Accomodating for the Digital Divide in Volunteer Training
As I consider the task of volunteer development within my church I recognize considerable differences among adult learning in their access to and abilities in utilizing technology. These differences have been referred to by many as being a “digital divide” (”Digital divide basics fact sheet,” 2004) and encompass a wide variety of technological competencies. The 2000 US census found the following information regarding Internet access and utilization among Americans (”Falling through the net: toward digital inclusion,” 2004):
*51% of all U.S. homes had a computer; 41.5% of all U.S. homes had Internet access
*White (46.1%) and Asian American & Pacific Islander (56.8%) households continued to have Internet access at levels more than double those of Black (23.5%) and Hispanic (23.6%) households.
*86.3% of households earning $75,000 and above per year had Internet access compared to 12.7% of households earning less than $15,000 per year.
*Nearly 65% of college graduates have home Internet access; only 11.7% of households headed by persons with less than a high school education have Internet access.
*Rural areas, though still lagging behind urban areas, had surpassed inner-cities in Internet availability and use: Urban 42.3; Rural 38.9; Central City 37.7
*Of those who use the Internet outside the home, 62.7% do so at work, 18.9% at K-12 schools, 8.3% in other school settings, 9.6% at libraries, .5% at Community Centers, and 13.8% use someone else’s computer (”Falling through the net: toward digital inclusion,” 2004).
*63% of homes with residents aged 18-49 used the Internet compared to 37% of households with residents aged 50 or older.
As I performed a needs analysis of my volunteer children’s ministry teachers I quickly saw that an overwhelming number of respondents (87%) desire to be able to receive training on a topic of their choice at a convenient time and indicated that they would be interested in participating in a sample online training workshop.
While a majority of my volunteers do have email access, I don’t yet have statistics reflecting the number of my volunteers who have Internet access. As I review the Census figures and consider the wide variance of ages of volunteers, it’s quite likely that a good number of my volunteers don’t have Internet access and therefore would be prevented from participating in online learning opportunities by a “digital divide.”
Several possible strategies do exist to offer volunteers to bridge such a divide. The first would be to encourage these volunteers to utilize public Internet access. Within our community, two different public libraries are available offering free Internet access that individuals could utilize to participate in online instruction. Another option available would be for me to develop several Internet stations at our church where volunteers could come and participate in the online learning environment. While each of these options would theoretically allow all volunteers to participate in the collaborative online learning environment, the convenience of the online learning methodology would be eliminated. The fact remains that it is very likely that several of my volunteers would never participate in online learning simply due to their compuphobia.
Digital divide basics fact sheet. (2004) Retrieved April 28, 2004 from, http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org/content/stories/index.cfm?key=168
Falling through the net: toward digital inclusion. (2004) Retrieved April 28, 2004 from, http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/fttn00/contents00.html