December 09, 2005

Milestone 10: Future Directions

My 10th fluency milestone reflects the culmination of what has been truly a great learning experience in the Digital Governance course. Thank you Professor Shulman!

In many ways, this course has filled several gaps in my own professional development path within the field of information technology. As an undergraduate in Computer Science, the focus of my attention was on digital technology itself. I learned about computer systems, programming languages, operating systems, network infrastructures, etc…As part of my Master’s in Business Administration, I shifted my attention to the use of digital technology to provide solutions to business problems. Now, during my doctoral studies, I have developed a deeper interest in the impact of digital technology on the individual, the organization, and on society as a whole. Digital Governance has made me reflect on the significance and magnitude of this impact and has helped me realize how deep and broad the social and cultural ramifications really are. As a result, I have a better understanding of the challenges and research opportunities that lie ahead and a better sense of the contribution that I would like to make in this field.

Here are some key insights I have gained along my fluency path:

  • Digital Governance goes way beyond the provision of government services online. One cannot discuss digital governance without also discussing the role of digital citizens in a technology-based society. Together, these two topics open up a plethora of issues that are currently not on the radar screen of academia as much as they should be.
  • The impact of the digital technology on society has often been compared to the impact of the industrial revolution which includes technological, socio-economic, as well as cultural changes. However, one of the most outstanding characteristics of the digital revolution is the rapid pace at which it is taking place. This rapid transformation will create opportunities for many but, at the same time, has the potential to marginalize others and widen what has been defined as the digital divide.
  • IT Fluency (or Information Literacy) is an important element of the digital divide phenomenon. Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock” and “The Third Wave” noted that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." Our educational system must undergo a significant paradigm shift in order prepare digital citizens for the 21st century.
  • I applaud the way in which our Digital Governance class used technology-based learning tools as an integral part of the coursework. Blogs, online discussions, and podcasts, combined with traditional face to face discussion, enhanced the learning process and kept the participants highly motivated and engaged. This made me further reflect on the issue of Information Literacy and how other courses might be revised to take advantage of similar learning techniques. The question, however, is: how many tenured faculty members are willing to embrace a new teaching and learning philosophy?
  • Blogging is a very effective learning tool with tremendous potential for the classroom. I will look for ways to incorporate this technology in my own courses.
  • Wikipedia truly is an amazing feat and is a prime example of the positive impact of the Digital Revolution. A project of this nature would never have been possible without the collaborative power of the internet. The concept of Wikipedia should be recognized and valued not only for its own monumental achievements, but also for the potential to apply this model to other worldwide collaborative research projects. The possibilities are endless!...ah, and yes, I have become a Wikipedian.

December 07, 2005

Milestone 9: Information Literacy Divide

Traditionally, the digital divide has been defined as the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, throughout history every introduction of new technology has created a divide between those who could initially afford to adopt the technology and those who, for various reasons, could not. As a specific technology penetrates every corner of the world and every socio-economic stratum, the divide slowly narrows. Gaps created by broad, infrastructure-intensive, technologies take a very long time to close. For example, according to the International Labour Organization, half of the world population still has never made a phone call. And yet, the telephone was invented more than a century ago.

Not surprisingly, the divide, exists not only between countries but within a country. For example, all available evidence shows that Internet use is much more common among younger people, who are males, urban, and with higher levels of education and income.

In a society and economic marketplace that are increasingly more dependent of information based technologies, it is essential for all citizens to have a certain set of Information Literacy skills necessary to function in that environment. One important element of the digital divide that has been receiving significant attention lately is the notion of Information Literacy gap. That is the gap between those who have the knowledge and skills necessary to use technology and information resources and those who do not. In other words, the real handicap is not so much the lack of a computer connection, but the lack of knowledge of what to do with that computer connection.

But the question is…Why should we be concerned about this? Some would argue that divides are just a fact of life. We have divides between those who have SUV’s and those who don’t, those who own a Mercedes and those who don’t. Why is the digital divide any different? Why should it get special attention?

The big difference between the Digital Divide and other forms of economic divides is that the Digital Divide has the potential for much broader negative impact on the individual as well as society. Arguably, if a certain segment of society does not does not own an SUV, but it has other means of reliable transportation, this gap has no negative impact. On the other hand, if an entire society is moving fast into an information and technology based economy, not having the necessary literacy to function in that environment and to be an active participant can be detrimental to not only to the individuals but to the entire society as a whole.

Therefore, it is essential that, as we promote notions of e-Government, Digital Citizenship, and other opportunities that can be gained from information technology, we also pay close attention to the potential gap that these initiatives might create. These initiatives must be advanced with a broader understanding of the possible impact that they might pose on the digital divide.

