The digital divide, redux.

An alert reader pointed out yesterday that the article I linked to about the growing digital divide was from 1998. I admit that I did a slightly lazy search, there–but it’s not like the information itself isn’t still valid. The 1998 source is the Department of Commerce’s report: “Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide.” Basically, it said that Americans with low incomes living in rural areas were least likely to have access to Internet technology. It also found low levels of access among certain African Americans and Latinos.

The report was followed up by another in 2000, titled “Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion.” (Are we seeing a trend?) Hopeful title, but all you have to do is Google “access to Internet Americans divide” or similar, and you’ll find plenty of evidence that we’re not including everyone yet. This article pulls information from 2003 census information showing that yes, wealthy people in urban settings are more likely to have access to the Internet. And yes, computer ownership for certain ethnic groups continues to trail that of others.

Given that you need money to buy a computer, and to pay an ISP, none of this is surprising. Still, it’s good to find more recent cites to support my slightly loose claim about that growing gap.

The reader (Laura) also pointed out that we’re not just talking about hard drives and phone lines, here–more and more of what we do online requires a high-speed Internet connection, and that gap is growing too. She points out speedmatters.org, an organization committed to addressing that aspect of the gap. Thanks, Laura!

I have to say, it’s sobering to remember that so much of what I do is basically irrelevant to a lot of the world, and even to a lot of students at Cal. If students don’t have their own computers or Internet connections, their choices are definitely limited. We do have campus computer labs, but anyone who’s ever organized their work or study life around a lab schedule knows that’s not an optimal setup. And while I really want to believe that online learning can reach more people than classroom teaching, there’s still the ugly fact of basic inequity of access.

E-learning for a better world

One of the things that’s always interested me about pushing teaching and learning in the direction of new media (or just in the direction of new technologies) is how we might be able to share the wealth. That is to say, we know there’s a deep and depressing digital divide in the world, and it’s growing. How could we use technology to help fill in that gap, and give more people knowledge and choices that they haven’t had before?

I say this interests me, but in my day-to-day reality I’m not really sure that I’m doing much about it. Creating online tutorials for using the library catalog doesn’t feel exactly revolutionary, although in principle it’s helping to level the playing field for students who don’t learn well in lecture, or students who have busy lives and can’t study full time, and so on.

Anyway, I’m still interested in looking over the shoulders of some of the really big projects that are tying technology and education to social justice issues.  Two of the biggies I have my eye on right now are One Laptop Per Child and MIT’s Open Courseware project. Both have been criticized for various reasons, and both continue to charm and inspire me for their sheer starry-eyed optimism. I’d like to see a world where projects like this can work. I’d like to think that when we’re not thinking about the day-to-day, we spend some time thinking about that widening gap, and ways to fill it in.

Friday’s drive-by Captivate tip

The latest tidbit sent to the Captivate/online library instruction user interest group…

Just a reminder:  Flash-based tutorials aren’t automatically Section 508-compliant (i.e accessible to users of assistive technologies.)  Captivate allows you to make your tutorial more accessible by adding descriptive notes to a 508-compliancy field for each individual slide.  This allows a screen reader to describe to the user what’s happening in the animation.

For more about Captivate and 508 compliance, search in Captivate Help for “508 compliance.”

Happy Friday!

The Chronicle on information literacy

Interestingly, The Chronicle of Higher Ed held a chat with Diana Oblinger, a VP of EDUCAUSE, about information literacy. I say “interestingly,” because I’m used to thinking of info lit as the preserve of libraries–didn’t we coin that term? It looks like it’s gaining (limited) popularity outside library walls.

Plenty of people weighed into the discussion, and it’s hard to know who’s a librarian and who’s not. I think that’s a good thing.

One exchange caught my eye in particular:


Question from Kathleen Johnson, Seattle Academy, private school 6-12:
I am interested in how the emerging world of collaborative knowledge creation (wikis, creative commons, open content) will effect how we teach the skill of “evaluating” content especially for these formats of information.Answer from Diana G. Oblinger:
Certainly the Web 2.0 world makes all this more complicated. Part of that is that it isn’t just searching for and accessing information. It has to do with modifying information, making it your own, and perhaps someone else making it event better. Part of what is making this more complicated is that this isn’t just a set of search-and-retrieval skills anymore. And it isn’t a solitary activity. And, I am starting to think that this isn’t so much a “skill” as it is a mindset about how we deal with information, the world around us, and how we create knowledge.


I found this interesting because I spend a fair amount of time thinking about Web 2.0-type things, but I don’t really see faculty building this into their course assignments. When I teach a class, I’m reliably asked to teach students how to find scholarly journal articles and books, not community-created content. It seems to me that there’s a disconnect between what we say our students need (information literacy for the 21st century–Web 2.0 savvy) and what we’re actually teaching them (the same stuff we learned in school–books and articles.)

I’m not against scholarly books and articles, obviously. I’m just interested in this little chasm we seem to be straddling. Completely off the cuff, I’d say that students don’t need as much help from us in navigating socially-driven Web content as we need in creating socially-driven interfaces for our research tools, and maybe even socially-driven processes for content creation. More concretely, I’m less interested in fixing students’ perceptions of Wikipedia and Britannica, and more interested in fixing our bad online catalogs, silo databases, and lengthy, expensive, bureaucratic publishing processes.

Captivate users unite!

Actually, that should probably be: “Online library tutorial creators unite!” Because I’m not really tied to Captivate per se; it’s just the tool of the moment for what I happen to be doing right now, which is screencasting. But somehow “Online library tutorial creators unite!” doesn’t quite have that ring.

At my presentation on using Captivate for library tutorials last month, I asked audience members to sign up for an informal email list to share tips and questions about the software. Quite a few people did so, and I sent out the first email today. Here’s what it said…

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