Detail from "the second line," a painting by Bob Graham. For more about the artist, click here.

Online Program

From Paper to Pixels: Digital Literacy in Hard to Reach Survey Environments
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*Jennifer Hunter Childs, U.S. Census Bureau 
Nathan Jurgenson, U.S. Census Bureau 

Keywords: literacy, illteracy, working memory, survey participation, comprehension, digital, tablet, laptop

We explore how those with varying backgrounds, including education, age, income, and if one is experiencing homelessness, differently perform on paper, tablet and smartphone versions of the decennial census questionnaire. Using the “digital literacy” framework, we examine cognitive interview and usability data to determine what literacy barriers exist with regard to new technologies that might be implemented in the future. Previously, it has been demonstrated that those of low-literacy are less likely to participate by self-administered surveys (that is, they are deemed “hard to reach”). Low working memory capacity and comprehension often result in those with low literacy to perform poorly on questionnaires. These survey performance issues also may lead respondents with low literacy skills to be less likely to participate in surveys to begin with. This exploratory study brings together literacy and digital literacy lessons to examine how those of different backgrounds perform across paper and pixel-based modes. We also re-examine preference for mode, given the recent uptake in cellular and smartphone consumption by those with less education and income.

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