Addressing Information Literacy and the Digital Divide in Higher Education

Nicole A. Buzzetto-Hollywood, Hwei C wang, Magdi Elobeid, Muna E Elobaid
Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning  •  Volume 14  •  2018  •  pp. 077-093

The digital divide and educational inequalities remain a significant societal problem in the United States, and elsewhere, impacting low income, first-generation, and minority learners. Accordingly, institutions of higher education are challenged to meet the needs of students with varying levels of technological readiness with deficiencies in information and digital literacy shown to be a hindrance to student success. This paper documents the efforts of a mid-Atlantic minority-serving institution as it seeks to assess, and address, the digital and information literacy skills of underserved students

A number of years ago, a historically Black university in Maryland developed an institutional commitment to the digital and information literacy of their students. These efforts have included adoption of an international certification exam used as a placement test for incoming freshmen; creation of a Center for Student Technology Certification and Training; course redesign, pre and post testing in computer applications courses; and a student perception survey.

A multi-methodological approach was applied in this study which relied on survey results, pre and post testing of students enrolled in introductory and intermediate computer applications courses, and scores from five years of placement testing. Student pre and post test scores were compared in order to examine degree of change, and post test scores were also assessed against five years of scores from the same test used as a placement for incoming freshmen. Finally, a student perception and satisfaction survey was administered to all students enrolled in the courses under consideration. The survey included a combination of dichotomous, Likert-scaled, and ranking questions and was administered electronically. The data was subsequently exported to Microsoft Excel and SPSS where descriptive statistical analyses were conducted.

This study provides research on a population (first-generation minority college students) that is expanding in numbers in higher education and that the literature reports as being under-prepared for academic success. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of current studies examining the information and technological readiness of students specifically enrolled at minority serving institutions. As such, this paper is timely and relevant and helps to extend our discourse on the digital divide and technological readiness as it impacts higher education. The students included in this study are representative of those enrolled in Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) in the United States, giving this paper broad implications across the country. Internationally, most countries have populations of first-generation college students from under-served populations for whom a lack of digital readiness is an also an issue therefore giving this study a global relevance.

The digital divide is a serious concern for higher education, especially as schools seek to increasingly reach out to underserved populations. In particular, the results of this study show that students attending a minority serving institution do not come to college with the technology skills needed for academic success. Pre and post testing of students, as well as responses to survey questions, have proven the efficacy of computer applications courses at building the technology skills of students. These courses are viewed overwhelmingly positive by students with respondents reporting that they are a necessary part of the college experience that benefits them academically and professionally. Use of an online simulated learning and assessment system with immediate automated feedback and remediation was also found to be particularly effective at building the computer and information literacy skills of students. The total sample size for this study was over 2,800 individuals as data from 2690 IC3 tests administered over a five year period were considered, as well as 160 completed surveys, and pre and post testing of 103 students.

Institutions of higher education should invest in a thorough examination of the information and technology literacy skills, needs, and perceptions of students both coming into the institution as well as following course completion.

This research should be expanded to more minority serving institutions across the United States as well as abroad. This particular research protocol is easily replicated and can be duplicated at both minority and majority serving institutions enabling greater comparisons across groups.

The results of this research help to shed light on a problem that desperately needs to be addressed by institutions of higher education, which is the realities of the digital divide and the under preparedness of entering college students in particular those who are from low income, first generation, and minority groups

A detailed quantitative survey study is being conducted that seeks to examine the technology uses, backgrounds, needs, interests, career goals, and professional expectations with respect to a range of currently relevant technologies.

digital divide, information literacy, first generation college students, technology readiness, HBCU, minority learners, technology assessment, digital literacy, under prepared students, IC3, computer skills, computer concepts course, computer education, generation z, computer skills assessment, UMES, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, SAM, Cengage, skills assessment management, Certiport, technological competency
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