Bringing the Networked Future to Morocco

(Le futur du maillage électronique au Maroc (sommaire))

Douglas A. Davis
Haverford College

The purpose of this application for a Fulbright Lecturing/Research Award from CIES is (1) to allow me to initiate a cross-cultural study of personality and social factors influencing access to and effectiveness of computer and network use in Moroccan academic and research settings and (2) to facilitate academic collaboration by improving Moroccan access to Internet resources and US access to Moroccan academic data. I propose to spend six months of a 1995-96 sabbatical leave in Morocco, during which I will consult with Moroccan colleagues, conduct the proposed research, and offer consultation and seminar presentations concerning collaborative research using the Internet to Moroccan academic institutions.

The research component of this lecturing/research project will involve (a) interviews with administrators, staff, and students at several Moroccan educational institutions to determine the extent and kind of available computing resources; (b) questionnaire data-collection from a sample of novice and experienced computer-users in both technical and non-technical academic fields; and (c) systematic observation of student and faculty users of computing software for word-processing, data-analysis, and communication. I expect to produce a publishable article on qualitative and quantitative aspects of Moroccan academic computing, and I plan to complete analysis of the data and to present the results in seminar presentations at the several institutions before leaving Morocco in the Spring of 1996.

Background: Academic Computing and Global Networking. The personal computer revolution that has occurred within the last decade has transformed academic and business settings in much of the world, and it is now having profound effects on the personal lives of millions of people. Personal computer systems costing (in constant funds) about what a color television set did in the 1960s now provide more powerful resources for word-processing, data-analysis, and communication than those of the best university systems of the 1960s. Local and wide-area networks of desktop and portable computers allow collaborative work and immediate communication via electronic mail. In the last half of the 1980s, the emergence of inter-institutional networks--BITNET in the US, EARN in Europe--allowed scholars to share information instantaneously by means of electronic mail (email) file transfer and login to remote time-sharing systems, and it became possible for smaller institutions to offer faculty and students local access to the large databases and computational resources of major universities.

By the end of the 1980s electronic gateways among the various large networks around the world had produced the Internet, a loosely organized structure connecting hundreds of thousands of individual computing systems. The Internet is now growing at a rate of several percent per month, and an estimated 30 million people have access. Although the constituent networks of the Internet were mostly academic and research-oriented, in the past six months commercial users have exceeded 50% of the total. As a result, the Internet is increasingly discussed in the news media as a metaphor for the future of society as a whole, with information the primary commodity of a new global economy.

Over the past several years, exponential growth of the Internet and of powerful data-retrieval software have made it possible for all users of networked computers to avail themselves of text files, pictures, and (recently) audio and motion-picture data from remote sites. Accessing these forms of data from varied computing platforms could be a daunting technical task, but in the past 18 months revolutionary new software, provided at no cost to Internet users, has greatly simplified access to the myriad databases. Using Gopher, a software package available for all commonly-used personal computers and terminal systems, a user simply selects an item from a list and moves down a series of menus until the desired file is found, then downloads the file to the personal system, where it is decompressed and accessed by local software. Even more revolutionary is Mosaic, a multimedia software package available at no cost for X-Windows (Unix), Windows (PC-based) and Apple Macintosh systems. Mosaic allows extremely easy access to most resources of the Internet through the World Wide Web (WWW), a vast collection of hypermedia links to databases and interactive systems. Using Mosaic or similar software, the user simply points to a highlighted item on a page and clicks it to establish an automatic link to a remote Internet site. One page may contain links to text, graphics, and multi-media resources, and these may be located anywhere in the Internet world. The result is a global information resource so easy to use that even elementary schools--as well as colleges, municipalities, and businesses--are creating their own local sets of pictorial and text data and making these immediately available to the rest of the network. Since the local site creates the page that points to Internet resources, this page may be in any language--and the multilanguage capabilities of recent Windows and Macintosh software make it possible, for example, for a Moroccan Internet resource base to be accessed in Arabic, French, and English.

Individual differences in computer use. Although these resources are quite readily available at most US colleges, considerable evidence exists that they are not equally accessible to all, due to such factors as gender, social class, and individual personality. Balka (1994) notes that, despite arguments that computer networks can be a democratizing technology, these benefits have often been less available to women. Balka's research suggests that women often have less access to computer training, as well as to the modems and other technology needed to fully benefit from computer networks. Provision of gender-equal access to network facilities should now be a priority issue for institutions (Cunningham, 1994).

