Digital Doorways

Digital Doorways

Kim Gush (Meraka Institute, South Africa), Ruth de Villiers (University of South Africa, South Africa), Ronel Smith (Meraka Institute, South Africa) and Grant Cambridge (Meraka Institute, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-997-2.ch005
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The Digital Doorway is a joint initiative between the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and South Africa‘s Department of Science and Technology (DST), with a vision of making a fundamental difference to computer literacy and associated skills in the South African population. Underpinning the project is the idea of people’s inherent cognitive ability to teach themselves computer skills with minimal external intervention. For this to happen, computers must be easily accessible to potential learners in an environment conducive to experimentation. Given the low percentage of communities in disadvantaged areas in South Africa with access to computer infrastructure, Digital Doorways are installed in communities where the need is greatest. The systems are extremely robust and employ open source content. The project team has moved from an action research to a design-based research paradigm, simultaneously deploying and improving the systems over the past six years. The novel method of instruction (unassisted learning) and the challenging operating environment call for both innovation and careful engineering of all aspects of the system. User interaction at the sites has been carefully observed. Numerous challenges, complexities and controversies, both social and technological, have surfaced and continue to surface as the project progresses. Valuable learning has been acquired around community engagement, ownership and site acquisition and numerous ‘soft’ issues that ultimately determine a project’s success or failure. Both qualitative and quantitative research have been conducted. Feedback from users has been mostly positive and there is a demand both from government and private sector companies for many more Digital Doorways to be deployed throughout South Africa and worldwide. Sustainability, community ownership and maintenance remain the greatest challenges to the long-term success of the project. Despite the challenges, unassisted learning can be effectively used to provide basic computer literacy training in rural and impoverished communities in South Africa.

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