Digital Divide research supports Qatar’s new research strategy

by  — 23 October 2012

As Qatar celebrates the unveiling of its National Research Strategy, a group of Northwestern University in Qatar faculty and students are supporting the drive to a knowledge-based economy with research that will help institutions close the digital divide and provide a groundbreaking source of information for scholars of digital literacy.

Susan Dun, Senior lecturer at Northwestern Qatar
Susan Dun, Senior lecturer at Northwestern Qatar ‘Effective use of the web: digital literacy in Qatar’ is being presented at the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum as the first study to evaluate Arabic users’ and bilinguals’ web searching strategies using observational methods. The research project, led by Susan Dun, Senior Lecturer in NU-Q’s Communication program, will analyse the level of digital literacy by measuring both the ability of searchers to successfully complete their tasks as well their efficiency in doing so. Dun’s work is an example of NU-Q’s effort to “advance understanding and development of digital media in Qatar,” according to NU-Q Dean and CEO Everette Dennis. “We have a mandate to produce media professionals with world class capabilities here in Doha, and part of that work is to contribute to the development of the media industry and the knowledge economy of Qatar,” he explained. “NU-Q and its faculty are working independently as well as with organisations such as ictQATAR to identify gaps in the digital media industry and ways to bridge those gaps using innovation, technology as well as policy making.” Dun, who hopes her research will produce more accurate tools to assess digital literacy, is optimistic that the results will be particularly useful to ictQATAR - Qatar’s Supreme Council of Information and Communication - in their policy decision-making. “The digital divide, which separates those with and without access to Web resources, is a significant concern, given the explosion of resources available via the Web,” explained Dun. “The need to understand, measure, and potentially improve local levels of digital literacy is crucial for countries like Qatar that have already spent a great deal of effort to expand access to the Internet and to create a knowledge-based online society.” “Knowing what levels of digital literacy exist in the Arabic subpopulations in Doha, especially Qataris, will help them design effective Web-based tools,” she continued. Dun has been training three Communication students for almost a year in preparation for the data collection, which will begin in November. The student researchers will spend 90 minute sessions with respondents that involve a pre-questionnaire, an observational session where the respondents perform Internet searching tasks and finally a post-questionnaire. Results will then be correlated with demographic variables to determine if there are differences in digital literacy levels between Qataris and Non-Qataris; Arabic speakers versus English speakers and bilingual users versus monolingual users. Dean Dennis also explained that NU-Q is in the process of creating a research body with an expanded mandate to consolidate this research and support Qatar’s renewed drive in this area. “This year’s forum is establishing a roadmap for implementing the Qatar National Research Strategy by bringing together key players in Qatar’s research community – including Northwestern University in Qatar. By consolidating research carried out at the university, NU-Q is taking a significant step towards helping develop a knowledge-based economy,” Dean Dennis explained.

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