Author: dlaerhub

Digital Equity Act of 2019

We’ve not posted much on this blog lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy! Before we give you a brief update on our activities, we want to you know about the Digital Equity Act of 2019.

The Digital Equity Act was introduced into the US Senate by Sen. Murray, Patty (D-WA).  The house bill will be introduced soon by US Representative Jerry McNerney’s (D-CA).  The Digital Equity Act supports a diverse array of digital equity projects at the state and local level to help close the digital divide.  The National Digital Inclusion Alliance created the Digital Equity Act website as a way to get out information about the act.

Twitter #digitalequitynow


And now a little bit about what we’ve been doing!

We’ve been hard at work writing for publications, and we’ll be sure to let you know when those come out. We’ve also been presenting at conferences and thinking about future projects as well as moving forward on our work on the 21CLEO project that investigates the experiences of incumbent workers as they engage and persist in employer supported learning opportunities.  Through this work we intende to capture and elevate the voices of the working learners.  Additionally, we are striving to cross silos and build a culture of inquiry. To that end, we have a blog where we are regularly posting updates about our work and inviting comments. Take a trip over to the 21CLEO to join the conversation.

New Publication! Promising Library Practices: Assessing and Instructing Digital Problem Solving

We have a new article, entitled Promising Library Practices: Assessing and Instructing Digital Problem Solving, out in a special issue of the International Journal on Innovations in Online Education. Authored by Jill Castek and Gloria Jacobs, the article introduces a practical framework and tools that can be used or adapted to assess the digital problem-solving abilities of library users. Castek and Jacobs argue that a structured digital problem-solving assessment can be used by librarians and other library staff to customize supports for underserved adult learners specifically, and to enhance learning experiences with digital tools in libraries for the wider public more generally.

Many thanks to editors, Sandy Toro and Chuck Thomas, for bringing this special issue to fruition and to our reviewers for providing valuable feedback as we honed the manuscript.  We also could not have done this work without our colleagues at the Multnomah County Library, Portland State University, and the University of Arizona.

We hope you find the ideas in the article thought-provoking and helpful as you consider your work. We’d love to get your feedback, so please feel free to comment.  And take a look at the other articles in the issue too!  There’s some good stuff!

Innovations in Digital Literacy Programs

Our guest blogger today is Drew Pizzolato, co-manager of NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

What was the first time you were excited to use a computer? What got you interested in learning new tools and skill on the computer? What was your first spark of joy and creativity online? It seems like everyone who wasn’t born using a smartphone has a story about their early days using computers or the internet. While these stories often have common themes, they’re all a little different. We all have our own quirks, interests, and skills that prime us for our spark moment – that first instance where technology becomes an alive, exciting, and accessible world of possibility.  As the co-manager of NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship, I am lucky to support digital inclusion leaders around the United States.  Fellows join a year-long cohort-based professional development program where they build skills in program management, leadership, and digital inclusion. They spend the year focused developing and implementing new or expanded digital literacy programs. We often brainstorm new ideas about how they can engage new community members. How can we foster those spark moments to engage learners in building digital skills?

Teachers and program designers are driving some of the most fun and exciting innovations in digital literacy programming by incorporating the latest technology and gadgets into their classes. In a recent webinar hosted by NTEN, presenters shared some of the unique programs they’ve developed. Taina Evans from the Brooklyn Public Library described Xbox bowling for seniors as well as an Amazon Alexa Jeopardy session. I’m really inspired by these types of programs. As internet connected devices become ubiquitous and the ways we interact with them proliferate, digital literacy leaders should be looking for new opportunities to connect adults with technology. Not everyone needs to enter the digital world through keyboarding and email. Why not voice controlled AI and virtual bowling?

Similarly, creative program designers are finding new ways to provide learners the opportunity to builds skill in in contemporary digital spaces. New tools with sophisticated user interfaces are developed for users to experience immediate success while intuitively exploring and experimenting features. The simplicity and intuitive nature of these interfaces provide opportunities for new-to-computer users, too. Andrew Farrelly is a 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellow and a coordinator at Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit that uplifts communities and individuals by empowering entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. To help his adult students build mousing skills, Andrew introduced them to Canva. Canva is a web based design and publishing tool. It’s simple drag-and-drop interface allows students to practice their mousing skills while creating authentic brochures and business cards that they could use for their small businesses. Students loved playing with the tool and creating their own custom materials. Canva, and tools like it, are a fun and easy update on the classic “create your own greeting card/business card/etc.” activity.

So, if you’re eyeing the latest gadget for your own work or leisure, think about how it might be implemented in a digital literacy class. If you have other stories of hi tech gadget and interfaces in the new-to-technology user space, I’d love to learn about them. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, you’ll be pleased to know that we’re currently accepting applications for the 2019 cohort. Learn more on the application page.

21st Century Learning Ecosystem Opportunities Research Project

We are pleased to announce a new project led by Kathy Harris, Applied Linguistics faculty at Portland State in Portland, OR.  Co-investigators include Jill Castek of the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ, Jen Vanek of WorldEd in Minneapolis, MN, and Gloria Jacobs of Portland State and University of Arizona.

