Dissertation

Conceptions of the "digital divide" and its impact on the experiences of "at risk" students at a highly selective public university

The purpose of this case study analysis was to examine the impacts of the digital divide on first generation, ethnic minority, and undocumented students at a highly selective public university. Through surveys and interviews, the researcher collected and analyzed data in order to gain an understanding of student experience with technology in higher education. The researcher interviewed 7 participants (4 male, 3 female) from various demographic groups (first generation Hispanic, first generation ethnic minority non-Hispanic, and undocumented) looking for similarities and differences in experience between and among groups. The first chapter begins with a brief history of technology in higher education, providing a context for introducing the problem of how this divide can impact marginalized populations. The literature review discusses the evolutionary history of the digital divide, the factors that contribute to it, and the students impacted by it, concluding that a lack of connection between the topics has led to gaps in research, justifying the need for a case study. The third chapter outlines the proposed case study research design and methodology. The fourth chapter discusses the results of the survey and the emerging themes from the interviews. Results indicated that students at this particular university were not impacted negatively by the digital divide, and supplemental evidence suggested that the unique culture of the school has rendered the traditional risk factors (socioeconomic, first generation, and ethnic minority status) as insignificant in the discussion, at least in terms of these factors’ ability to negatively impact student chances of success.

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