Symptoms and Causes: The Digital Divide...a digital problem?
I have data!
But, sorry to tease, I’m not going to talk about it at all today…In this blog, I’m going to give an overview of research looking at differences in access to internet information. My broader research looks at the ways students use talk to think about what knowledge they need to solve problems, and then actively attempt to address those problems. I’ll write more specifically on that topic as I go on, but today I’ll focus on the problem of finding information:
Searching and processing information is a complex cognitive process that requires students to identify information needs, locate corresponding information sources, extract and organize relevant information from each source, and synthesize information from a variety of sources.…However, Information-Problem Solving has been given little attention in schools, and instruction in this skill is rarely embedded in curricula. And yet, by giving students assignments in which students have to solve an information-based problem, teachers assume that their pupils have developed this skill naturally. (Walraven, Brand-Gruwel, & Boshuizen, 2008, p. 623)
‘naïve consumers’ and ‘media savvy creators’
While most children use the internet, younger children rate their information-seeking abilities significantly lower than older students (Eynon, 2009), and although adults use search more than browsing (OxIS, 2007), research suggests that children are more likely to try to retrieve information by browsing within specific pages than searching (Bilal, 2001). Children are both born into a digital world and familiar with its rich creative resources, while also buying into the full breadth of information available on the web, (Livingstone, Bober, & Helsper, 2005) which, unlike information in school libraries and books, is often unmoderated and not well targeted at their age group. It includes extremism of various sorts (e.g. the high ranking of a white supremacist website on a search for Martin Luther King), bad or false journalism (climate change denialism), bad journalism (where to start), and so on.
Symptoms and causes – offline and online inequalities
However, arguably, the ‘digital literacy’ concern is simply a modern version of the ‘information literacy’ concern raised at least since the 1970s (and probably since the Greeks in some form or other), with studies from the 70s and the days of library card catalogues onwards finding that students struggle to find appropriate terms to use, tend to use terms which are obtained directly from task instructions, and fail to ‘open’ or analyse results which do not contain those search terms (Williams & Rowlands, 2007).
A further concern here is that this divide is not simply a matter of maturation – although certainly older children are more successful – it also reflects a socioeconomic divide. Use of the internet, in particular for educational purposes, is among higher income families (Eynon, 2009) and at least in the US, more prosperous schools are more likely to use it for advanced activites than their less well of counterparts, which focus on ‘drill and practice' exercises (Kuiper, Volman, & Terwel, 2005, p. 303). This problem is compounded by the fact that middle class students are more likely to be able to turn to peers and parents for support, while the less well off often rely on professionals (Ba, Tally, & Tsikalas, 2002).
Access or accessibility
There is thus a link between poorer ability to find and access information on the web, and income, race and education (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2001) – which as Hargittai (2010, p. 4) points out, is a consistent finding internationally (See Bonfadelli (2002) for Switzerland; Livingstone and Helsper (2007) for the UK, and Zillien and Hargittai (2009) for Germany). This finding highlights a ‘Knowledge Gap’ – more educated users tend to use the internet more for information, while less educated users tend to use it for entertainment purposes.
The concern is thus that access alone is not enough when it comes to reaping the potential payoffs of being online (Hargittai, 2008).
Skills and cultures
To be clear, there are some specific skills related to search success. However, somewhat surprisingly children’s cognitive abilities including domain knowledge and reading ability seem to be only loosely related to hypertext navigation (Castelli, Colazzo, & Molinari, 1998) or search ability (Bilal, 2000; Large, Beheshti, & Rahman, 2002), and while students perceive language skill to be important in search success (Enochsson, 2005), few studies (including Enochsson’s) have actually looked at such skills alongside concrete measures of search success (a difficult concept to measure). The picture is not as simple as it might appear. Although it is important to note increased effectiveness arising from tool innivation, for example to a) scaffold language use, e.g. via spelling correction, and b) to offer search results based on reading ability (see e.g. Kevyn Collins-Thompson’s Microsoft paper on it (pdf).
No doubt part of the issue is just that this is a difficult area to research. Of course I also wouldn’t want to suggest there haven’t been some important findings in relation to individual skills, and naturally the technology is constantly evolving – in part to meet unmet needs, with some argument that this is the right way to think about the problem (e.g. (Aula, 2005)).
Communities of inquiry?
