Success factors and constraints impacting the used of computers and the Internet in Indigenous homes
The Home Internet project has been funded to provide and support home computing and Internet facilities to 20 households across three remote Aboriginal outstation communities (Kwale Kwale, Mungalawurru, Imangara) in central Australia. The existing ICT facilities in each of these communities are limited to one or two fixed line phone services, no mobile phone coverage, and no existing Internet access. The research component of the project is examining the factors which help or hinder peoples’ effective and sustained use of these tools for communications, learning, entertainment, and personal business. In addition to working with community members, CAT is working with the following research partners to conduct the project:
- ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation / Swinburne University of Technology Institute for Social Research
- Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
- Central Land Council
Until recently, most computer initiatives in remote communities have been built on the community access centre or Internet Café model. While these initiatives have been welcomed, providing ongoing support and supervision to sustain these centres has always been challenging. Also, mainstream Australia has largely moved on from this approach - families typically have one or more computers in their own homes, making it possible for adults and children to access the Internet at all times, and to manage the computer as a resource of their own. The ‘Home Internet’ project is exploring how this mainstream approach can be applied in the remote community context.
The Home Internet project design envisaged three stages:
- A baseline study which examines people’s existing knowledge and experience with computing and the Internet, and their aspirations in this regard
- An implementation stage, which involves the provision of a computer and printer to each participating household and installation of one or two shared satellite connections and a local WiFi network within the community to connect all these computers to the Internet. Ongoing technical support and training is an integral part of the project
- A third longitudinal research stage, which continues for the 3 year duration of the project, to observe how people are using the facilities, and to identify the factors (including human and technical factors) which assist or constrain their use. A particular aspect of this is observing whether a growing sense of dependence on the computers will lead in turn to the community being prepared to sustain and support the facilities beyond the project.
Almost all householders in the three outstation communities chose to participate in the project. The baseline study interviewed 50 groups of residents or individuals ranging in age from primary school aged children to older adults, whose existing skill levels ranged from a reasonably mature degree of computer literacy down to no familiarity with computers at all.
The facilities were introduced in mid-2011, and continue to be regularly used up to and beyond the monthly quotas – particularly by women and children. Popular activities include use of entertainment applications such as music and video downloads, sharing and printing of photos, school numeracy and literacy applications, online banking and purchasing, social networking and email.
A relatively low level of equipment failure has been experienced to date, predominantly printers succumbing to dust and grit. A sense of personal or household ownership and physical care of the equipment is developing.