Preparing for Conference Season!

We’re taking a brief hiatus from posting in DLAERHub as we prepare to deliver papers at national and international conferences.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting at Online NorthwestPIAAC, and AERA.  If you’re going to be at any of those conferences, be sure to look for us!  When we return, we’ll be ready to share some of our findings with you.


Too Much of a Good Thing?

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Amy Honisett, Public Training Librarian at Multnomah County Library.

In our last post, we wrote about the logistical challenges involved with remote study participation. Remote access to the study tool gave participants an easy and convenient way to participate, but it left out an important demographic – community members who do not have internet access at home.

In order to reach those community members, we set up a computer lab and got help from colleagues to promote the lab at day centers, homeless shelters, and low-income housing. We anticipated a few participants, but did not expect much participation.

On the day of the lab, I started getting calls from staff as soon as the library opened. When is the lab? Does it really pay $20? How do I get on the list?

Having predicted low participation, we had planned (and promoted) the lab as first-come first served. We soon realized our mistake, as we only had eight computers available and a long line of people waiting to come in. On the first day, we ran out of time and cash. Potential participants who were turned away were disappointed, and we asked them to put their name on a list so we could give them priority at the next lab time.

When that time came, we had another long line of potential study participants. While some people were frustrated that a list had been formed at the last session, most people were understanding and kind. People waited outside the lab for hours to get their turn to participate. One self-appointed assistant helped organize newcomers and let people know what was going on as they approached.

Eventually, we added more lab times, serving most of the people who wanted to participate. We were heartened by our participants’ patience and kindness while they waited for us to develop a process.

Lessons learned:

  • Drop in or first-come, first-served functions are not appropriate in resource-limited situations.
  • In general, people are kind and flexible. Work with them to make things better.
  • Twenty dollars is a big incentive for people to participate.

Remote Study Participation — A Logistical Challenge

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Amy Honisett, Public Training Librarian at Multnomah County Library.

Last month, we wrote about collaborating with colleagues to get help recruiting participants for a research study. But what happened once we recruited participants and began the study? It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but we did learn a lot about what’s involved in planning for working with the community.

In the beginning, we asked potential participants to complete a survey at the library and then invited those who demonstrated a certain skill level to take part in an online assessment. A few of those participants were able to schedule time to take the assessment at our home location (the library), but many of them preferred to complete it from home.

Scheduling time for participants to come back to the library to take the assessment took a great deal of time. Many participants never returned, so we decided to stop scheduling time, instead allowing them to take it from home or anywhere else they had internet access. A few participants did use the library computers to complete the assessment, but the majority of our first wave of participants took the assessment remotely.

However, remote participation caused some problems. We had to track who had begun the assessment and not completed it, and we had to follow up with those participants, sometimes multiple times. Some of the participants never completed the assessment.

Remote participation also made coordinating the payment of incentives more difficult. Because we believed that cash might better meet the needs of our participants, we incentivized participation with cash rather than a gift card. This meant we could not send the incentives through the mail and participants had to come back to the library to pick up their incentives.

As a result, we had to ask participants which library branch they preferred to use, send the cash to that branch, and ask staff to hold onto the cash until the participant showed up. Once that happened, the staff person needed to collect a signature so that we could reconcile our grant expenditures.

While this worked well most of the time, we did encounter problems when participants never picked up their incentive, when a staff person forgot to get a signature, or when the signature sheet got lost. We were able to work out these challenges by reaching out to the participants, but it took more time.

Overall, these processes worked well. Participants were forgiving of mix ups, and we collected quite a bit of data this way. Our second round of assessments was handled differently because we were doing targeted outreach. We’ll write about that process in a different post.

Lessons learned:

  • The fewer steps in your process, the less chance you will have of making mistakes
  • People are flexible and forgiving
  • Gift cards may be an easier way to distribute incentives than cash

Digital Equity Action Planning: Community Collaboration is Key

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Matthew Timberlake, IT Project Portfolio Manager at Multnomah County Library.

In June of 2014, a small group sat down at Portland State University to try to figure out how to foster increased digital inclusion in our community.

The City of Portland, Multnomah County Library, and Multnomah County became the founding members of the greater Portland area Digital Inclusion Network (DIN), which brought together more than 48 organizational partners from community non-profits, government, business, public schools, higher education and media to develop a Digital Equity Action Plan (DEAP).

We began by holding multiple focus groups with communities who often lack digital access. The results confirmed the research being done nationally: The cost of broadband Internet and the devices needed to use it, as well as the scarcity of culturally specific training, are barriers to meaningful Internet adoption for marginalized groups.

The DIN used the focus group findings as the basis for a series of workshops to craft a digital strategy. The resulting strategic plan reflects the many voices at the table: new immigrants, communities of color, youth, community-based organizations and nonprofits, local government, and telco providers such as Comcast and Google Fiber.

