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]

Google Answerers, a tally

Now that Google Answers is no longer an active project it’s easy to use Google itself to do some tabulating of who was actually doing what there. Using a pretty simple query the folks over at Web Owls have compiled a list of roughly how many questions each Google Answer Person answered. You can see me way down the list at 24. What’s interesting, to me, is how few people worked for such a high profile project, and how few people answered the bulk of all the questions to Google Answers. Interestingly, almost 40 of them are working over at Uclue which seems to have almost the same structure externally speaking as GA did.

“open to the public” != public library – a day (almost) at the Newberry

I had a free day in Chicago today and was planning some library visits. Usually when I’m in Chicago I just go to the downtown library and then complain. This time I wanted to go someplace different, and out of the CPL system. I decided to go to the Newberry Library, whose website says “free and open to the public.” I took a picture of the exterior and walked inside to the lobby. There was a guard there.

me: “Do I have to check my bag?”
guard: “Well you’re not allowed inside unless you’re here for research.”
me: “Oh, sorry, I had just heard that reading room was lovely, can I just walk upstairs and look inside?”
guard: “You have to be doing RESEARCH to go upstairs, on something in the library’s collection.”
me: “Can I just use the third floor reference collection, maybe talk to one of the librarians?”
guard: “No. You’ll have to wait for a tour, tours are on Thursdays. The only places you can go are the gift shop and here in the lobby.”

At this point I walk over to the brochure stand to see if maybe there is some library interest area I can claim a research interest in. While I’m there, the guard turns two more people away. I decide I’m sick of the stupid secret-handshake routine — it seems fairly obvious that I just have to make up some sort of research objective and they’ll let me go up — and decide to leave.

guard: “Do you have some RESEARCH you’d like to do?” (clearly the emphais on the word, to me, implies “hey dumbass, it’s the most obvious password in the book. Here, I’m giving it to you”)
me: “No, I just wanted to look at the reading room, but I think I’ll go home instead.”

I really try to not use this space to complain about customer service incidents unless I think they can somehow be useful teaching tools, but I just was floored here. I had done my homework and read the website where it said “The Library asks that they have research interest in areas supported by the collections but will give one-day passes to people are who are uncertain and just want to explore.” but at the point at which I was not given that option, I quit.

It’s been a long August and I’m a little overtired perhaps so I didn’t have the strength for either the “Please let me talk to your boss” or the “This is what it says on your website” routines. I was spending the day alone in an only-sort-of familiar city and I just wanted to look at a pretty library for a bit, just like I did in Baltimore where the nice lady in the cardigan showed me around before leaving me to wander around on my own.

how people find health information online

Librarians know this, Pew confirms it: people look for health information online in ways that are somewhat irrational [link updated]. Special bonus for those that read to the end of this report: Medical Library Association: A User’s Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information on the Web. Note the difference, as highlighted on Crooked Timber of information seeking behavior between people who have broadband and people who have dial-up.

Experts say that Internet users should check a health site’s sponsor, check the date of the information, set aside ample time for a health search, and visit four to six sites. In reality, most health seekers go online without a definite research plan. The typical health seeker starts at a search site, not a medical site, and visits two to five sites during an average visit. She spends at least thirty minutes on a search. She feels reassured by advice that matches what she already knew about a condition and by statements that are repeated at more than one site.