Adult Literacy and Digital Inequalities

The ALDI project is a multi-site ethnographic research project carried out in libraries, neighbourhood houses and other community settings that explores how adults access and learn new digital technologies for everyday learning and work. There is much concern about people’s productivity in ‘technology-rich’ environments,  but little research that explores the actualities of adults’ digital learning experiences in diverse contexts structed by inequalities.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Suzanne Smythe
Funding Agency: SSHRC Insight Development Grant

What's Proposed

Digital access , and not minimal proficiency in traditional print literacy, is a prerequisite for 'proficiency' in digital literacies. Access itself is a socio-political phenonomenon, shaped by discourses and policies that regulate access to digital tools, including the cost and availability of high speed Internet, the distribution of functioning digital tools in the community, and access to mentorship, play, practice and just-in-time learning. In other words, digital learning is structured by processes of in/equity and in/access.

How This Project is Carried Out

ALDI is a community-based education project wherein ethnographic research activities and insights are leveraged to promote equitable access to digital tools and practices as the project unfolds. Using a multi-scalar and social-material framework , the research attends to how local and global policies and discourses are instrantiated in humans-tools interactions in local settings in ways that organize and structure access, identities, citizenship, democratic rights and possibilities for voice, creativity and production. In June 2014, the project was at its mid-way point with funding ending in June 2015.

Why This Project Matters

Access to and confidence using digital tools is central to inclusive citizenship and democratic participation. But there is little attention in adult education policy and provision to the socio-political structuring of access and how adults learn new digital literacies in contexts of inequality. The ALDI project attempts to respond to these silences,  and chart new paths of inquiry into the wonderful complexities of humans and non-human interactions in digital envirnoments.

Where to Learn More

Smythe, S. (2015). Beyond essential skills: Creating spaces for multimodal text production within Canada's 'minimal proficiency' policy regime. In, Hamilton, M., Heydon, R., Hibbert, K. and Stooke, R. (Eds.), Literacy, multimodality and governmentality: Negotiating spaces in learning. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 221–235.

Smythe, S., Toohey, K., and Dagenais, D. (2014). Multiliteracies and production pedagogies: What can workarounds tell us about educational policy change? Journal of Educational Policy, 1–14.

Smythe, S. (2014). Exploring digital literacies and inequalities: Digital learning in the library. Proceedings of the 2014 Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE) Annual Conference. St. Catherines, ON: CASAE.

Smythe, S. (March, 2013). Incorporating digital literacy in adult literacy settings: Toward an equity-driven conceptual framework. (pp. 563–568). Proceedings of the 2013 Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE) Annual Conference. Victoria, BC: CASAE. Smythe, S. (April, 2012).

Incorporating digital technologies in adult basic education settings: Practices, constraints and possibilities. Commissioned Report. Toronto: AlphaPlus.