26 October 2010

ORCA: The Office of Research and Creative Activities

My university is now accepting applications for $1,800 research grants through ORCA. I've been working on my application, so I'll post my third draft and open for critiques. Let me know what you think!

Importance of project: We live in the midst of a digital renaissance, reflected in swift technological advances and cultural revolution. Often, those living in the United States have nearly constant access to technological resources, especially the internet. Developing nations like India, however, have significantly limited access by comparison. The Tibetan community living in exile in McLeod Ganj, India is a contradiction--the residents boast a high level of digital literacy but usually lack desktop, laptop, and mobile computers. Though Paul Levinson and others have studied the implications of the digital renaissance in first world countries, that which concerns developing countries has focused on the digital divide between nations. Now, due to the advances of mobile technology, the phenomenon of developing countries "digitally leapfrogging" developed nations displaces the notion of digital divide (Fink and Kenny 15). This results in a gap in scholarship concerning digitally literate communities without prime access to technology, especially for the Tibetans' unique exile in India. The digital renaissance is global in its effects, largely because global communication is easier than ever. Therefore, scholarship concerning digital literacy must extend beyond national borders just as its subject matter does.

Main Proposal: Digital literacy is a hallmark of the rising generation. "It has long been recognised [sic] that literacy, and a literate population, are keys not only to economic development but also to personal achievement and social well being everywhere . . . but only recently have we begun to understand the importance of 'beyond literacy' developments such as information literacy, digital literacy, and complementary literacies" (Ameen and Gorman 100). Generally, and fortunately, students today "have grown up surrounded by, and have become intimately integrated with, technology" (Millenbah and Wolter 575). Digital literacy requires, at its foundation, proficiency with technological hardware--the keyboard and mouse themselves--and with basic internet functions such as navigating browsers, websites, and search engines. Beyond these basic functions, the digitally literate are comfortable and confident with computer programs even when said programs are unfamiliar. Digitally literate students engage in online collaboration, such as writing Wikipedia. They expect high-speed internet connections and immediate, concise results and skim and sample to consume long texts. Further, "the evolution of media has so integrated the modes of communication and transportation as to make us expect any device that does the first to be able just as easily to do the second" (Levinson Soft Edge 229). The digitally literate habitually engage in multi-tasking.

The internet generation displays the cultural effects of widespread digital literacy. Much that students read now is non-traditional, informal text, such as text on blogs and websites. Students expect programs and software to be free, often circumventing the digital economic systems as with iTunes and YouTube. With iPhones and other mobile internet devices, the wealth of online information is available anywhere, heavily undercutting the necessity of memorized facts and dates. Students have access to current, real time information, as with the "extraordinary communications" that covered the 2003 war in Iraq (Levinson Cell Phone 137). Digital literacy is manifest in culture in both positive and negative ways.

Tibetans in India are actively involved in the digital renaissance. The Dalai Lama has Twitter, the Tibetan Children's Village schools have a Facebook group, and Dharamsala has a wireless mesh that covers the whole city. The Indian government policies "have been very IT-friendly in order to nurture the digital paradigm" (Ameen and Gorman 99). Yet most Tibetans in India cannot afford an iPhone, a laptop, or a home internet connection. In 2003, there was a 70-fold difference in access rates between US and Indian households (Fink and Kenny 20).

For these Tibetans, digital literacy is more than a popular cultural phenomenon; it also helps to further their goals. Literacy is associated with political activism, since those who can read the laws can "take an active part in elections and legislation," as well as promote a "unifying cultural heritage" (Goody 50). To become literate is to be "no longer part of the mass, but one of the people" (Freire "Adult Literacy" 408). Digitally literate Tibetans are able to blog, comment, and otherwise involve themselves in the online political conversation. One such politically-charged blog is Chime Tenzing's "free, frank & fearless view & reporting from The Barking Dog" (How do I cite this?). As Tibetans are educated in digital literacy, they are "no longer satisfied to watch, they want to participate" (Freire Education 13). Digital literacy also serves to conserve heritage. The exiled Tibetans have long been interested in cultural preservation, especially now that the rising generation of Tibetans in India has never known their homeland. "The idea of intellectual, and to some extent political, universalism is historically and substantively linked with literate culture" (Goody 50). For contemporary Tibetans, raising a digitally literate generation means keeping their cultural identity intact. And, "contrary to prevailing attitudes . . . that Generation Y is somehow socially and politically disengaged because of technology, the opposite is true (Westlake 23). [Concluding sentence]

My project will study the presence and effect of digital literacy for the Tibetans living in India. It involves field work in India, during which I will communicate with Dr. Burton digitally. Dr. Burton and I will begin by developing interview and survey questions based on the International Society for Technology in Education's five standards for digital-age learning. Our inquiries will probe the ways in which Tibetan students in India "demonstrate creativity and innovation, communicate and collaborate, conduct research and use information, think critically, solve problems, and make decisions, and use technology effectively and productively" ("NETS for students"). We will design questions to discover what cultural effects are unique to Tibetan culture and what positive and negative effects exist. We will also explore the ways in which Tibetans in India use digital literacy for political activism and cultural preservation. I will then interview and survey faculty, administrators, and students at Tibetan Children's Village schools. To supplement this data, I will observe digital literacy in classes, school computer labs, and public places like internet cafes.

Anticipated academic outcome: I document my progress and thoughts on [this] research blog, which will stand as online evidence of my research and results. After I write about my findings, I will submit my research for presentation at BYU's annual Inquiry Conference. My research will be the basis for my honors thesis, which I will submit for publication in the Journal of Student Cross-cultural Research and the International Review of Education.

