A Patched Quilt

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Leslie Farley-Sheets
University of Rio Grande & The Ohio State Universi

Like patches pieced together on an Appalachian quilt, the problem of understanding the digital divide issue in Appalachian higher education is a colorful, complex and multi-textural pattern rich in history and tradition. This pattern explores the unique barriers that exist between virtual connections and actual presence within tele-communicated curricula in Appalachia, and the factors, or "patches", that contribute to the efficacious adoption of technology into the teaching and learning practices of higher education communities.


The history of distance education in southern Appalachian Ohio indicates that acquisition of technology has made little progress in the transformation of educational processes. Frequently and paradoxically, faculty reacts in a resistant manner to new technologies, skills and pedagogical change. These issues are not just limited to Appalachian communities, but the Ohio Appalachian region provides a rich contextual case study environment for the following reasons:


The adoption of digital communications technologies comes with an inherent tension between “efficiency” and “creativity” (McCain & Maxwell, forthcoming). Digital divide literature suggests that traditional faculty will have a higher sense of efficacy for traditional learning solutions (behavioral learning outcomes) with communication technology, and with the “efficiency” characteristics of adoption (saving time, money, resources, efficiencies, assessment etc.) than will more modern faculty who will have a higher sense of efficacy for contemporary constructivist learning solutions and with “creativity” characteristics of adoption (new solutions, and new ways of knowing and doing).

Rural Appalachian Ohio is characterized by traditional institutions primarily engaged in face-to-face schooling practices. The population has been noted for an orientation toward oral communication, a highly developed sense of community ‘place’, and the perception that education is the method for sustaining that communal locale.

Via a quilting metaphor, a traditional Appalachian pastime, and the epitome of multiple complex contexts of creation and utilization; we can conceptualize more specific situated and efficacious patterns for educational technology networks and evaluation. By piecing together the “patches” of rural life experiences, communal senses of ‘place’, the old/new pedagogies and teachers’ technological competencies; a new ‘quilt’ of technological efficacy may emerge, specifically designed to bridge the digital divide in Appalachian higher education communities .

Appalachian regions have much in common with other culturally distinct
regions of the world that continue to be bypassed by the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution. Appalachia has a pervasive history of resistance toward modern approaches and technological innovation more typically manifest in cosmopolitan and suburban areas (DeYoung, 1994). Mainstream educational buzz words such as constructivism, problem-based learning and on-line virtual community building may be commonplace in contemporary urban learning environments, yet these terms retain an aura of mystery and a history of under-utilization in traditional rural Appalachian institutions.

•Appalachian practices in respect to education, work and leisure have been
labeled by many ‘outsiders’ as evidence of the existence of an ‘oppositional culture,’ characterized by contradictions, insularity and backwardness. For example, rural Appalachian populations in Ohio and West Virginia have been found to place more value upon oral communication, to be more attached to a sense of community ‘place’ or ‘locale’, to perceive education as a method of sustaining a ‘situated’ community, and to engage in smaller-scale organizational efforts than urban populations (Howley, 1997).

•Equitable accessibility is an important issue in Appalachian. For instance, high-speed Internet access is readily available in urban and outlying suburban communities. However, even if Internet access is available in Appalachia, it is generally available via telephony, resulting in slower-speeds and reduced capabilities for up-to-date information acquisition and technological efficacy. According to Samarajiva (1999), Internet connectivity should be implemented via the more innovative high-speed broadband and wireless technologies, since voice transmission technologies are less flexible and adaptable for the needs of developing software and hardware.

Thus, in order to alter Southeastern Ohio attitudes toward digital technologies, the Appalachian sense of community should be seen as a building block, rather than a something to stumble over. The College as a community hub can be used as a place where learning can be enhanced in ways that are sensitive and in harmony with local Appalachian cultural practices. Successes in this region can offer models for other rural, isolated, and technologically-challenged communities across the globe.


The pattern proposes a research design situated within the constructs of diffusion of innovations, constructivism and the efficiency/creativity functions of technology. Initially, an exploratory analysis of technological innovators is proposed, thus, two to three previously identified technological “innovators” from within member institutions of the Ohio Appalachian Consortium for Higher Education (OACHE) will complete a survey instrument designed to measure their perceptions regarding the level(s) of technological efficacy exigent in their particular institutions; becoming facilitators and ‘change agents’ in identifying the unique institutional faculty characteristics and cultural values relevant for technology adoption and efficacy in their communities. A series of tutorial workshops and collaborative approaches designed to bridge the ‘old’ traditions with the ‘new’ will help alleviate institutional and faculty concerns regarding infrastructure and personal implications and autonomy issues, while concomitantly fostering a sense of unity and community. These workshops will integrate ‘old’ and ‘new’ pedagogies and technologies, and optimally, faculty will be empowered to learn individually and collaboratively within familiar locales, accompanied by their community peers; thus narrowing the gap between traditional and modern, novice and expert.

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