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Inclusion in the Virtual Society

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					Inclusion in the Virtual Society
e-gateways as new social places for learning and participation
Sonia Liff, Fred Steward & Peter Watts (Warwick & Aston Universities)

e-gateways - telecottage, cybercafé, community technology centres, electronic village halls
• New organisations providing internet access in a social place separate from home and work - ‘3rd Places’ for informal public life • Settings which allow different activities such as learning, information retrieval and communication which traditionally occur in different institutional contexts • Provide an interface between social networks and virtual networks

Processes of inclusion across the Digital Divide
• Between the worlds of non-users and users - generating interest and confidence to participate • Between novices and experts - reacting to what people want or need to know, when & how • Between consumers and creators of eservices and e-products - facilitating and empowering participation

Issues investigated in e-gateway organisations
• Sense of place with distinctive cultures and practices of inclusion and exclusion drawing on a variety of links to wider social networks • Ways of engaging interest and supporting learning • Connections between the familiar and the new - understanding the potential of new technologies and new modes of engagement

UK Survey of e-gateways
• 236 live e-gateways identified in 1998, 50% established since 1996. Continued growth & turnover - sustainability issues • Mainly small organisations, run by entrepreneurial enthusiasts with a high level of commitment to extending access • Evidence of many inexperienced users especially in relation to the internet • Users more like the population at large than shown in general surveys of internet users

Case studies of successful e-gateways
Two contrasting routes for inclusion: shop front e-gateways community e-gateways

Characteristics of Shop Front e-gateways
• Prominent, attractive location • Aims to attract the general public with few prior connections to the e-gateway • Support for users in response to their interest and need • Focus on real and virtual communication

McNulty’s Café, Newcastle UK
Low barriers to entry for new users

McNulty’s Café, Newcastle UK
Interaction between café customers and computer users

Characteristics of Community Gateways
• Low public visibility of location • Aim to attract users from a specific community / group via existing links • Emphasis on formal training starting from basics • Focus on developing competence with computers / internet, some virtual community building

Project Cosmic, Devon, UK
not likely to draw in those passing by

Project Cosmic, Devon UK
Co-located with lively youth club

Project Cosmic, Devon UK
successful training courses through links to local business community

Users in 3 shop front and 3 community UK e-gateways
Similarities • vast majority local residents - included users with own access • over 3/4 said social factors were important in their use of egateway • over 1/2 said their knowledge & ability had increased

Differences • Community sites successful in attracting groups with low use • Shop front sites successful in supporting internet use including web site creation

Significance of the two approaches for those aiming for e-inclusion
• Failure to locate ICT provisions either in a site that is attractive and accessible to casual passers or has strong links into the community likely to be problematic • Users of both sites value the social environment • Scope for strengthening both approaches by learning from each other

Different national contexts
Field work in the two countries with highest global internet access: USA & Finland Key findings: • influence of e-gateways on traditional institutions • contexts which support social innovation

Kirjakaapeli (Cable Book Library) Helsinki
• Shop front e-gateway in central city library • Open 6 days per week including Sunday weekdays open till midnight • Free access to all internet uses including email & chat rooms • over 90% local users

Watts public library Los Angeles
• Community e-gateway in neighbourhood setting • 20 free internet workstations • homework clubs

US e-gateway support networks
• NTIA support for innovative projects • NSF funded network of community technology centres • professional volunteers for advice

Key features to learn from e-gateways
• Use is strongly influenced by social environments - which are vital to engage new users, overcome anxieties and help understand the potential of IT • Diffusion of technology won’t remove the need for social learning • Different approaches are successful in different contexts - preserve diversity to achieve broad inclusion

Facilitating innovation for social inclusion
• Recognize limits of traditional institutions and promote new boundary spanning settings • Acknowledge the importance of informal modes of learning in affirming contexts • Social and virtual interaction are mutually supportive • Facilitate support networks and ‘voice’ for e-gateways

Inclusion in the Virtual Society
e-gateways as new social places for learning and participation
Sonia Liff, Fred Steward & Peter Watts (Warwick & Aston Universities)


				
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posted:11/2/2009
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