Inspiration, what works, and further considerations

I wanted to share some ideas and thoughts from a variety of sources on the topic of bridging the digital divide. What follows are a few articles and videos from people on the ground who are working in the fields of education and information technology and who have a close connection to the efforts (on all levels) of bridging the digital divide. These articles and videos offer a variety of perspectives and some useful ideas to consider before setting out to create digital access and training programs in the rural communities of upstate New York.

Day, Lori. (2013). Bridging the New Digital Divide. edutopia. Retrieved July 11, 2014 from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/bridging-the-new-digital-divide-lori-day
In this article focusing on the relationship of students and teachers to technology at a prosperous charter school, we get a sense of some of the challenges facing any community as it tries to integrate digital literacy skills and digital tools into its learning centers. Of special interest is the discussion of a need to find a balance between virtual and real world experiences within the push toward digital goals.

Harvey, B. (2014). Bridging the Digital Divide. Education Week. Retrieved July 11, 2014 from: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/07/02/ctq-harvey-digital.html
This article by Brison Harvey, a Social Studies teacher in Lexington, KY, offers suggestions for how teachers can infuse digital learning into their classrooms and create access opportunities for all students. The article also deals with some of the major considerations to think about before implementing new tools or techniques.

The Knight Foundation. Five Lessons in Bridging the Digital Divide. Retrieved July 11, 2014 from: http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/4/5/five-lessons-bridging-digital-divide/
The Knight Foundation offers great tips for working to bridge the digital divide in under-served or un-served communities in the United States. The video testimonial of one of the graduates of their basic training program offers another great perspective on what the digital divide means for real people.

Morgan, R. & Bedi, I. S. (2013). Bridging the Digital Divide: Connecting the unconnected. Knowledge Center, Analysys Mason. Retrieved July 11, 2014 from: http://www.analysysmason.com/About-Us/News/Insight/Bridging-digital-divide-Jul2013/
This article offers perspective on the meaning of “digital divide” and the implications of the same. Data is provided to support the relationships between digital access and prosperity (the information all deals with EU countries but the general analysis can apply to digital divides in other regions as well). Most interesting are the suggestions for infrastructure intervention to create more fluid access across socioeconomic barriers.

Molinari, A. (2011) Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide!. TedTalk. Retrieved July 2, 2014 from: http://www.ted.com/talks/aleph_molinari_let_s_bridge_the_digital_divide

In this video, Fundación Proacceso founder Aleph Molinari discusses the true meaning of the “digital divide” or as he calls it, “the digital abyss”. He offers thoughts and information about how his foundation is working to provide customized programs and support for digital access and training to under-served communities in Mexico. There are many great lessons to take from this video from thoughts on the carbon footprint of one-to-one technology programs, to the loss of ideas and perspectives from whole segments of the global population due to a lack of ICT access. Molinari’s holistic approach to bridging the divide is full of good sense and good lessons.  For more information on Fundación Proacceso go to: http://proacceso.org.mx/eng/

Fundación Proacceso

Finding solutions: What is the user need?

Every community is unique which means that every community will have unique needs when it comes to digital access, training, and usage. Finding out what those needs are is an important first step in building practical digital solutions. In terms of economy alone, upstate New York includes farming and agriculture communities, tourism-driven communities, communities revolving around higher education, etc. Each of these communities will have different goals when it comes to bridging the digital divide and they will require different solutions. The various education levels, social systems, and cultural norms in the individual communities will also dictate what types of solutions will have the most impact. Getting the best information about the communities from the actual stakeholders is key in creating the most affective digital literacy and digital access programs.

Here are a few ideas on how to ask questions and find answers about the specific and individual needs of unique communities in rural, Upstate New York:

Teacher Surveys – Teachers have a unique window into the challenges, interests, and goals of their communities. They are at the forefront of providing opportunities for the younger generation but they are also on the front lines when it comes to understanding what’s important to the community (parents, local government leaders, etc.) Teachers are also in a prime position to encourage and support digital literacy skills in the classroom. For all of these reasons, getting their input is important when building access and digital literacy programs in a community. Designing surveys which produce useful results can be tricky. Wood and Howley (2011) recommend creating an initial draft of the survey, pilot testing the survey with focus groups of a select group of teachers, interviewing an expert in the field about the survey, and then using the feedback from the pilot tests and interview(s) to create a finalized version of the survey. Administering the survey can be done by ground mail; sending an introductory letter prior to sending the survey is a good way to encourage more participation. (Wood & Howley, 2011)

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What’s the problem? (Part 2: Equipment quality, frequency of access, and training)

In their article, Dividing at an Early Age, Lawrence Wood and Aimee Howley discuss the need for not only access but also the quality of equipment and the training of users on that equipment. They assert that while much focus in the past has been on programs which equip schools or homes with internet service or computer hardware, there has been less focus on integrating computer skills into the classroom or creating affordable (or free) community digital literacy courses; there has also been less focus on making sure that the level of the equipment and internet services are meeting the same standards for speed, reliability, and sophistication in all communities. (Wood & Howley, 2011) Therefore, though the access to equipment may, on paper, appear to be equitable across school districts or communities, the actual level of skills and benefit from the equipment is vastly different from one place to the next.

Wood and Howley further point out that: “a critical element of scholarly digital divide research now involves examining more than simply access, but issues such as frequency of access and sophistication of computer use as well.” The question of “frequency of access” is something that comes up in a number of other studies in fact. Some studies emphasize the need for access not just at work or at school but also at home or in some other type of private or semi-private setting. In order to deepen digital skills and literacy, people need to be able to expand on the types of digital practices they engage in. In other words, while at work or school the focus may be primarily on research or practical applications like word processing or spreadsheet creation; at home or during leisure time, people may expand their digital skills through gaming activities, online shopping, social media use, etc. (Zhong, 2011) In their article, If We Build It, Will They Come?, C. L. Brown and L. Czerniewicz discuss the findings of their study which indicate that more frequent access and more varied access (i.e. at home, at school, in public places) leads to more varied types of digital use. (Brown & Czerniewicz, 2007)

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What’s the problem? (Part 1: It starts with access)

Access to high speed internet/broadband is a challenge in many parts of upstate New York. The state sees a wide range of internet speed and access with some communities benefiting from high speed internet access and others struggling with slow or unreliable internet service. This blog post written by Jeannie Choi (journalist and CUNY graduate student and Sophia Rosenbaum) from last year, offers more information on the digital divide in upstate New York.

The map (right) created by the New York State Broadband Office clearly shows just how much of New York state is in the dark when it comes to high-speed internet access (with most of the North Country Region being left behind at this point). The NYS Broadband Office estimates that about 1.1 million New Yorkers currently have no access to high-speed broadband.

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