This research effort focused on examining the digital literacy acquisition process among vulnerable adult learners who participated in digital literacy programming offered through partnerships in the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant entitled "Learner Web Partnership: A Multi-State Support System for Broadband Adoption by Vulnerable Adults." That grant was focused on addressing the barriers to broadband use in vulnerable and digitally excluded populations.

Together, these efforts sought to better understand how individuals (such as low-income adults, unemployed adults, adults without a high school education, immigrants and non-native English speakers, seniors, incarcerated adults and ex-offenders, etc.) acquire digital literacy.

Partner sites who implemented digital literacy programming included: the City of Richmond Public Library Literacy for Every Adult Program in California, the Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy at Loyola University and Goodwill Industries of South East Louisiana in New Orleans, the Minnesota Literacy Council, the Regional Adult Education Network at Cayuga Community College in New York state, the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, and South Texas College.

This research was supported by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to Portland State University (LG-06-11-0340-11)

Project Team

This research was a collaborative effort with contributions made by a core team of researchers at Portland State University. Data analysis was conducted collaboratively, taking advantage of the individual strengths and skill sets each member brought to the process. Drawing on collective insights gave rise to a rich and multi-disciplinary interpretative lens that no one researcher could have developed alone. Every research team member contributed to the comprehensive suite of materials that detail the research findings.

Core research team members were (in alphabetical order): Dr. Jill Castek (Principal Investigator) Research Assistant Professor in Applied Linguistics, Dr. Gloria Jacobs, Research Associate, Literacy, Language, and Technology Research Group, Kimberly Pendell, Social Sciences Librarian, Andrew Pizzolato, Digital Literacy Project Coordinator, Dr. Stephen Reder, Professor of Applied Linguistics, and Elizabeth Withers, Graduate Research Associate. Statistical analyses were guided by Dr. Robert Fountain, Department of Mathematics. Transcription, data management, and archiving help was provided by Katherine Winter and Maya Volk. Project management was supported by Jenny Withycombe.

The research team was advised by a National Advisory Committee, a Research Applications Committee, and an external evaluator. Members of the National Advisory Committee and Research Applications Committee represented a variety of professional and educational fields and included practitioners, administrators, and policy watchers and included (in alphabetical order) Juan Carlos Aguirre, Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Michael Crandell, Sherry Drobner, Jon Engle, Cindy Gibbon, Leo Hayden, David Rosen, Jacquie Thomas, Jen Vanek, Heidi Wrigley, and Yong Zhao. The external evaluator was Linda Braun, Project Manager and Consultant from Librarians and Educators Online (LEO).

Data Collection

The Portland State team conducted interviews with learners, tutors, and key stakeholders. Additional interviews with six case study participants were also conducted. The interviews and field visits were unfolded in a five stage process. First, team members conducted phone interviews with project staff, identified as key stakeholders. Next, in a first round of field visits, team members conducted interviews with project tutors and observed computer labs in each of the six partner sites. Thirdly, team members visited a subset of labs at three sites to conduct interviews with learners. At each of these sites a minimum of ten new-to-computer user learners were interviewed. Learner and tutor interviews were conducted in Spanish when appropriate so that the team could understand the unique experience of participants for whom Spanish is a preferred language. In the fourth and fifth stages, six individual learners who were selected as case studies participated in follow-up interviews, at one month and at three months after the initial interview.

Analysis

After transcribing nearly 100 recorded interviews, team members undertook an extensive coding process. Beginning with a process of “mapping the territory” the team utilized a grounded theory approach to begin interpreting the interview data. Initial patterns and themes emerged based on an iterative process of collaborative coding and discussion. The team then shifted to a second round of thematic coding from that the first level coding informed. Simultaneously and jointly to this qualitative analysis, the team’s statistician led an inquiry into the system data generated by the total 12,000+ participants. Variables to quantify “success” in the system were developed to illuminate a variety of ways that participants may have enacted productive learning endeavors. These variables were used to run predictive models that have helped the team understand what demographic and learning characteristics predict successful learning experiences across the learning settings.

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