In order for society to reap the benefits of a digital economy, policy makers in the private and public sector, locally, nationally, and internationally must devote the necessary attention and resources to Information Literacy in order to ensure that the digital divide gets narrower rather than wider. Individuals, as well, must have the responsibility and civic duty to embrace new technology and embark in a lifelong learning regiment that will keep them Information Literate and productive members of a knowledge based society.

Milestone 8: "E"-everything!

We live in an age when it is fashionable to coin new terms associated technology. We have E-commerce, e-Learning, e-Banking, e-Publishing, e-Literacy, e-Democracy, e-Government, and e-Mail. We also have Digital Governance, Information Literacy, IT Fluency, Digital Citizenship and many others. I call these e-terms (there…I just coined a new one).

Somehow, these e-terms convey the notion that a traditional activity or concept has been transformed by technology. They try to draw a distinction between the “traditional” way of doing something and the “new” way of doing something. You can learn or you can e-learn. You can learn about governance or you can learn about digital governance. You can do banking or you can do e-banking.

It is important to reflect on the fact that these are transitory terms. There is nothing essentially new about these e-activities and e-concepts. They are just new ways of doing old activities and describing old concepts. For example, e-Banking is simply banking with greater use of technology. In essence, very little has changed in “what” we do but a lot has changed in “how” we do it. Sure, some things are completely new, like blogging for example, but not many. Because we are in a rapid period of technology evolution (or even revolution), these terms help us differentiate the new way of doing something from the old way of doing something. At some point, after the revolution dust settles, the “new” way will simply be “the” way and the e–terms will go away. Digital Citizens will go back to being plain citizens who are able to make the best use of the resources around them (which of course will be digital in nature…but, what else is new?) to be active participants in democracy. We will be normal students going to school to learn about governance, democracy, publishing, and banking (which will all be information and technology based…but, what else is new?). And e-Government will go back to just being plain government (…unfortunately).

With respect to Information Literacy, the ALA defines a person who is information literate as being able to do the following efficiently:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Once society is able to achieve this level of literacy and, as a result, we’ll be better citizens of the information intensive world we live in, we will not need to distinguish ourselves as Information Literate….we will simply be ....well...Literate.

I wonder who much e-time that will take!

December 04, 2005

Rumsfeld Library of Quotations

From BBC Website:

Rivalled only by the President himself, Mr Rumsfeld is prodigious in his output. Now, straight from the horse's mouth, hand-crafted from the finest Soundbite TM, mounted and polished for your pleasure, we give you:

The Donald Rumsfeld Library of Quotations.

Milestone 7: Defining IT Fluency

I thought it would be fairly easy to define what IT Fluency is, but a quick look at the research literature proved me wrong. Ouch…now what?

Well let me start by putting down some terms that are being used that, generally, convey the same concept.

Computer Competency, Computer Literacy, IT Literacy, IT Fluency, Information Literacy, and Information Fluency.

Wikipedia addresses the topic of Information Literacy and Computer Literacy, ignoring all other terms.

Computer Literacy seems to have stemmed from the commerce environment and is defined as the knowledge and ability a person has to use computers and technology efficiently. This term rather narrow in scope and is becoming somewhat dated.

Information Literacy (or Fluency) and IT Fluency (or FIT) are the two most widely accepted terms in the research literature.

The term Information Literacy originated in the domain of librarianship. The most widely accepted definition of this term was provided by ALA in 1989, which defined information literacy as “a set of abilities: recognizing an information need and locating, evaluating, and using the needed information effectively” (American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, 1989). This definition and subsequent refinements from within the field the library science are rooted in the concepts of library and bibliographic instruction, and appear to be focused on finding, evaluating, and using information.

The term IT Fluency (or Fluency with Information Technology, FIT) was coined by National Research Council Committee on Information Technology Literacy and “sets the standard for what everyone should know about IT in order to use it effectively now and in the future. It explores three kinds of knowledge intellectual capabilities, foundational concepts, and skills that are essential for fluency with IT.” The committee also acknowledges the concept of Information Literacy that has emerged from the field of Library. However, it notes that Information Literacy focuses on content and communication while FIT, by contrast focuses on broader intellectual capabilities, foundational concepts and essential skills.

I sense a tad of rivalry between the ALA and NRC regarding these two definitons. However, from my observation, with the exception of some subtle definitional nuances, Information Literacy and IT Fluency are coming together to the same conversion point. The difference is simply semantics. Call it Information Literacy or call IT Fluency, what is important is the recognition that a certain level of “competency” is an increasingly critical attribute that an informed citizen of an information society ought to possess in order to participate intelligently and actively in that society.

The question is how do we define what those competencies are?...Remain tuned.

Printing the Wikipedia?