By including so many community groups early in the formulation of the DEAP, we’ve increased our participation and commitment to action. Organizations are working to meet commitments and reach milestones they helped craft.

The DEAP identifies several action items across the five Digital Equity Goals:

Access: Ensure access to affordable high-speed Internet and devices for those in need.

Training/Support: Provide training and support to ensure that everyone has the skills to use digital technology to enhance their quality of life.

Leadership/Capacity Building: Empower community partners to bridge the digital divide through funding, coordination, training and staff resources.

Connectivity to the Digital Economy: Create opportunities for jobs in the digital economy for underserved populations.

Policy: Build a policy framework that supports digital equity and meaningful Internet adoption, leading to better community outcomes.

In April of 2016, the Digital Equity Action Plan was unanimously approved by the Portland City Council and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and Library District Board. Work has begun by the lead organizations to meet our milestones for our first year, and we’re excited to see the results.

New Posting Schedule

If you read this blog, you share our deep commitment to digital equity, digital inclusion, and the need for research into what teaching and learning approaches can best help underserved populations.  We greatly value your participation in this community and look forward to sharing more of our work with you.  Due to our new focus on our digital equity in libraries study, we will be posting every other week rather than every week.

We will continue with guest posts.  If you have something to share, please contact Gloria Jacobs at

Getting from Enthusiasm to Effective Technology Implementation in Adult Learning

This week’s post is by Patti Constantakis, Ph.D., Director, Digital Promise Adult Learning Initiative. 

The following is based on our most recent research report, Integrating Digital Tools for Adult Learners: Four Critical Factors.

Technology can be a powerful tool for improving access to learning for the 36 million U.S. adults who lack the basic literacy, numeracy, and job skills necessary to find well-paying jobs and navigate public and social systems. Technology can help create personalized pathways to support learning differences and open up a world of digital information and resources that form the gateway to today’s job market.

Despite all of this promise, adoption and implementation of technology in adult education is nascent. But according to two recent Tyton Partners studies (Part I and Part II), demand and enthusiasm are increasing for education technology among adult education program administrators and educators.

Signs of this enthusiasm can be seen across the country as programs and individual instructors experiment with incorporating digital tools into their teaching. In addition, developers are beginning to consider ways to leverage their products for adult learners.

Yet, in general, adult education programs still lag behind their K-12 and higher education counterparts in incorporating technology.

If we believe in the potential of technology to bring quality digital learning opportunities to this underserved population, what can we do to accelerate adoption? How do we bridge the gap between enthusiasm and effective implementation?

For our latest report, Integrating Digital Tools for Adult Learners: Four Critical Factors, we worked with 14 adult education program administrators and instructors to try to answer these questions. Their insights led us to identifying four factors that adult education programs and product developers should focus on to effectively implement technology in the adult learning classroom:

  1. Support Multiple Implementation Models – Allowing for varied blended learning models is critical with adult learners, as there is no one way to meet the differing needs and levels of these learners.
  2. Use Data – Knowing how to use and analyze learner data is key to understanding where individual learners are struggling in order to provide personalized learning experiences.
  3. Support a Rich Technology Infrastructure – Thinking long-term and considering the infrastructure that is needed to create a flexible, rich, anytime, anywhere learning environment is also important for these underserved learners.
  4. Support the Evolving Role of the Instructor – Supporting this shifting role goes beyond just product training. It requires opportunities to develop ideas, strategies, and resources, then to try them out, reflect, and adjust.

We invite both educators and developers to consider these factors moving forward. The potential for technology to provide low-skilled adult learners access to more individualized learning opportunities is there. But to really accelerate the adoption of technology across our adult education programs will take effort and commitment from program administrators, educators, and product developers to create and support those experiences.

Need buy-in? Collaboration is the name of the game.

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Amy Honisett, Public Training Librarian at Multnomah County Library.

In support of a research project focused on public library patrons, our research team needed to figure out how to get participants. Would you like to take an assessment of how you problem solve in technology rich environments? Of course not, that sounds terrifying.

The first step was to have patrons complete a background survey. Those eligible patrons would then be invited to take the PSTRE assessment.  To achieve our goal of including a range of patrons we offered a $20 cash incentive for completing the assessment, but we also leveraged our patrons’ feelings of responsibility and affection for the library. To show potential participants why they should help us, we created half page flyers with information about how to access the survey, and a call to action, “The library needs your help! We want to make sure our resources work for everyone.”

Initially, we set up in library lobbies and entrances to ask people for their participation. This was difficult and time consuming, and it meant that we were not reaching as many patrons as we needed or wanted.

