ICT Exacerbates the Human Side of the Digital Divide

ICT Exacerbates the Human Side of the Digital Divide

Elspeth McKay (RMIT University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch282
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Ethnic and racial tensions are aggravated by social inequities; perhaps it is the media that unwittingly feeds this dilemma. Look at how often we are directed to the Internet for further information. While exploring the Internet may be easy for some computer users, others demonstrate a complete avoidance for this type of knowledge exchange. Moreover, some misunderstandings that occur between cultural communities may be exacerbated by a phenomenon that has become known as the digital divide. There are various definitions of this term. One view takes a purely socio-political focus relating to a socio-economic gap between communities that have access to computer technologies and the Internet and those who do not. Another view covers a broader technological spectrum to include media of any sort, and the information and communications technologies (ICTs). No matter which definition is used, the lack of access to information, for whatever reason, may perpetuate a meaningful gap in cultural differences; the result of which may lead to a more serious communication breakdown throughout the community. This short article argues for more research on measuring the effectiveness of increased opportunities for Web-mediated cross-cultural/intergenerational knowledge sharing that is designed to overcome the ever widening digital divide.
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It is useful to look at the ways in which a country such as Australia faces its significant socio-economic challenges. The literature reveals that this nation is one of the most multicultural countries in the world (Tsang, 1995), weaving cultural diversity and associated tensions into the social fabric. Furthermore, like many other nations, census statistics show us that Australia is fast becoming an aging nation. These two demographic features may give rise to communication problems associated with cultural and intergeneration discord. Unfortunately, current research appears to be ignoring the importance of the relationship between socio-cultural interaction and Web-mediated knowledge exchange. Moreover, there has been an unrealistic expectation that Web technologies would facilitate the engagement of people to share information through collaborative team work. Consequently, there were calls for researchers to become involved with ICTs to investigate these promises of collaborative Web-mediated information-sharing. Although this work has been taken up by the computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) protagonists, projects are still needed to correctly identify the complexity of the Web-mediated interactivity between humans and technology.

Even though the problem of rapidly evolving electronic multimedia was identified over a decade ago, the technologists are still excited today with our ability to create virtual information environments. However, for the more technologically challenged person, it would seem that we have become oblivious to how much we rely on ICTs that continue to change at an ever-increasing rate (Flicker, 2002). Using Australia again as the example, there is a distinct gap between theory and practice that exists within the population for opportunities to utilize ICTs to promote multicultural interaction and knowledge sharing. This disparity can be seen in terms of marked differences in access to the Internet for: enhancing multicultural sharing, promoting knowledge transfer between generations, and facilitating quality outcomes in special education (Stephanidis, 2001).

The aim of this short article is to suggest that ICTs can provide a useful set of easy tools to reduce some of the accessibility problems created by rapidly changing communications media. Issues that are causing concern among the communities who are cognizant of the harmful effects of the digital divide include: the forgotten human-dimension, cultural diversity, and the unequal accessibility to online information.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interoperability: Hardware and software devised to help people exchange information ensuring computer systems can to talk to each other, interpret data, and exchange information.

Digital Divide: Understanding of this term is changing with time. Originally, it signified a socio-political environment and referred to the socio-economic gap between groups of people who had access to computers and the Internet. However, in 2005, this term reaches much further to bring about a more international context to highlight where disadvantaged groups and developing or poorer nations are pitted against the wealthy countries that have unlimited access to the plethora of electronic gadgetry.

Cross-Cultural/Intergeneration Knowledge Sharing: The issue of cross generational communications breakdown. Difficulties that arise through intergenerational perspectives (Thomas, 1998) can be witnessed in many parts of the community: at home with parents and siblings, in workplace reporting networks with age differences of employees, and at school between staff and students. Knowledge sharing across these boundaries will improve the disparity that currently exists.

Web-Mediated Knowledge Exchange: The interactive use of online instruction as an effective tool in bringing about a knowledge-sharing culture, linking professional practice and education in life-long learning.

Cognitive Style Construct: This term represents Richard Riding’s cognitive style dimensions. First, the wholist-analytic dimension (mode of processing information) defines that wholist learners are able to perceive the whole concept, but may find difficulty in disembedding its separate facts (McKay, 1999). Whereas Analytic learners analyse material into its parts but find difficulty in seeing the whole concept. Second, the verbal-imagery continuum (mode of representing information while thinking) measures whether an individual is inclined to represent information verbally, or in mental pictures, during thinking (Riding & Rayner, 1998).

Smart-Technology Devices: Hardware/products that have AI enhanced capabilities and/or the ability to access the Internet. Some of these devices are designed to sense your actions or learn your patterns and alter their behaviour accordingly.

Virtual Information Environments: Internet-based information systems that provide a user with an interface that implements a multi-dimensional and real-world context through AI contrived metaphors that create highly visualized and often interactive experiential space.

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL): An emerging and important educational research paradigm that focuses on socially-oriented theories of learning using computer technologies to support collaborative methods of instruction.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): The four design principles for Web accessibility include: 1) content must be perceivable; 2) interface elements in the content must be operable; 3) content and controls must be understandable; and4) content must work with current and future Web technologies (WAI, 2002).

Human-ComputerInteraction (HCI): The concept of HCI is not new. However, the proliferation of HCI has only occurred during the last decade. People building computerized systems have struggled for many years to define interactive relationships of HCI. The term should not be used just for the physical interaction between humans and computers; it includes all the cognitive processes required for humans to effectively utilize computerized medium.

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