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The subject of this thesis is the potential role of ICTs as a means of addressing social exclusion. ICTs have been recognised for their double-edged promise: while they may open opportunities in work, education and social practices, their benefits may be inaccessible to disadvantaged members of society. This subject is explored by means of a case study of adult learners who have been exposed to a ‘social experiment’ involving technological endowment of an Irish community: the Ennis Information Age Town project. This large-scale private sector initiative, which ran between 1997 and 2002, has the potential to inform future ICT projects regarding requirements of all community sectors: the following study focuses on experiences of adults with low levels of traditional education and income. Inclusion and ICTs are brought together in public discourses in the term ‘digital divide’. Chapter One considers the concept’s value along with public and private responses to it. The nature of ICTs inclusive potential is reviewed. The second chapter examines technology-community initiatives as an arena in which ICT exclusion may be addressed. Three other initiatives are outlined for contextualised discussion of the Ennis project. The case study is discussed in Chapter Three, in which sixteen VTOS students were subjects of qualitative research. In Chapter Four’s discussion it is found that ICTs provide benefits in educational endeavours, upskilling and maintaining social ties but have little influence on household activities or the size of social networks. Prominent factors moderating use are technical deterrents and the introduction of technologies relatively late in life. Although some respondents’ ICTs remained ‘unshaped’ through lack of use, many had developed a reflexive relationship with ICTs, whereby they appropriated parts of the technology according to specific needs; and most, with increasing familiarity, broadened their expectations of outcomes of ICT use. The final chapter draws from these findings a series of barriers that need to be addressed by future ICT projects. It concludes that ICTs play a modest though significant role in encouraging social inclusion; the fostering of use among disadvantaged groups requires access to up-to-date ICTs in a familiar, interactive and supported environment, but ultimately it requires a break from the conventions of the current human-computer interface.
Greenhalgh, A.; ICTs as an Aid to Inclusivity? : Barriers to Benefits for Adult Learners in the Ennis Informatin Age Town. Masters Thesis. Dublin Institute of Technology, 2003.