Who are interested in online science simulations? Tracking a trend of digital divide in Internet use

Meilan Zhang, University of Texas at El Paso


Although the Internet has become a major source for disseminating educational resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), little is known about the extent to which these resources are being used, their relationship to academic performance, and the type of users accessing these resources online. This study used two innovative tools, Google Trends and Web analytics, to explore interest in and usage of the PhET website, one of the most well-known online science simulation resources. This study found that search interest in the PhET science simulations has been growing continuously since 2005. However, search interest in PhET was positively correlated with academic performance and income, and negatively correlated with the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students. Moreover, Internet users in states with more White students were more interested in the PhET science simulations. Yet Internet users in states with more Black students were less interested in these science simulations. These findings suggest that the way online STEM resources are being used is likely to widen, rather than narrow, the achievement gap. This is the first study to utilize Internet search trend data and Web analytics tools for monitoring Internet use for educational purposes.