Qualifications: I am uniquely qualified to complete this project because I have several established contacts in India, nearly forty posts on my research blog ranging from a survey of my Digital Civilization classmates to a Skype conversation between myself and an employee at a Tibetan school. In the two classes I've taken from my mentor Dr. Burton I have used Facebook and blogs to exchange ideas with classmates and to document my learning online. I will also take a beginning Tibetan language class winter 2011, establishing basic proficiency in their language.

Dr. Gideon O. Burton earned his PhD from the University of Southern California in 1994, the same year that he joined the BYU English Department faculty. His website, rhetoric.byu.edu, has earned several awards. In addition, he has maintained his blog, Academic Evolution, since 2008 and the online Mormon literature database since 2003. Dr. Burton's personal website contains scholarly links to various online resources of his own creation. Dr. Burton uses his knowledge of new technology in his university courses, successfully implementing tools like Facebook, blogs, and Diigo into literature, research, and civilization courses. He is also a new media consultant for the online missionary work at the MTC. Dr. Burton has mentored several Field Study students and serves on the Field Study committee for India.

Project timetable: I post to my blog twice weekly and I maintain contact with several Tibetans in India, one of whom is the head office computer coordinator for the Tibetan Children's Village schools. For the winter 2011 semester, I will enroll in a beginning Tibetan language class and IAS 360 to prepare for cultural immersion and develop my project. For ninety days in the summer of 2011 I will live in India, conducting my research on a BYU Field Study program with several other students. When I return I'll enroll in IAS 361, the post-field writing class, and write my honors thesis. I will them submit my work to the Inquiry Conference and aforementioned journals for publication.

BYU mission: Part of BYU's stated mission is that students should "communicate effectively [and] understand important ideas in their own cultural tradition as well as that of others." Cross-cultural communication encourages understanding between cultures and peoples. My research will improve cross-cultural communication by developing understanding of Tibetan digital literacy, thereby enhancing cultural awareness.

Ameen, Kanway and G.E. Gorman. "Information and digital literacy: a stumbling block to development? A Pakistan perspective." Library Management 30.1/2 (2009): 99-112. Web. 16 Oct 2010.

Fink, Carsten and Charles J. Kenny. "W(h)ither the digital divide?" Info 5.6 (2003): 15-24. Web. 16 Oct 2010.

Freire, Paulo. "The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom and Education and Conscientizacao." Perspectives on Literacy. Ed. Eugene R. Kintgen, Barry M. Kroll, and Mike Rose. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Univ Pr, 1988. Print.

---. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: The Seabury Press, 1973. Print.

Goody, Jack and Ian Watt. "Literate Culture: Some General Considerations." The Future of Literacy. Ed. Robert Disch. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973. Print.

Levinson, Paul. Cell Phone: The Story of the World's Most Mobile Medium and how it has Transformed Everything. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.

---. The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Millenbah, Kelly and Bjorn H. K. Wolter. "The Changing Face of Natural Resources Students, Education, and the Profession." Journal of Wildlife Management 73.4 (2009): 573-579. Web. 15 Sep 2010.

"NETS for Students: Digital-Age Learning." International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE. 2010. Web. 20 Oct 2010.

Westlake, E. J. "Friend Me if You Facebook: Generation Y and Performance Surveillance." TDR: The Drama Review 52.4 (2008): 21-40. Web. 15 Sep 2010.

I think my weak points are where I describe the project itself and when I relate it to BYU's mission.


  1. Why study Tibetans in Exile? How will it help other nations? They are the perfect people to study as an example of what is possible for other nations. Even with their lack of available technology for the masses, many have tapped into some of benefits of modern technology. You may want to make a mention of the far reaching effects studying this unique people will have in that conclusion sentence. Just a thought...

  2. I feel like there is a ton of background information, but the description of what you will actually be doing is comparatively vague. I suggest making your research question more clear, right now it seems like you have many. That is fine but I'm wondering if you can tighten up your purpose a little? Be more succinct in the background, and simultaneously offer a more clear idea of not only what your question is, the relevancy of your question, specific descriptions of the activities you will use to investigate this question and what you hope it will contribute.

    How is having posts from others on your research blog a qualification? Have you done cross-cultural research before? Have you done research on digital literacy? Why is this project a natural fit for you? I would make the timetable a little more clear too, for example, you say for 90 days you will conduct research. What does this include? Do you have a timeline for when you hope to have a certain number of interviews/class visits etc completed? Make it clear so the evaluators can see that you know what you're doing and that you have a solid (doable) plan for achieving that goal.

    These are my initial thoughts, I'm not even sure we know each other, but I know field studies! :) Good luck! This blog is a good idea.

  3. Well done!

    I think Rosalie's suggestions are good ones to consider, though many of the questions she raises will be a lot more important to address in three or four months. I think you've identified some good things in your qualifications, but you'll want to identify exactly why your blog posts or idea exchanges are qualifications. Basically, rather than saying "I've kept a blog," you're saying "I've done a lot of research and writing on this subject, as demonstrated by nearly forty posts on an academic blog." Does that make sense?

    I would also see about getting a citation for the International Society for Technology in Education's five standards for digital-age learning (how's that for nit-picky?).

    In general, though, I think you've done a good job here. You've established your mentoring relationship with Dr. Burton, which is important to show ORCA, and you've done a good job framing the issues that interest you in terms of academic dialogue.

    Good luck!!

  4. Thanks so much for all your input! I am making the changes you suggested and submitting my proposal tonight!