Gender and Cultural Di?erences in Internet Use: A Study of China and the UK

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Computers & Education 48 (2007) 301–317

Gender and cultural differences in Internet use: A study of China and the UK Nai Li a, Gill Kirkup


Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK b Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK

Abstract This study investigates differences in use of, and attitudes toward the Internet and computers generally for Chinese and British students, and gender differences in this cross-cultural context. Two hundred and twenty Chinese and 245 British studentsÕ responses to a self-report survey questionnaire are discussed. Significant differences were found in Internet experience, attitudes, usage, and self-confidence between Chinese and British students. British students were more likely to use computers for study purposes than Chinese students, but Chinese students were more self-confident about their advanced computer skills. Significant gender differences were also found in both national groups. Men in both countries were more likely than women to use email or ÔchatÕ rooms. Men played more computer games than women; Chinese men being the most active games players. Men in both countries were more self-confident about their computer skills than women, and were more likely to express the opinion that using computers was a male activity and skill than were women. Gender differences were higher in the British group than the Chinese group. The present study illustrates the continued significance of gender in studentsÕ attitudes towards, and use of computers, within different cultural contexts. Ó 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Cross-cultural issues; Gender; The Internet; Attitudes; Usage patterns


Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 1908 652412; fax: +44 1908 654173. E-mail address: (G. Kirkup).

0360-1315/$ - see front matter Ó 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2005.01.007


N. Li, G. Kirkup / Computers & Education 48 (2007) 301–317

1. Introduction Incorporating information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly the Internet, into teaching and learning in higher education has become an important issue in both economically developed and rapidly developing countries, and in this research study Britain and China represent such regions. Despite the economic agenda driving the adoption of the Internet, little cross-cultural educational research has been done on its use, although surveys such as those of Pelgrum and Plomp (1991) have assembled comparative data about educational policy and computer use since the early 1990s. Cross-cultural comparisons are needed to give a better understanding of studentsÕ use of the Internet in different national cultural backgrounds. The Internet may be a global technology but students work in local/national contexts, and have differences in other aspects of their identities; one of the most important of which is gender identity. Gender differences in the use of computers have been well documented in the last two decades (Brosnan, 1998; Comber, Colley, Hargreaves, & Dorn, 1997; Durndell, Macleod, & Siann, 1987; Kirkpatrick & Cuban, 1998; Kirkup, 1995; Meredith, Helen, & Woodcock, 1998; Scragg, Smith, & Geneseo, 1998; Shashaani, 1993, 1997). Where researchers have looked for gender differences in the use of computers they have found them. In this research we examine whether, in a selected sample of university students in China and the UK, there were equal opportunities for women and men to use computers and the Internet, and whether the opportunities were taken. Most research on gender differences in use of the Internet has been done in Western countries. But, If gender is a social construct one cannot presume that it will be expressed in the same way everywhere. Therefore studies of gender differences in Internet use in different...
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