academic program manager at Microsoft Canada


The world’s first online divorce reportedly took place six years ago.

According to the story, a U.S. citizen wrote his wife, who was living in Dubai, an e-mail which contained just three words, “I divorce you.” Students are really passionate about using technology in everyday life activities – from doing homework to maintaining relationships.Daniel Shapiro>Text

If performing such a life-changing action online seems shockingly cavalier, then consider another bit of trivia: for quite a few Canadian students the Internet is the preferred medium for dumping a girlfriend or boyfriend.

In a survey commissioned by Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., 19 per cent of the students polled said they prefer to write their “Dear John” or “Dear Jane” letters online. The survey results were published by Microsoft earlier this month.

While many a heartbreak has occurred online, the Internet has also served as the matchmaker par excellence. Nearly a third (69 per cent) of the students polled said they initiate and maintain relationships in cyberspace.

The survey titled ‘Students and Information Technology’ was conducted by Toronto-based consumer marketing and communications consultancy Youthography. Respondents included 400 girls and 300 boys between the ages 17-20 from educational institutes across Canada. They comprised of Grade 11 as well as second-year university and college students.

The survey’s key finding is that students are technology friendly, said Daniel Shapiro, academic program manager at Microsoft. “Students are really passionate about using technology in everyday life activities – from doing homework to maintaining relationships.” Shapiro said 99 per cent of the students polled use computers for doing homework.

The survey found students also “misuse” technology quite a bit, with as many as 43 per cent admitting that they illegally download music. School authorities say most of the illegal downloading takes place outside academic institutes.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to prevent students from downloading copyrighted material from the Internet, according to Laila Sisca, program coordinator for academic information and communications technology. Under this policy, students are barred from downloading material without adult permission.

Before using the school’s computers, students and parents are required to sign a “student access agreement” with clearly specified usage rules.

According to Sisca, students download copyrighted music not for kicks, but simply because they do not understand the implications of their acts. “They see music on Internet as something that is free, and can be picked up and shared. This is where we step in. We have to teach them about copyright rules.”

Nearly half the students surveyed admitted they have misused technology to download essays from Internet or hacked into secure networks.

Do these admissions indicate that information technology is eroding the moral sense of students?

Sisca does not think so. Technology, she said, is neutral and it could be used either for good or bad purposes. “The key issue is not to keep technology away from the youth, but to teach them to use it responsibly.”

The survey found girls are generally more responsible when using technology. While male students prefer to use computers for recreational purposes, girls generally use them to share ideas. While 61 cent of the boys said they like playing games on computers, 40 cent of the girls said they use them for blogging.

However, when it comes to trying out new software boys take the lead. Sixty one per cent of boys said they would be happy using a new software program as opposed to 53 per cent of the girls.

Experts say if girls are presented with technology in a gender-sensitive manner, they adopt it faster. This would include not overwhelming them with technical jargon, but introducing technology to girls as something that would simplify their lives.

For girls to accept a technology, the presentation style is as or more important than the actual features of the technology, according to Deborah Wilcox, head of infrastructure policy governance and process support at the Royal Bank of Canada.

Wilcox explained how she uses this principle to introduce technology (such as a new software product) to her daughters. “If they are writing a journal I explain that the software would help them to keep track of their thoughts.”

She said were she to just give them the software and tell them to figure out how to use it they would show no interest.

Wilcox is also a former chair of ‘Women in IT: Looking towards the future’ – an annual event for Grade 9 girls organized at Humber College in Toronto.

Event sponsors include the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) a not-for-profit group of information technology professionals.

At the event, the girls are sensitized to the importance of technology. “Apart from informing them about careers in IT, the talks also show them how technology could assist them in other fields, including medicine and finance,” Wilcox said.


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