Magazine article Multicultural Education

The Digital Literacy Practices of Latina/o Immigrant Parents in an After-School Technology Partnership

Magazine article Multicultural Education

The Digital Literacy Practices of Latina/o Immigrant Parents in an After-School Technology Partnership

Article excerpt

Introduction

Drawing from a larger qualitative four-year study of an after-school technology partnership called La Clase Mágica at the University of Texas at San Antonio (LCM@UTSA), we focus on how digital literacies mediate the literacy learning of Latina/o bilingual immigrant parents. We also discuss how the elementary school and university partnership addressed the opportunities and challenges of working with culturally diverse families.

Specifically, this article explores the ways Latina/o families in the program use technology to bridge existing cultural and technological divides. The term family member is utilized along with the term parent because it better reflects the situations of Latina/o students, who often are raised communally by extended family members and close friends (Machado- Casas, 2009b).

Using a participatory perspective on parent involvement (Vásquez, 2003, 2006), and the multigenerational community utility-based model of Latina/o families' interactions as a theoretical framework (Machado-Casas, 2006; Valdés, 1996), this article explores how Latina/o families involved in LCM@UTSA use technology as a bridge for connecting with their children, getting involved with the school, and becoming part of the local and global 21st century community.

The research conducted here is significant, given the digital divide that persists along racial and class lines. In the following sections, we provide information on that digital divide and technology usage among Latina/o parents and families as well as family involvement in technology education. We close with reflections on partnering with local parents, an elementary school, and a university teacherpreparation program; we offer implications and directions for further investigations.

The Digital Divide in the U.S.

In the U.S., the digital divide-the gap that exists between people who have access to digital technology and those who do not-is tightly linked to access to computers and Internet usage that can be examined across socio-economic status, ethnicity, and age. Households with a yearly income of $75,000 or higher have a home computer ownership rate of 88%; at the $15,000-to-$24,999 income level, home computer ownership drops to 33%; a yearly income under $15,000 yields only a 23% home computer ownership rate (Chakraborty & Bosman, 2002).

The two ethnic groups with the highest levels of home computer access are Asians at 78% and Whites at 75%, compared to 51% of African Americans and 49% of Latinas/os (Fairlie, 2005). These figures do not change significantly when we examine Internet access at home. For African Americans and Latinas/os, these figures drop to 41% and 38%, respectively (Fairlie, 2005). Some families may own a computer but cannot afford consistent, monthly Internet service at home. Also, within the Latina/o population, "Mexicans have the lowest home computer and Internet access rates, followed by Central and South Americans" (Fairlie, 2005, p. i).

Levels of education and language are significant factors for not engaging in online interactions (Fox & Livingston, 2007). Given that four in 10 Latina/o adults have not completed high school, their opportunities for participation are largely diminished (Fox & Livingston, 2007).

These statistics are similar in school contexts. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2000), only 7% of Latino students in first through sixth grades report using a computer at home compared to 31% of White students. In fact, Latino families are half as likely to own a computer as White families, and they are 2.5 times less likely to use the Internet (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).

The digital divide highlights that computer literacy is not a luxury but a need, as technology affects nearly all aspects of everyday life (Machado-Casas, 2009b). In today's information-based economy, computer literacy is a central requirement for many jobs. Since many Latinas/os do not have access to computers at home or at school, they are likely to lack computer and technology skills, rendering them unqualified for many jobs (Pruitt-Mentle, 2002). …

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