Community and Educational Opportunity in the US: The Relative Utility of Technology and Digital Literacy in a Transcultural Community

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This ethnobiographic study explores the ways in which five low income transmigrants living in an urban Mid-Atlantic transcultural community made use of technology and digital literacy. Specifically, the study focuses on the ways in which participants defined the purpose, importance, and utility of technology and digital literacy in their lives. The stories reveal complex and often heroic efforts to become digitally literate and apply technological learning to their obligations as parents, breadwinners, and community participants in widely dispersed social networks that cross family, community, and national boundaries. Their stories reveal: 1) the desire for digital literacy to participate in our modern society; 2) limitations in concepts of access and equity as currently conceived in scholarly literature; 3) trust as a key component of successful programs; and 4) the importance of technology in sustaining transcultural networks.

The voices of the participants reveal that immigrants recognize the need for technology training, not only for jobs, but also to aid and enhance their everyday life. They shared the need for training to include: basic classroom skills instruction for children; learning opportunities for adults; programs that include authentic tasks and design features that consider cost, time and day of the week, location, language options, and word of mouth confirmation regarding the quality of content and trust in instructors and training location. Their search for safety extends to protecting their personal information and children by acquiring cyber safety and security knowledge.

This study adds to transcultural scholarly work, and also expands both digital divide and digital inequity literature that only rarely focuses on the relationship between participants and transcultural community constructs. Increasingly, computer based forms of communication are taking the place of letters, telephone and travel to maintain and expand ties to family and friends dispersed throughout the globe. Technology becomes a way to support their transmigrant identities and strengthen the networks of friends and family used to identify places to live and work. Rather than creating a homogeneous global society, technology may actually serve to strengthen national identities across borders.