With all the talk about wikipedia in this class, I thought this cartoon was was timely. It shows at least one of the challanges associated with distributing printed versions (or other had media) of wikipedia, a concept that has been discussed in the media in recent weeks.
Printing wikipedia is a valiant attempt to try to get around the digital divide. The irony, as the cartoon points out, is that the countries that could most use printed versions of wikipedia are the same countries that do not have adequate online access to develop content in their local language in the first place. It goes to show that connectivity is only one aspect of the digital divide problem.

November 29, 2005

Milestone Six: IT Fluency

Lawrence Snyder’s book on IT Fluency brings together many interesting concepts related to the use of technology for the sake of becoming a more functional citizen in the Information Age. An even more interesting aspect of the book, however, is the subtle message that IT fluency applies to everyone and that everyone who wants to succeed in this day and age must be responsible for becoming and remaining IT fluent. It was not too long ago that IT knowledge was cast in the domain of IT professionals. The general mentality, especially in the workplace, was that “if it involves a computer it must be technical and, therefore I am not responsible for it”. Times have changed. More and more IT is just another set of tools that people use to do business or to simply function in an information-based society.

As we look at IT fluency as a study discipline or research topic, it helps to point out that there is little consensus as to what IT Fluency is. If fact, there is not even agreement on a clear definition of the concept. The breadth, complexity, and application of IT blur the definition of what it really means to be “IT fluent”. Is someone who knows how to program computers IT fluent? What about those who are savvy with online financial trading tools, are they IT fluent? Is being able to do online shopping and banking considered IT fluency? It seems to me that the definition of IT fluency is highly contextual and situational. What may be considered to be an adequate fluency level in one area may be insufficient in another. The challenge is how do we identify what is IT fluency? How do we measure it? What is is an adequate level of IT fluency and how do we achieve it and maintain it?

My goals are to explore these questions along my own IT fluency path…stay tuned.

November 28, 2005

Nugget: Digital Spiritual Citizenship

I have been involved with IT and uses of IT for most of my professional life. A few years ago, one of my consulting assignments was to help a religious order implement a database system to keep track of weekly donations. So why would I be surprised to see a big article in this week’s CIO Insight Magazine that talks about the use of technology in mega-churches?

In this day and age, is there anything unusual about a church having a website? Or a pastor sprucing up his sermons with Flash animations and PowerPoint? How about the use of email, blogs, podcasting, and streaming video to keep church members connected and engaged? Ok, this will get your attention…church-goers that use the church’s WiFi network to pull up Bible verses on their laptops as they follow their minister along on a big-screen TV. The collection plate still comes around, but some church-goers now have the option to have their donation directly taken out of their checking account. I am trying to remember the last time I went to church, but things sure have changed!

Willow Creek is an association of 11,500 churches inter-connected by a sophisticated network IT and communication resources. There is an estimated 1,800 mega-churches (defined as churches with more than 2,000 members) with a total weekly attendance of more than 7 million. These mega-churches rely on the latest technology to keep track of their flock and disseminate “God’s” word.

I am putting all this within the context of Digital Citizenship. Knowing how much influence religious groups have on the political process, how much political damage can a well-connected mega-church cause to the democratic process?
p.s. You may purchase sermons online at $6.00 for CDs, $8.00 for DVDs, and $2.00 for MP3s.

Nugget: China's Party Girl Leads Online Revolution

A recent New York Times article drives home my point about the notion of “Digital Activism” on my recent post. The article is titled “A party Girl Leads China Online Revolution”.

Going by the pseudonym of Mu Mu, the 25-year old female blogger and Communist Party member, breaks away from party ideology and keeps one of the most popular political Web Logs in China.

According to the New York Times, Mu Mu “appears online most evenings around midnight, shielding her face while striking poses that are provocative, but never sexually explicit.” On one of her recent postings she writes:

"I don't know if I can be counted as a successful Web cam dance girl, but I'm sure that looking around the world, if I am not the one with the highest diploma, I am definitely the dance babe who reads the most and thinks the deepest, and I'm most likely the only party member among them."

In recent years thousands of blogs have sprung up in China’s blogosphere, which defy all government’s attempts to restrict freedom of expression. The content of these blogs is often political, with the intent to undermine Communist ideology and power.

With China’s Internet population growing at mind-boggling rates, the Chinese government will soon realize that, while traditional political activism could easily be squelched with a few army tanks in Tiananmen Square, “Digital Activism” will be much more difficult to control and will, eventually, drive real political and social change.

Way to go Mu Mu!

Milestone Five: "Digital Activism"

Wikipedia defines “activism” as “intentional action to bring about social or political change”. The same source defines “hacktivism” as “the writing of code, or otherwise manipulating bits, to promote political ideology”. In her essay “Hacktivism and the future of Democratic Discourse”, Alexandra Samuel attempts to actually describe a taxonomy for hacktivism activity, defined by the nature of the activity.

