=264)
Apparently, there are students who accessed the Internet from both the library
and cyber cafés. The use of the Internet cafés may be attributed to the use of the
Internet services in the library being limited to two hours per session per
student. It is likely that after the two hours elapse, some students would go to a
cyber café where the only limitation they could face is the cost (and not time).
Another limitation as far as accessing the Internet services in the library is
concerned is limited points of access and equipment.
This latter aspect was raised by the library workers who indicated that the
library only had a limited number of networked computers that could offer
Internet services. Not only did the interviewees report a limited number of
computers but they also said that the space was too small to accommodate a
large number of students. The fact that only a few respondents accessed the
Internet from home speaks volumes about the economic status of most of them.
The respondents who had access to the Internet from their personal office were
found to be students as well as employees or workers. Similar findings were
reported in the studies conducted by Luambano and Nawe (2004), Okello-
Obura and Magara (2008) and Kamonde (2003) suggesting that not much has
changed, which is a pity.
It is likely that the pattern of Internet access and more particularly through the
Internet cafés may have changed as most people can now access the Internet
using their smart phones and tablets. Furthermore, the cost of using the Internet
through cyber cafés is exorbitant as reported by students. When asked how
much money the students spent on Internet access per month through cyber
cafés, more than 62% of the respondents said that they spent over US $5 on
Internet access per month and the rest (more than 35%) spent between 100 and
500 shillings per month. Although this cost seems to be little, it is still high for
most students who come from poor families. The researchers believe that the
cost can be alleviated if the facilities at the UoN are improved to cater for a
larger student population and this would include creating more WIFI hot spots
on campus for flexible access to the Internet
55 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
Technological devices that students use to access the
It was found that the largest number of students (106 or 40.2%) used desktop
computers and laptops to access the Internet, a situation that can be attributed to
the fact that the Internet laboratory from where the students accessed the
Internet comprised desktop computers only. The respondents who reported that
they were using laptops (83 or 31.4%) used them to access the Internet through
the few network points provided in the library and through remote access if
their laptops had been configured to the settings of the UoN proxy. The
respondents who accessed the Internet from their mobile phones totalled 65
(24.6%). This low percentage could be explained by the cost factor since the
students had to buy data bundles to access the Internet. Only 3.8% of the
respondents used iPads. Once again, this figure speaks volumes about the
economic status of most of the respondents, who could not afford such
expensive devices as iPads and other tablets.
Utilisation of the Internet
In order to assess the utilisation of the Internet by students, several questions
focusing on the following areas were posed: length of time spent on the
Internet; length of time needed to satisfactorily use the Internet; purpose of
using the Internet; frequency of Internet use; search engines most commonly
used; perceived usefulness of the Internet; and impact of Internet use on
students’ academic work.
Students’ experience in using the Internet
The study sought to determine for how long the respondents had been using the
Internet in order to determine the students’ experience in using the Internet. It
was revealed that most of the respondents (81.1%) had used the Internet for a
period of three to five years; the rest (that is 50 or 18.9%) had used the Internet
for a period of one to three years. In his study Kamonde (2003) found that most
of the respondents had used the Internet for only two years and this could be
attributed to the fact that the Internet was still a myth for many people at the
time. Attitudes towards the Internet have changed and it has become routine for
most students. The Internet is no longer a mystery as it was in the 1990s and
early 2000s. Furthermore, the emergence of smart phones and other devices has
revolutionised the use of the Internet.
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 56
Forms of Internet services most commonly used at the UoN
Table 5 presents the findings on the frequency with which students use the
Internet and its resources/applications. Email, the WWW, own library OPAC
and e-journals were the services and/or resources most used on a daily basis.
The least used services were discussion groups, online databases and
downloading software. The heavy usage of the aforementioned services and/or
resources on a daily basis may be a reflection of the type of skills and/or
competencies that students possess or the necessity of the services and/or
Although it was found that students lacked the skills to perform more complex
tasks on the Internet, it is likely that students did not consider some of the listed
services and/or resources as necessary. Previously published studies (see Adika
2003; Nasir-Uddin 2003; and Nyamboga, Ongonda and Raymond 2004) have
also noted students’ preference for emails, the WWW, and e-resources over
other services and/or resources offered through the Internet. The library workers
who were interviewed confirmed that students preferred the aforementioned
services. In fact, the library workers have concentrated their training lessons on
the students’ usage of these services and/or resources.
Table 5: Frequency with which students use the Internet tools and its resources (N=264)
214 (81. 1%)
13 (4, 9%)
12 (4, 5%)
Purposes for which students use the Internet
57 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
The study noted a high response rate from students who use the Internet for
communication purposes (134 or 50.8%), research (128; 48.5%), and teaching
(102 or 38.6%). The interviews with the library staff members reported similar
patterns. The researchers are of the opinion that students identified research,
teaching and learning as well as communication as most of their activities as
students revolve around these activities (see Kamonde 2003; Al-Ansari 2006;
and Kaur and Verma 2008).
