the tools and the hammer/nail problem in the digital divide

“The way you talk about the [digital divide] changes people’s view of who is responsible for resolving it…. This issue has been around for years, but its meaning is in constant flux and is manipulated by political agendas.”

I’ve switched some of the tools I use for keeping current over the past few months. I’m finding that I use RSS less and less for keeping up on blogs and rely more on Twitter lists and searches to sort of keep my hand in. I also read a lot of print material still [some of my best "things to think about" things are still coming from the pages of Library Journal and Computers in Libraries magazines] and am trying to keep to my book-a-week plan for 2011. Oddly I also get news from seemingly random places like other people’s facebook walls and I made a little image-milkshake over on a site called MLKSHK. You might like it.

I have a standing search for “digital divide” on Twitter that just auto-updates itself onto my desktop via TweetDeck. The thing that is so interesting about this, to me, is how often the term gets used and for how many different things. This morning there are discussions about the digital divide and gender, how the EU is trying to narrow the digital divide (referring to access to broadband) and a report about how switching to online social services in the UK would adversely affect people who are digitally divided already, mostly talking about seniors.

Which leads me to the paper I read recently which was really pretty intersting and on topic: Who’s Responsible for the Digital Divide? Public Perceptions and Policy Implications (pdf) It’s not long, you can read it, but the upshot is that depending how we define the digital divide, we will develop different strategies to “solve” the problem. This is not just hypothesized in the paper but addressed scientifically. So if the problem is lack of compturs, we throw computers at the problem. If the problem is broadband, we work on network infrastructure. If the problem is education we design sites like and then wonder why a website isn’t teaching people how to use computers. Tricky stuff, endlessly fascinating, thorny problem.

what’s in my librarian toolbox?

Keeping with what Roy Tennant mentioned a few weeks back, here’s what i told Blake about my librarian toolbox.

1. Hardware/Software – I can use computers with basically any operating system with nearly equal fluency. Mac, Windows, Linux, command line. Firefox, Opera, IE, Chrome. I don’t expect other people to have this flexibility, but it’s good to know if a problem you’re looking at is due to a misfit in terms of this sort of thing.

2. Access – it’s sort of a dirty secret, but I have library cards (mine or loaners) at maybe ten different libraries which gives me access to pretty much any database that I might need access to. Looking up stuff that is a little esoteric is just a few clicks away. Knowing which database has what then becomes the big trick.

3. Discerning Eyes – I can usually tell if an answer is in my Google results list without even clicking on the link. This helps me be fast and accurate.

4. Wetware – I’m pretty patient and pretty tolerant but at the same time, I know when to say “no” and know when to say “that is a suboptimal solution” It’s important that as professionals we need to be able to “play it as it lays” but also be open to newer and better solutions.

5. Tenacity – I don’t like to let go of a problem, particularly a technological problem, until I’ve solved it.

6. The hot potato thing – if I find out something that is awesome, I want to pass it around. This goes equally well for my ideas as well as the ideas of others. Pass it along so that others can benefit too!

What’s in yours?

ways to help new computer users

“Once upon a time, young people helped senior citizens across the street. While this is still a good idea, it’s just as important to help them setup their Facebook page.”

This short article makes a few points very well. Many novice tech users are experts in other things and get easily frustrated feeling like they’re back at square one. That sort of thing needs to be considered when you’re figuring out the best way to approach teaching topics. Additionally, find ways for people to succeed, whatever their level of skill is. This can be a challenge for people who are really brand new, but just having simple taks like mouse proficency and “send an email to me. Oh look there it is” can give peopel the confidence they need to explore on their own. [thanks barbara]

brokenness and compassion

I’m a bit of a scab-picker as far as technology goes. I’m more interested in how stuff breaks than how it works when it all goes well. This is why I do more troubleshooting than tech creation. I’m good at it and I enjoy the problem-solving angles of it. As a technology instructor in a rural location, I sometimes feel like I’m dealing more with broken stuff than stuff that works. Given this, having an approach to brokenness that isn’t just “Oh, that’s not supposed to happen…” is key to helping people feel comfortable with technology. Leigh Anne Vrabel who runs the Library Alchemy blog has a concise post that summarizes a way to move forward inhabiting this sort of world.

Technology has to be supported by brotherhood, sisterhood, understanding and compassion.

And if I can paraphrase, I’d have to say “We’re all in this together and we haven’t all learned until everyone is leaning.” I’ve definitely been guilty of throwing up my hands trying to teach someone something because they had so much emotion wrapped up in why the computer “didn’t like them” that they couldn’t follow steps to do the actions they theoretically wanted to do.

Just like people who choose to live in the frozen north up here do so “for a reason” I think that most people who don’t know how to use a computer in 2009 — similar to people who don’t drive, who don’t have a telephone or who don’t have electricity — don’t know for a reason. For some people that’s an active reason, they’re not interested, they don’t see a need for it, they’re already busy enough, but for some people it’s a passive reason, they’re resistant to change, they’re easily frustrated, they have a disability that makes technology difficult and no one to help them with adaptive tech, they’re poor. As a technology instructor, part of my job is making technology a genuine option for people who have a need for it, not to sell it to people who don’t want to buy it. At the same time I explain what technology actually IS, apart from the television commercials and relentless boosterism about the promise of the Internet. That’s my interpretation of “technology with heart” [ttw]

does giving out laptops help or hinder the digital divide?

computer use relative to subsidized lunch program participation status

Interested in the actual educational effects of giving laptops to students? Some interesting conclusions from a paper by Jacob Vigdor entitled Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement (pdf). The study is a North Carolina-wide look at who has access to broadband, home computers and what the test score correlations are with these facts, if any. A few notable pullquotes.

[T]he introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.

[T]he introduction of high-speed internet service is associated with significantly lower math and reading test scores. Moreover, broadband internet is associated with wider racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. One interpretation of these findings is that home computer technology is put to more productive use in households with more effective parental monitoring.

Students who own a computer but never use it for schoolwork have math test scores nearly indistinguishable from those without a home computer, while scoring slightly better than reading. Students reporting almost daily use of their home computer for schoolwork score significantly worse than students with no computer at home.

Students who gain access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grade tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math test scores. There is little evidence that more intensive computer use for schoolwork offsets these negative effects.

Surprised? I was, a little [dweinberger]

Teaching Tech – a talk for the Michigan Library Consortium

I gave a talk this afternoon for a one day workshop given by the Michigan Library Consortium about teaching technology in libraries. It was a keynote-ish talk so more “big picture” talking and less “this is how we do it.”

To that end, I did a new-from-the-ground-up talk about technology instruction and even wrote out notes for all of my slides so people who weren’t there could maybe follow along later. As anyone who has seen me speak knows, I tend to extemporanize (sp?) quite a bit so while the bones of the talk are in the notes, I also told a lot of stories about the libraries I work in and waved my hands around a lot. You can see the notes and a mov or pdf of the slides here: Teaching Tech in Libraries: what are we doing?

I’m still trying to find a good way to put slideware talks online without having to re-give the talk and toss it into Slideshare. Big thanks to all the folks from Michigan for being such a great audience and Twitterfolks for giving me some good advice. (go be Flickr friends with Kevin to see more (admittedly, not that fascinating) photos of this event)