The University Record, November 8, 1999

Internet important in low-income homes

By Jill Siegelbaum
News and Information Services

By studying the trends of students and families who receive Internet access, U-M researchers hope to smooth the path to the online community for Latinos and other minorities who have extremely limited access to the Internet.

Currently, Latinos have less access to the Internet than other minority groups, and far less access than the majority white population, according to the researchers. A study from the U-M Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education noted “whites and minorities have roughly equal access to the Internet in schools, but minorities have comparatively little access from the home.”

The students at Earhart Middle School in Detroit who participated in the study are enrolled in ESL II Science, a course for Spanish-speaking students with limited English proficiency. The 13 lower-income Latino families who comprised the study received home access to the Internet for four months through television set-top boxes (NetTV).

Interviews with the students and their parents showed that, although participants often used NetTV for recreation, it served primarily as an educational tool. Students used NetTV for homework in a variety of areas, including science, reading and English, while parents used the Internet to read newspapers from their home regions in Mexico.

As a result of the study, parents recognized the importance of the Internet in their children’s education, said Barry Fishman, assistant professor of education.

“During a home visit to one family, a parent commented that the entire reason he came to the United States was so that his children could study. Many parents realize that their children face additional challenges in this country as second-language learners.”

In addition, researchers learned a great deal about potential problems when introducing the Internet to a new group of users. In-home technical support was critical, especially during the first few weeks of use. Researchers also discovered the importance of group meetings to help the new users uncover the Internet’s potential.

“Our experiences in this one small community are an important first step to understanding the challenges that new groups of Internet users will face, and provides insight into how to turn these challenges into opportunities,” Fishman said.

The study is part of a district-wide reform effort to improve education in Detroit.