It is, however, unclear why students picked teaching in high numbers as this
was thought to be a preserve of educators. It might be that teaching was selected
by mature students, or students studying towards qualifications in the subject
field/s of education (see Table 1). It is mandatory for students studying for
education-based qualifications, e.g. Bachelor of Education to undergo
experiential training/teaching practice or fieldwork as they carry out their
studies at the university.
Time required by students to effectively use the Internet for
As mentioned above, the library’s Internet access is limited to two hours per
session and this might have led students to heavily use Internet cafés. Further,
note is taken that searching for information on the Internet is tedious and
sometimes leads to frustration due to information overload or slow Internet
connectivity. In view of this, the study sought to find out how much Internet
access time the respondents required to adequately perform academic searches.
The results revealed that most of the respondents (i.e. 245 or 92.8%) needed at
least three hours of Internet access to do a meaningful academic search. Of
these, 113 (42.8%) indicated they needed three hours, 97 (36.7%) needed four
hours, while 35 (13.3%) indicated they needed five hours. The students’
responses show that the two hours limit offered by the library for Internet access
per session is far from enough for an academic search. Only 6.1% of the
respondents indicated that they needed two hours, while 1% indicated that one
hour was enough.
Moreover, it has been noted in previous studies (for example, Seboru 2015) that
most students (that is, 66.5%) at the University of Nairobi log onto the Internet
five times and beyond per day. Students are increasingly relying on Internet
connectivity to carry out several activities for various purposes, including
academic work, research or socialising.
Students’ use of search engines
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 58
It is now common for one to consult search engines (and more so Google) as the
first step in a search for information. It was therefore deemed necessary to find
out the frequency of search engine usage. Students were asked to state how
often they consulted a list of search engines for information on the Internet.
The frequencies with which the respondents used various search engines are
shown in Table 6. The most popular search engines were Google and Yahoo.
Burns (2007) and Hock (2007) mention several reasons for Google’s
phenomenal popularity and success. Google is the largest of all the commercial
search engines. In conjunction with this, the internal algorithm for the relevance
ranking of retrieved results is based on the popularity of previous use. The user-
friendly, uncluttered simplicity of Google's interface also contributes to its
The respondents used the other search engines much less and this may be
attributed to the popularity of Google and Yahoo. The results of this study were
not totally contrary to those of Al-Ansari's study (2006), which found that
Yahoo (which scored second in this study) was more popular than Google. The
preference of Google has also been reported by Asemi (2005) and Kaur and
Verma (2008) meaning that its popularity has not changed.
Table 6: Frequency of using search engines (N=264)
Value and impact of Internet use on students’ academic work
In order to gauge the uses and value of the Internet, the respondents were asked
to estimate the percentage of their information needs that were satisfied through
the use of the Internet as well as the impact of the Internet use on their academic
work. The findings were as follows: 18.2% of the respondents indicated that
less than 10.0% of their information needs were met through the Internet; 46.2%
indicated that 11.0% to 50% of their information needs were met through the
59 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
Internet; while 35.6% of the students indicated that over 50% of their
information needs were met through the Internet.
It is certainly encouraging to acknowledge that the Internet has become a real
alternative source of information for students’ academic work as opposed to the
reliance on class notes and textbooks. In terms of satisfaction levels, most of the
respondents (that is, 84.0%) agreed or strongly agreed that they preferred using
Internet resources over print resources. A small percentage of the respondents
(that is, 14%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. The
preference for the Internet will have far-reaching implications for the library
which is the main official Internet provider in the university and may call for
new Internet access strategies at the university.
Regarding the impact of Internet use on the students’ academic work, it was
found that the Internet had a positive impact. Out of the 264 students who
responded to this question, 209 (79.1%) indicated that using the Internet helped
them to access quality and up-to-date information, 128 (48.5%) indicated that
the Internet speeded up completing and receiving assignments, 107 (40.5%)
indicated that the Internet had improved their communication with lecturers and
184 (69.7%) indicated the Internet had helped them to share information. The
most useful aspect of the Internet seems to be in relation to the provision of up-
to-date information for students’ academic work. The findings further imply
that the Internet has increasingly become a very important component of
learning in the lives of students.
Finally, the study sought to find out how reliable the students found the
information from the Internet to be when compared to other sources. The
findings reveal that while 71.2% of the 264 students who responded to this
question reported that they found Internet resources reliable or very reliable, and
28.8% were either not sure or they found the Internet to be unreliable or very
unreliable. Reliability, in this case, was taken to mean that students could rely
upon the information retrieved from the Internet to complete their academic
assignments. As a result, the majority of students considered the Internet as a
reliable tool for their academic work. The library staff members who were
interviewed in this study concurred with students by observing that students
often retrieve information they need for their academic work, sometimes with
the assistance of the library workers.