The new project, entitled 21st Century Learning Ecosystems Opportunities (21CLEO), is a $750,000, three-year grant from the Walmart Foundation. The purpose of the project is to study the 21st century learning ecosystem of adults employed in frontline service work. The national research team will explore the barriers and incentives to participation in employer-provided education as well as other learning opportunities, with a focus on digital literacies and digital access. An important goal of the research is to amplify the voices of frontline service workers.

The progress of the research will be shared via the 21CLEO blog, hosted by WorldEd.  We will be cross-posting on the DLAERHub blog.

We are excited about this new project and hope you will follow our progress and contribute your thoughts via comments on the 21LCLEO blog.

The Role of Experience in Digital Problem Solving

Our work with digital problem solvers made clear the importance of an individual’s experience with a variety of digital tools.

The ability to use digital tools to problem solve is impacted by the socioeconomic and cultural situation of the problem solvers. For example, do they have access to both digital hardware and high speed internet? If so, is it at home or do they have to go to another location such as a library or school? Also, do the problem solvers have access to learning opportunities and support around digital problem solving?  As our previous research into digital literacy acquisition shows, experience with online tools contributes to an individual’s confidence to use those tools, so those individuals who do not have consistent and reliable access to hardware and the internet or the opportunities to learn, will be unlikely to be able to build the confidence needed to navigate the multiple online resources needed to problem solve.

In the qualitative findings report from the Digital Equity in Libraries study, we provide scenarios of problem solvers that demonstrate this point. The scenarios are not meant to be generalized to all problem solvers. Instead they are meant to illustrate the differences between more experienced and less experienced problem solvers. Because problem solving is context dependent, how individual problem solvers move through a digital problem necessarily differs. Furthermore, not all problem solvers demonstrate all behaviors and may, in fact, demonstrate a mix of behaviors from the experienced and less experienced columns.

The table below, which also appears in the qualitative findings report, encapsulates the differences we saw between more experienced problem solvers and those with less experience.

More experienced problem solvers Less experienced problem solvers
adapted to novel environments struggled within novel environments
surveyed the resources available to them tended to overlook many of the resources available or focus on the resources immediately apparent or those that are familiar to them
decided/figured out how to use resources to their best advantage once aware of resources needed support to determine how to use them
used exploration/investigation to learn new approaches were slow to examine what the resources and interfaces offer
let go of what they know (from previous experience) relied heavily on approaches they know from past experience and resist trying new approaches
figured out what does not work through trial and error were hesitant to try something different for fear of making a mistake, and they needed reassurance before trying something new

We would love to hear what you’ve seen in your work with adult digital problem solvers.  Have you seen the same types of things we documented in our work?  What other ways have you seen people approach digital problem solving?

Digital Problem Solving Strategies

In previous posts, we’ve shared (a) the interactive relationship of approaches, strategies, and purpose; and (b) the different approaches we saw individuals use when engaging in digital problem solving.  In today’s post we discuss the digital problem solving strategies we saw individuals use.  We stress that this list is not necessarily inclusive of all problem solving strategies. You may see other strategies, and we invite you to share those with us in the comments!

We identified six strategies, which we’ve organized into two sets:

  • Information focused: These ask, do you you understand the purpose of the task, do you know what information you need, and are you accomplishing what you expected.  
  • Navigation focused: These ask, do you understand the purpose or function of a digital interface, are you willing to explore the different resources and interfaces available to you, and are you willing to experiment with the different digital interfaces to solve your task.

Information seeking strategies

  • identifying information needed,
    Choosing to ignore the information you don’t need and focusing on what is needed. Doing this not only at the beginning but throughout the problem solving process. This is related to the strategy of checking and rechecking one’s work.  This is also related to the strategy of identifying one’s purpose.
  • identifying the purpose of the task,Continually clarifying or specifying the purpose by reviewing the criteria on an ongoing basis.  This is related to the strategy of identifying the information needed and can include checking and rechecking.
  • checking and rechecking one’s work.
    Clarifying your purpose and examining the criteria against one’s progress on the task.  Making sure that you’ve accomplished your task.

These three strategies may be enacted at any given time and recursively. For example, a problem solver needs to identify what information is needed and the purpose of the task as they set goals, but then they have to recheck the information needed and purpose of the task as they monitor their progress; plan their next steps; and acquire, evaluate, and use the information.

Navigation Strategies

  • identifying the purpose of an interface or function of an interface,
    Based on prior experience and one’s personal learning needs, or exploration and experimentation, understanding why a particular interface or function of an interface is used.
  • exploring the resources and interfaces,
    Taking the time to look at the different resources and what the functions are within an interface before attempting to solve the problem or complete the task.  When the current method isn’t working, stopping mid-task to look at the resources and functions within an interface before continuing.
  • experimenting with the interfaces
    Using the interface and functions in different ways to see how the output differs. Trying different functions to see which one would give the desired result.

These three strategies may be enacted in order for the problem solver to make use of hardware, software, commands and functions, and representations (text, sound, numbers, graphics, videos).

For more illustrative examples of these strategies, read our complete report on PDX Scholar.