We then turned to library staff, who kept the flyers at reference desks, and talked the survey up to patrons. Gaining support from library staff was crucial, as they know their patrons and their community. Their efforts lead to 436 clicks on our survey link.

Later, when we needed to gain input from lower-income community members, we again relied upon collaboration with library staff, who brought our cause out into homeless shelters and low-income housing, bringing in even more potential survey participants than we could offer the assessment to. We ended up with 465 participants completing the background survey and close to 200 individuals who took the assessment.  

Lessons learned:

  1. People want to know how their participation helps. Tell them why you need them!
  2. Collaboration is essential for the best results. We could never have reached so many people on our own.

Advancing Digital Equity in Public Libraries:
Assessing Library Patrons’ Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments

This research project is designed to improve library practices, programs, and services for adult patrons — especially economically vulnerable and socially isolated adults, seniors, English learners, unemployed and others lacking digital problem solving skills. The project provides the opportunity to administer and interpret data from the “Problem Solving in Technology Rich Environments” (PSTRE) survey, a portion of the Education and Skills Online (ESO) assessment, developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).  The assessment allows the opportunity to administer an online set of automatically scored tasks.  Researchers can  use the data to examine local trends in adults’ digital literacy skills.  These local trends can be examined alongside national and international data to make comparisons that have practical as well as policy implications.

Our project team has collected data collected from a diverse sample of Multnomah County’s adult library patrons (ages 16 to 65).  Analyzing these data will provide valuable insights into how libraries can invest resources and direct services to improve patrons’ digital problem solving skills. These are the types of skills that are particularly important during an economic downturn to help people address their educational, employment, health, information, and other needs, and to seek out classes and other learning opportunities in the community.

By administering the PSTRE and analyzing test-takers problem solving strategies, this research offers a grounded understanding of what constitutes the different levels of digital problem solving skills based on observable behaviors.  We are in the midst of using these data to create a learning progression that represents the full range of these skills, grounded particularly within a library contexts.  As a result, our work moves beyond what PSTRE scores alone can provide.

We intend that the protocols and procedures for administering the PSTRE assessment developed through this project can serve as a guide for other libraries. Collecting PSTRE data and interpreting the results will aid libraries nationally in responding to the growing need within their communities to help vulnerable adult populations become fully digitally proficient. Administering the PSTRE, and reflecting on what the results mean for library patrons, invites libraries into the national and international conversations taking place among policymakers, educators, and community organizations around PIAAC data and positions library leaders to design better and more data-driven life- long learning opportunities.

Stay tuned here for future posts that will feature emerging findings from this exciting and ground-breaking research.

Introducing the Digital Equity in Libraries Project

It’s been a pleasure sharing the findings from the Digital Literacy Acquisition research project as well as insights from other researchers.  As we move into 2017, we’ll be turning our attention to the Digital Equity in Libraries project that we’ve been conducting in collaboration with the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon and with the support of a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Grant # LG-06-14-0076-14).  

This work is part of a bigger effort toward digital inclusion within the metropolitan Portland area and is consistent with the Multnomah County Library’s determination to be a place where all people feel welcome and are safe to learn.  You can learn more about Portland’s digital equity and inclusion work in an article published in the Journal of Digital and Media Literacy.  Two of the authors, Cindy Gibbon and Matthew Timberlake, are members of the Digital Equity in Libraries team.  We are excited about the work being done in Portland and are hoping to see this type of work extended to other geographic areas.

During 2017, we’ll be sharing material from conference presentations, posts about our ongoing analysis, and papers that describe our methods and findings.  We are excited about this work, and we hope that you will be too.  

If you know of individuals or organizations that would be interested in this work, please share our blog with them.

We also continue to welcome guest bloggers. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please contact

Digital Literacy Acquisition and The School to Prison Pipeline

We are honored to have been able to contribute a chapter to the newly released book Understanding, Dismantling, and Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline edited by Kenneth J. Fasching-Varner, Lori Latrice Martin, Roland W. Mitchell, Karen P. Bennett-Haron, and Arash Daneshzadeh.  This important volume contains chapters from scholars who dig deeply and thoughtfully into the relationships between schools and prisons and how vulnerable populations, and people of color in particular, are set on a destructive and seemingly inescapable path by the school-to-prison pipeline.  Our chapter adds a slightly different spin on our previously shared work into the role of digital literacy acquisition among and incarcerated population being prepared for reentry.  We draw from the same data and theoretical framework, but in the chapter we argue forcibly that the systems in place that keep access to the internet away individuals preparing for reentry serve to keep people in the pipeline.  We suggest that changes to policy that allow for digital literacy acquisition within the structure of a reentry program may provide an exit from the pipeline.  We hope you’re able to get your hands on a copy of this book. Let us know what you think!