Students’ use of social networking sites
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 60
As social networking sites (SNS) and Web 2.0 have become a common feature
on cell phones and tablets and whereas cell phones have become very common
among all categories of people, the researchers opted to separately seek the
students’ responses on various aspects regarding their usage of SNS.
Furthermore, the researchers noted that the popularity of these sites has
increased significantly (ComScore Inc 2007; Onyancha 2015) across all age
groups, including university students. It should be noted, however, that not all
social networking sites are accessed through the Internet as in some cases the
platforms are accessed through applications, but as the results would reveal,
there was a high likelihood that whenever some students visited the Internet, the
students would also visit a social networking site.
Firstly, the study sought to find out the type of social media that students have
accounts with. The findings revealed that 232 (87.9%) of the students had
Facebook accounts while 103 (39.0%) students had accounts on Twitter, 73
(27.7%) on LinkedIn, 18 (16.8%) on Flicker and 11 (4.2%) on MySpace. The
large number of students who have accounts on social networking sites was also
reported in studies conducted by Raacke and Bonds-Raacke (2008) and Salaway
and Caruso (2008). In their studies to assess the prevalence of SNS usage
among undergraduate students, the authors noted that approximately 90% of the
participants had Facebook accounts. Dodaro (2014) has observed that while
Internet penetration rate stood at 35% as at January 2014, social networking
penetration was at 26% and mobile penetration was at 93% of the 7.1 billion
people in the world. It therefore follows that majority of the people who have
accounts with social networking sites includes students. Winkel (2013), too,
observed that users “with Internet access are likely to use social media”.
When ranking the SNS in the current study, Facebook topped the list followed
by Twitter, LinkedIn, Flicker and MySpace in terms of the number of
respondents with accounts with each SNS. The results are concurrent with
world trends wherein Facebook has the largest number of followers (Winkels
2013). When asked how often they visit SNS, 148 (56.1%) of the students said
that they visited SNS four times and more daily, 81 (31.8%) visited the sites
three times daily, 22 (8.3%) visited twice daily, and about 4% of the students
visited the SNS either once daily or once a week. These findings further
reinforce the contention that whenever the students used the Internet, most of
them visited SNS, too.
Table 7: Purpose of using SNS by students (N=264)
61 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
Sending messages to friends
Creating and joining groups
Writing comments on your own profile
Searching for new friends
Writing comments on your friends’ profiles
Looking at profiles of other people
Having events/parties and inviting people
As far as the purpose for which the respondents used SNS is concerned, Table 7
above shows that the largest number (that is, 131 or 49.6%) used SNS to send
messages to friends, join groups (112 or 42.4%) and write comments on their
own profiles (108 or 40.9%). It is apparent from Table 7 that just on half of the
students used social media for communication purposes among peers and
sharing information. When asked to state if there were any other purposes for
which they use the SNS, the students did not offer any suggestions. It is
therefore assumed that the students rarely used social media for academic
purposes (for example, writing assignments, accessing and sharing course work)
unless this was part of sending messages to friends and the like.
It is also likely that the students, and more particularly the post-graduate
students, used social media for research purposes as observed by Cann (2011),
Bianchini (2012), Carpenter, Wetheridge and Tanner (2012), Onyancha (2015),
and Rogers (2015). The aforementioned authors have observed that social
media have become a major tool for researchers to conduct various activities
such as exchanging scientific knowledge, developing and maintaining
professional relationships, and communicating research findings.
With regard to the respondents’ perceptions of their use of SNS, Table 8 reveals
that more than half of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that using SNS
distracted them from their studies. In other words the time they spent on SNS
eroded their study time. However, the majority of the students did not believe
using SNS interfered with their studies, doing academic work or affect their
academic performance. The findings also indicated that most of the respondents
could control their SNS usage so that it did not interfere with their studies.
Table 8: Respondents’ perceptions of their use of SNS (N=264)
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 62
Sometimes I visit SNS when I
am in class.
My grades are suffering
because of my use of SNS.
My use of SNS distracts me
I think I am addicted to SNS.
The time I spend on SNS
means I have less study time.
I have missed class because
of being on SNS.
I am able to control my use of
SNS so that it does not
interfere with my studies.