I personally think that we should move away from the term “hacktivism” because it combines into one term the notion of “activism”, which can be a positive effort to bring about positive change, with the notion of “hacking” which, traditionally, has been understood to be some type of malicious and destructive activity for the sake of exhibiting one’s technical savvy. Instead, within the context of digital deliberation and democratic discourse, we should use the term “Digital Activism”, defined as “the use of digital tactics to bring about social or political change”. By taking out the notion of “hacking” from this concept, we are able to view “Digital Activism” in a much more positive light and more closely related to the classic notion of “Political Activism”. This enables us to separate legal and purposeful digital activity, intended to bring positive social and political change, from “hacking” activity, which typically involves illegal efforts. Of course Digital Activism can still be illegal, in the same way that classic political activism can, sometimes, be illegal. By simply applying the classic principle of “trespassing”, it is easy to identify which type activity that is illegal. For example, site defacements, re-directs, denial of services attacks, and other similar tactics are illegal activities that involve the illegal trespass of one’s property (physical or otherwise). Not only is this activity illegal, but it also causes economic damage to the target site for which the intruder should be held liable.

In this age of digital information, “digital activism” can play an important and positive role in the democratic process and can be as effective (perhaps even more so) at promoting change as traditional forms of activism. However, we need to give “digital activism” a fair chance at making a positive impact by separating it from the negative stigma associated with hacking activity

November 05, 2005

Google Alerts - Best thing since sliced bread

I am sure that I am not reporting anything that my highly IT fluent classmates do not already know, but I wanted to go on record in saying that, in this age of information glut, Google Alerts truly are the best thing since sliced bread.

The service is easy to use. You simply go to, where you register a topic(s) of interest that you would like to follow in the news. As Google finds relevant news items on that topic, email alerts are sent to you with proper links to the source of the news. Lately, Google Alerts have helped me keep track of news developments around Avian Flu, which could have an impact on our Semester at Sea program. However, Google Alerts could be setup up for any topic of interest, including everything we have been discussing in class from digital governance to podcasting to blogging.

Still in Beta test, this service is provided by Goggle for free. It is difficult to predict how long this service will remain free or how Google might charge for the service in the future. But for now, Google Alerts are a big plus in my IT fluency portfolio.

Example of a Google Alert:

Google Alert for: "avian flu"

Sentries in US Seek Early Signs of the Avian FluNew York Times - United States... We get them once, and they don't shop here anymore.". With the country waiting nervously for avian flu to arrive, catching wild birds is no hobby. ... See all stories on this topic

World Bank helps countries combat avian fluViet Nam News Agency - Hanoi,VietnamThis was announced by the WB prior to an international conference on avian flu to be jointly held in Geneva from November 9-11 under the sponsorship of the WB ... See all stories on this topic

New Avian Flu Outbreaks in - New York,NY,USA... woman from the same Vietnamese province has come down with a fever and respiratory problems, which may indicate infection with the avian flu strain H5N1. ... See all stories on this topic

This as it happens Google Alert is brought to you by Google.

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November 02, 2005

Milestone Four: The Art of Programming

“The process of preparing programs for a digital computer is especially attractive, not only because it can be economically and scientifically rewarding, but also because it can be an aesthetic experience much like poetry or music” – Donald E Knuth, 1970.

Not everyone has the same affinity for programming languages as Donald Knuth. Knuth, after all, is a famous scientist and programmer who devoted most of his life to computer science and the development of algorithms. At least, however, we should have a healthy appreciation for programming languages and for those who use them to program the many computer applications that we use to make our daily lives much easier.

With websites becoming increasingly more interactive, programming languages play a big role in web and e-commerce applications. Without the support of a programming language, HTML could do very little more than simply display pages of static content. It is the strength of programming languages, along with the creativity of programmers who use them, that give web applications the functionality to perform tasks and services as well as display dynamic content. Take, for example, your online banking website. This site can be used to retrieve account balances and transactions from your checking account. You can edit your address information. You can pay bills, transfer funds, and so on. All these functions had to be programmed by a professional programmer using a programming language.

When it comes to web applications, there are two types of programming.

Client-Side Programming refers to programming steps that are executed by the browser on the “client” computer (that is your computer). This technique is used, in some cases, to verify user input. For example, it might be used to make sure that when you type in your bank account number only numeric characters are accepted. JavaScript is a widely used programming language used for client-side programming.

Server-Sided Programming refers to programming tasks that are executed by the web server itself. This type of programming is used to manipulate data that may reside on a database server as well as perform calculations on those data. Server sided programming is used to create “dynamic” web that “push” information form the server to the browser. For example, when you request to see your account transactions, a server-sided program will retrieve those transactions from a database and will forward them to your browser so that they can be dynamically displayed on the screen of you computer. Some widely used server-sided programming tools include: Structured Query Language (SQL), Active Server Pages (ASP), Java Server Pages (JSP), PHP, Cold Fusion, Visual Basic, C++, and Perl.