The Architecture of Digital Problem Solving Approaches

In our previous post we talked about the interactive role of strategies, approaches, and purpose in digital problem solving.  This week, we delve a little more deeply into what we see as the architecture of approaches.  Our next post will explore the architecture of strategies.

How individuals use different strategies is affected by how they approaches digital problem solving and the contextual factors within the digital problem solving task.  Each problem solver, whether they have a wide range of experiences or a limited range of experience, will approach a problem differently and enact a strategy differently depending on context and experience.  It is important to understand that the data show there is no one “right” way to digital problem solve. Instead, problem solvers draw on a range of experiences across contexts and at times an approach or strategy may help a problem solver achieve a goal and at other times the continued use of that approach and strategy might not be helpful.

There are four important aspects to how an individual approaches digital problem solving:  

Systematicity: Moving through the task one step at a time. The more experienced individual may first take the time to read through and understand the task, explore the interface and resources, and check progress against the criteria. Less experienced problem solvers tended to approach problem solving more “randomly.”

Flexibility:  Switching strategies when what is being used doesn’t work.  The more experienced problem solver tends to think creatively and develops workarounds when what they are doing isn’t working as expected.  The less experienced problem solver tends to stick with what they know.

Persistence: There are two sides to persistence.  The first is repeating the same thing over and over again even when frustrated.  The second is refusing to give up and coming up with alternative approaches rather than becoming frustrated. 

Good Enough:  Determining that the outcome of the problem solving process is sufficient given the individual’s motivation, affect, prior knowledge, and context/purpose of the task. The good enough approach can involve doing the minimum and can give an incomplete result to the task.  Other times, however, the good enough approach can allow the problem solver to meet their goal within the constraints of the problem solving context.

For more illustrative examples of these strategies, read our complete report on PDX Scholar.  If you see different approaches in your work with adult learners, please post your insights in the comments!

Slate Article on Technology and Prisons

Mia Armstrong, a reporter from Slate recently contacted Elizabeth Withers, a sociologist who was one of our research team members from the Digital Literacy Acquisition project.  Withers and Armstrong talked about how our research showed how involvement in a digital literacy program positively impacted the well-being of individuals preparing to be released from prison. Armstrong’s resulting article, How Prisons Can Use Tech to Slow Their Ever-Revolving Doorsis now available on Slate. We are grateful to see our research in the public eye and hope that efforts continue to better prepare incarcerated individuals for reentry into life outside.

The Interactive Role of Strategies, Approaches, and Purpose in Digital Problem Solving

When thinking about how people digital problem solving, our data lead us to consider the interactive roles of strategies, problem solving approaches, and the problem solver’s purpose.

  • Strategies are cognitive tools used when a problem solver doesn’t have the skills needed to easily solve a problem or complete a task online.
  • Approaches are ways a person uses strategies.

A problem solver’s approach and strategic choices are impacted by (a) environmental and sociocultural factors, (b) the problem solvers’ unique repertoire of experiences and affective concerns and (c) context/purpose for engaging in the digital problem solving event.

  • A problem solver’s purpose may be to achieve a result on an assessment task, or the application of digital problem solving in the context of real world activity. To be a, nimble problem solver, one must incorporate strategies flexibly, not just once but on a regular basis across contents and events.

Each problem solver, whether they have a wide range of experiences or a limited range of experience, will approach a problem differently and enact a strategy differently depending on context and experience.  

It is important to understand that the data show there is no one “right” way to digital problem solve. Instead, problem solvers draw on a range of experiences across contexts and at times an approach or strategy may help a problem solver achieve a goal and at other times the continued use of that approach and strategy might not be helpful.

We would love to hear how you see strategies, approaches, and purpose playing out in your work with adult learners. Please add your insights in the comments!

Go to PDX Scholar for a fuller discussion of our research.

Documenting Digital Problem Solving: Qualitative Results Strategies and Approaches for Digital Problem Solving

As part of our mixed methods research into the digital problem solving of underserved adults in a library setting, we observed 18 individuals as they actually engaged in problem solving activities.  Their online activity was recorded using screen capture software, which allowed us to view and code their actions.  We also interviewed them about their experience with digital problem solving.  The details of our methods will be shared in a future post.

This qualitative data complemented the quantitative data we collected and analyzed. Whereas the quantitative data gave us insight into the role of experience across contexts when digitally problem solving, the qualitative data gave us insights into the digital problem solving processes, approaches and strategies individuals used when engaged in digital problem solving and how they used prior experience to navigate novel environments.

Analysis of the screen capture data and interview data showed a progressively widening range of experiences and how the problem, the individual’s experience, and their affective stance toward the task influenced their digital problem solving choices.  We were able to identify the different choices more experienced and less experienced problem solvers make.  We were also able to tease out the role of context in digital problem solving.

These findings can be helpful for adult educators and librarians who are working to help adults develop digital problem solving skills. Having a sense of the role of context, experiences, as well as the different ways adults can engage in digital problem solving can help us move toward helping build our students experiences with digital problems rather than just building skills.

A comprehensive discussion of our qualitative findings is available on PDXScholar.  We invite you to read it, use it to inform your work, and let us know your thoughts!