However, I think we also need to think about what these tasks are embedded in, and the longstanding difficulties people have had with this sort of problem solving. These longstanding issues are now highly prescient, because we have such pervasive access. But in many ways they’re not particularly new – what we need is ways to address them, both technological and educational – cultures of questioning, an understanding of the sorts of effective enabling contexts in which people access information for ‘knowledge’, as opposed to those which encourage a more simplistic ‘information’ exchange. As long as students hide the fact that they collaborate and share results because they see it as 'cheating' we'll struggle to support them even though we know they engage in such behaviours, and are more likely to turn to google rather than parents.
I’m looking at a small part of this problem, I know DigitalDisruption are looking at another aspect regarding thinking about who’s put information online, and Demos has had an interest in digital information literacy – if you’re working on other areas of interest, do get in touch, below the line or @sjgknight (and if you’re a teacher, do check out Digital Disruption, and the other tools on my scoop.it.
Aula, A. (2005). Studying User Strategies and Characteristics for Developing Web Search Interfaces (PhD). University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland. Retrieved from http://acta.uta.fi/pdf/951-44-6488-5.pdf
Ba, H., Tally, W., & Tsikalas, K. (2002). Investigating children’s emerging digital literacies. The Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment, 1(4). Retrieved from http://www.edtechpolicy.org/ArchivedWebsites/JCTE/v1n4_jtla1.pdf
Bilal, D. (2000). Children’s use of the Yahooligans! Web search engine: I. Cognitive, physical, and affective behaviors on fact-based search tasks. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51(7), 646–665. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(2000)51:7<646::AID-ASI7>3.0.CO;2-A
Bilal, D. (2001). Children’s use of the Yahooligans! Web search engine: II. Cognitive and physical behaviors on research tasks. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 52(2), 118–136. doi:10.1002/1097-4571(2000)9999:9999<::AID-ASI1038>3.0.CO;2-R
Bonfadelli, H. (2002). The Internet and knowledge gaps. European Journal of communication, 17(1), 65.
Castelli, C., Colazzo, L., & Molinari, A. (1998). Cognitive Variables and Patterns of Hypertext Performances: Lessons Learned for Educational Hypermedia Construction. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 7(2), 177–206.
DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2001). From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use: A Literature Review and agenda for Research on Digital Inequality. Princeton: Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. Retrieved from http://www.eszter.com/research/pubs/dimaggio-etal-digitalinequality.pdf
Enochsson, A. B. (2005). The development of children’s Web searching skills-a non-linear model. Information Research: an international electronic journal, 11. Retrieved from http://informationr.net/ir/11-1/paper240.html
Eynon, R. (2009). Mapping the digital divide in Britain: implications for learning and education. Learning, Media and Technology, 34, 277–290. doi:10.1080/17439880903345874
Hargittai, E. (2008). The Digital Reproduction of Inequality. In D. Grusky (Ed.), Social Stratification (pp. 936–944). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Retrieved from http://webuse.org/pdf/Hargittai-DigitalReproduction2008.pdf
Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation.” Sociological Inquiry, 80, 92–113. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317.x
Kuiper, E., Volman, M., & Terwel, J. (2005). The Web as an Information Resource in K–12 Education: Strategies for Supporting Students in Searching and Processing Information. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 285 –328. doi:10.3102/00346543075003285
Large, A., Beheshti, J., & Rahman, T. (2002). Design criteria for children’s Web portals: The users speak out. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53(2), 79–94. doi:10.1.1.115.6403
Livingstone, S., Bober, M., & Helsper, E. (2005). Internet Literacy among children and young people: findings from the UK Children Go Online project. London: LSE Research Online. Retrieved from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/397/1/UKCGOonlineLiteracy.pdf
Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. (2007). Gradations in digital inclusion: Children, young people and the digital divide. New Media & Society, 9(4), 671.
OxIS. (2007). OxIS 2007 database. Oxford Internet Surveys.
Sharit, J., Hernández, M. A., Czaja, S. J., & Pirolli, P. (2008). Investigating the Roles of Knowledge and Cognitive Abilities in Older Adult Information Seeking on the Web. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 15, 3:1–3:25. doi:10.1145/1352782.1352785
Walraven, A., Brand-Gruwel, S., & Boshuizen, H. (2008). Information-problem solving: A review of problems students encounter and instructional solutions. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(3), 623–648.
Williams, P., & Rowlands, I. (2007, October 18). INFORMATION BEHAVIOUR OF THE RESEARCHER OF THE FUTURE. JISC. Retrieved from http://www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/research/ciber/downloads/GG%20Work%20Package%20II.pdf
Zillien, N., & Hargittai, E. (2009). Digital Distinction: Status-Specific Types of Internet Usage*. Social Science Quarterly, 90(2), 274–291.