Computers for Youth (CFY), a New York City nonprofit organization serving low- and middle-income families, has developed an innovative program to address the digital divide. CFY places free computers with Internet access into the homes of disadvantaged children and their families and provides them with training and technical assistance via a help desk.
CCT collaborated with CFY on a one-year ethnographic study examining issues of access in the homes of low- and middle-income families. In particular, we looked at the kinds of social, cultural, literacy, and technical capital that low- and middle-income families deploy to maximize their use of computer and Internet technologies for themselves and their children's development. The study shows how:
- Access to and using computers and the Internet at home supports and/or changes the ways that young people and their families go about learning, socializing, and growing up in contemporary America
- This specific, historically evolved technology gets picked up and used (or not) in low- and middle-income families
- Families are deploying the cultural and social capital available to them to harness (or not) the educational advantages afforded by these computer and Internet technologies.
Informed by studies in media literacy, the digital divide, social capital, and development/cognition, we are beginning to understand the influence of different social and physical ecologies on how children use and embrace computer and Internet technologies. These ecologies range from the knowledge base of their parent/family/siblings, to that of peer groups, as well as of their community and school settings. For example, we have found that school use of educational computing can have significant and disproportionate effects on families with low social capital, leading to a more socially equitable experience for disadvantaged children. When schools make substantive (as distinct from peripheral or rote-learning) use of computers, students and their families seem to use computers in more varied ways at home, including greater communication with the school. We also have found that children's educational and social experiences through these technologies are influenced, supported, and complicated by the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic capital available to them in out-of school settings.