I use SNS to communicate
with my class mates about
Factors hindering effective use of the Internet at the UoN
The findings of studies by Saeed et al (2000), Ngulube et al (2009), Talja and
Maula (2003) and Oyadonghan and Eke (2011) on Internet use among students
bear similarities with those of the current study, especially with regards to the
problems the respondents encountered when using the Internet. The problems
associated with access were the most cited by the students at the UoN. The
respondents had limited access to the Internet laboratory due to its physical
location, limited hours of operation and inadequate points of use. All these
factors on access hindered the students’ effective use of, and access to, Internet
A majority (80%) of respondents further indicated that they encountered
difficulties in finding relevant information. This could be linked to their lack of
skills in terms of search techniques and strategies, which was cited by 82% of
the respondents as a challenge in using the Internet. Information overload was
cited as a problem by 70% of the respondents. This happens when the retrieved
information is too much for the user to synthesise. Another problem the
respondents identified was slow connection, which was caused by too many
users being online at the same time. Sadly, this same problem was also
identified by Njiraine (2000), Kamonde (2003), Okello-Obura and Magara
(2008), and Luambano and Nawe (2004) in their studies on Internet usage by
students. In the current study this problem resulted from the university’s
bandwidth capacity, which was low in relation to the number of students
63 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
seeking to use the Internet at the university. Many of the respondents (that is,
74%) identified the possibility of addiction as a problem in using the Internet.
This was especially true when using some Internet applications such as Web 2.0
technologies, which include SNS like Facebook, on which students tend to
spend a lot of time.
From the interviews with the library staff, it emerged that the library also
experienced challenges in providing Internet services. These included lack of
personnel, limited funding to increase bandwidth capacity and the cost of e-
resources. While some of the challenges faced when searching for information
on the Internet have been highlighted, there are others and these include power
failures, limited search skills on the part of students, and limited knowledge of
the type of information that students requires for an academic assignment (low
information literacy levels).
Conclusions and recommendations
The study focused on the use of the Internet among university students in
Kenya, with particular reference to the UoN. It can be concluded that most of
the students who participated in the study were aware of the Internet services
offered by the UoN. A majority of the students had taught themselves to use the
Internet or learned from colleagues. Formal training did not play a big role in
developing network skills. The respondents’ skills in the use of ICT tools to
access information in a networked environment were limited. Many applications
(such as blogging, video sharing and discussion groups), which may facilitate
students’ collaborative and communicative activities, were not widely used.
The study found that Google and Yahoo were the most commonly used search
engines. University students used the Internet for various reasons including
research, academic work, communication and social interaction. Network skills
and digital information literacy have become critical skills for university
students to acquire. The skills are needed for students to be discriminative
readers and competent information evaluators and to succeed in their academic
and research activities.
Academic libraries, especially university libraries, may have to be reinvented
and redesigned to remain competitive and relevant to the next generation.
Professional librarians’ skills are likely to be stretched further as the demand for
various Internet-based services increase and become more complex. Finally, the
role of academic libraries has to change to incorporate the current generation of
users’ digital information-seeking behaviour and preference for cutting-edge
digital technologies. This has implications for library planning, training,
Waithaka, Onyancha and Ngulube: Internet use among university students … 64
promotion and services to ensure that libraries remain relevant to this generation
in their quest for information. University libraries should therefore provide high
quality services in the form of digital assistance, support and training to users of
the Internet and its applications in order to promote the effective and maximum
use of e-resources and to help students develop into lifelong learners, critical
thinkers and effective users of these resources.
It is advisable that both the library and university management consider ways of
improving internet accessibility, skills and infrastructure since these will help
students to compete in a world that is largely defined by the use of information
For the Internet to yield maximum benefits for the students at the UoN, the
following should be considered:
• Access: Access to the Internet is paramount for students’ effective use of
the Internet and related resources, and should be considered a priority at
the UoN. Greater access to the Internet can be achieved by ensuring that
there are sufficient computers that are connected to the Internet. Besides
the main Internet laboratory, which the university already has put in
place, more Internet laboratories should be established through
decentralisation while individual initiatives by the colleges should be
• Training: Skills training in the use of both the computer and the Internet
should be extended to students at all levels. The libraries should cast their
nets wider to reach the majority of the students. However, such
programmes should not be left to the library alone but should be extended
to the academic departments.
• Marketing: Marketing e-resources should be intensified in all the
colleges of the UoN through such means as organised workshops, open
days of the library in conjunction with the ICT department, and through
faculty and departmental meetings where library activities are included
on the agenda. Library committees, which usually have representatives
from each department, could be used as vehicles for communicating
• Technical support: Trained personnel should be available at all times
when the Internet laboratories are open so that they can assist users with
their computers and Internet usage, and any problems that may occur
while they are using the Internet.
Future research should focus on the following:
65 Innovation no. 57, December 2018
• From a national perspective, a comprehensive study should be carried out
on the implications of the Internet for higher education and institutions of
higher learning in Kenya.
• A study on the use of Web 2.0 technologies in higher education should form
part of the agenda for future research.
• A study to evaluate the effectiveness of network literacy training
programmes that are currently offered at the UoN is necessary in order to
improve the training thereof.
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