Research Opportunities

The national discourse on the digital divide is becoming more sophisticated. In our own applied research several themes are emerging that demand more attention from the research community. From our perspective these themes provide rich interdisciplinary opportunities and would like to invite other researchers to join us in investigating these themes.

E-Inclusion
The most recent Falling through the Net report outlined above is evidenceof a continuing digital divide. A regional report entitled Cyber Access in the Inland Empire, commissioned by CVR in 1999, found that 65.9 percent ofAnglos owned home computers compared to 41 percent of Latinos. It furtherfound that 45.4 percent of Anglos had access to the Internet compared to 20.8 percent for Latinos. Another survey undertaken in 1999 by the Public Policy Institute entitled Californianıs and their Government, notes that Latinos are less likely to gather information about elections on the Internet than othergroups. In an October 2000 update from thissamegroup found that Latinos trail Non-Hispanic white 56% to 70% in email and World Wide Web use. Finally, a study by The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation entitled Kids & Media @ the new Millennium (2000) found that AfricanAmerican and Latinos have significantly less access to computers than Anglo children. These studies suggest that there is a correlation between computer ownership, Internet access and race/ethnicity, education andincome. In any case, Latinos and African Americans find themselves on thewrong side of the digital divide. The field of telecommunications policy has played an important role in bridging the digital divide. Telecommunication policies have been established that provide subsidies for schools and libraries to obtain advanced telecommunications through the universal service program known as the E-rate. Universal access programs, currently applied to phone access, are under review for possible expansion to include new digital technologies to homes. Research on whether of broadband technologies are being deployed in an equitable manner is needed.

E-Economy

Manuel Castells, Saskia Sassen and others have located the rise of the digitaleconomy within a process of globalization that have differential impacts on various populations. Sectors such as high finance, have experienced dramatic growth while others, such as immigrants have suffered reduction in wages. Several studies have indicated that the majority of jobs now require both technological skills and information fluency.

The implications for education and workforce development call for continuing research. A recent report from the Ford Foundation entitled From Promising Practices to Promising Futures: Job Training in Information Technology for Disadvantaged Adults (2000) points to possible new directions. High levels of small business enterprises among Latinos has been noted by various studies yet few of these firms participate in E-commerce that suggesting the desirability of funding Latinos E-commerce incubation projects.

E-Learning Environments

In order for new technologies to be effective, they must be accessible to all residents and it goes without saying that these residents must be at a certain level of fluency. The National Research Council states that ³Information fluency includes the ability to use todayıs computer applications and to apply information technology immediately, it requires people to understand the basic principles and ideas of computers, networks, and information, which underpin technology; and possess the intellectual capabilities to apply information technology in complex and sustained situations² (Being Fluent with Information Technology, 1999). New technologies offer opportunities and challenges for traditional learning environments. According to the National Center for Education Statistics while 63% of classrooms in the United States are connected to the Internet, only 39% of poor schools are connected. Of further concern is the fact that while the average ratio of students to multimedia computers is 9 for children at large, it is 16 for poor schools. Perhaps even more serious is the fact that while 39% of well off schools use computers for higher learning, only 18% of poor schools do so. A number of federal and state programs have been established to remedy this situation. The stakes are high ‹ students not having adequate access to new technologies and curriculum, which, promote information fluency will not be competitive in higher education or in the workforce. Libraries are \ another traditional institution that has a role to play in the promotion of information fluency, educational enrichment and the delivery of content. Libraries are struggling to keep pace with not only the explosion of digital content and how to organize and access it but the acquiring the resources needed to do so. While more than 90% of libraries report Internet connectivity the nature of that connectivity varies from modems to broadband. Many libraries report limiting access to 20 minutes. Community technology centers are emerging institutions that provide access, training, and promote community development. The CIOF Network reports that users average 1 3/4 hours per visit. Two reports, Impact of CTCNet Affiliates Findings from a National Survey of Users of Community Technology Centers and Creating an Information Democracy are beginning to document the positive potential of community technology centers. More research documenting the deployment of high technologies within schools, libraries, and community technologies centnm ers and their interdependnce is needed.

E-Community Formation
The strategic use of technology to advance comminity formation is in its experimental stages. CVR's research agenda is refocusing its work on community asset-based appproaches to the digital divide utilizing Velez-Ibanez's theory of community "funds of knowledge," that has its roots in Lev Vygotsky's socio-historical psychology. This theoretical orientation is similar to MIT's randal Pinkett's theory of social constructionism. Both of these theories acknowledge the need to identify and utilize community resources in the learning process and in civic programming. CDI's asset-based approach is manifest in its participation in the development of Riverside Online, a City of Riverside local Internet portal. This approach is also apparent is CVR's efforts to provide youth with an opportunity to develop websites for community-based organizations as well as opportunities to develop their own multi-media video projects; thus having students become producers rather than just consumers of knowledge. These pilot projects set the stage for larger community-based asset mapping, which would include cultural forms and resident, organizational, (including community-based organizations), economic capacities, and, in time, will also include the development of technology indicators.

E-Civic Life
The development of the technologies that serve as the platforms for the delivery of services to the citizenry of California is one aspect of what is being called E-government. Governor Gray Davis recently signed an executive order that will provide electronic technologies to the people of California, allowing them to contact and interact with government service Internet sites. Several examples of electronic delivery of services include on-line registration of motor vehicles;electronic voting, which is currently being tested; and databases documenting the immunizations of children, which is currently being explored. Various forms of direct democracy are being discussed. All of this is contributing to the formation of E-citizens.

 


For additional information contact:
Dr. Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez
Phone: (909) 787-3852 - Fax: (909) 787-3888

email: carlos.velez@ucr.edu


COMMUNITIES FOR VIRTUAL RESEARCH

University of California Riverside
Ernesto Galarza Applied Research Center Lab
1150 University Avenue, Suite B, Room 209
Riverside, CA 92507

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