In a study my students and I conducted at Haverford College in 1989, we found that male students rated themselves higher than did female students in most areas of computer use and competence; that they were twice as likely to have had a personal computer in high school; and that among students who did have a personal computer before college, males were an average of three years younger when they gained access. These results are consistent with those of many other studies of computer access and use, and they suggest not only the possibility of subtle discrimination against females' access to new technology but also gender and personality differences in liking for the details of computer use (cf. Turkle, 1984).

A recent issue of the Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture (Vol. 2, No. 3) was entirely devoted to the topic of Gender Issues in Computer Networking. Not only are the articles in this issue of special importance to the proposed study, but the manner of their dissemination is illustrative of both the benefits of Internet connectivity for Morocco and the costs of not providing such connectivity. The scholars were able to submit their manuscripts for editorial review nearly instantaneously from three countries (Canada, Australia, and the US), the final issue was made available to scholars around the world within minutes of its completion, and the articles can be retrieved from anywhere on the Internet electronically at little or no cost to the reader. On the other hand, scholars with no access to networked computers or modems, and those who must pay high login costs for such services, are severely disadvantaged. If researchers and scholars in developing countries are not quickly provided with access to the Internet--and the training and computing facilities to benefit from such access--they risk falling further behind colleagues in the US and Europe. Personal computing systems, and the networking equipment and software to make them part of the new global information economy, are clearly an appropriate technology for most Moroccan researchers, scholars and students.

The gender differences noted above are simply the best-established group difference in computer use. At least equally large differences exist in the US on the basis of social class and place of residence. Poor and inner-city youth are less likely to have easy individual access to computers in public school and at home. As a result they are much less likely to develop personal familiarity and comfort with computers as tools, and they have largely failed to reap the benefits of the computer revolution announced by Papert (1980) years ago. Clearly, access to computer technology and global networks is crucial if "North-South" gaps between richer and poorer countries are not to be exacerbated. My conviction is that these powerful tools must be universally available in the educational system if present gaps between privileged and deprived citizens of the world are to be reduced, and that the resources exist for making most of them available to Morocco.

Computing in Morocco. Although present capabilities lag behind those of Europe and the US, Morocco has excellent human resources for implementation of state-of-the-art information networks as funds and international assistance become available. Personal and desktop computing systems have been in use by some Moroccan academics since the early 1980s. Technical training schools such as the National Institute for Statistics and Applied Economics (INSEA), the Hassan II Agronomy Institute, and the Ecole Mohammedia of Engineering draw exceptionally qualified students and have strong motivation to develop access to Internet resources. As of the summer of 1994, some networked computing facilities are available at most major Moroccan academic institutions. The National Documentation Center (CND) in Rabat maintains a local database of information about Moroccan student theses. Dial-in access to some electronic mail and time-sharing facilities is provided by Magripac. MCI-Mail is privately accessible with payment of substantial installation and login charges. The US Embassy and other diplomatic and multinational institutions have direct access to electronic mail and, in some instances, the Internet. It will thus be possible for me to maintain access to the Internet during my residence in Morocco, and to develop demonstration materials for the proposed seminars at Moroccan institutions.

The proposed research/lecture program. My research during the six-month period covered by this grant will involve a replication and cross-cultural extension of the work described above on gender and class differences in computer and network use. I will be interviewing and testing male and female, novice and experienced computer users in a variety of academic disciplines and institutional settings. This work will be collaborative with any interested Moroccan colleagues, and the data collected will be shared with the participant institutions. By the end of the project period, any institutions with Internet access will be able to maintain contact with me through email, and I hope to involve Moroccan colleagues in trans-national psychological research using the Internet. I expect to consult with and, as appropriate, offer seminar/demonstrations to, at least the following institutions: the University of Mohamed V (Rabat), the Hassan II Agronomy Institute (Rabat), the Ecole Mohammedia, the National Institute for Statistics and Applied Economics (Rabat), and the new international university in Ifrane. My role at these institutions will be to explain and illustrate Internet resources for scholarly research. Where appropriate, I will install demonstration software on local computing systems; I also expect to use my own portable Macintosh Powerbook system and display equipment.

Qualifications. I believe I am especially well-qualified to carry out this project. As my curriculum vitae attests, I have been active in computer-related teaching and consulting since 1981. I am a member of the EDUCOM Consulting Group, supported by a consortium of US academic instutions, which provides onsite evaluation and advice for colleges and universities around the US. I have twice chaired Haverford College's Academic Computing Committee, which oversees college-wide planning and implementation of computer networking and information resources for this liberal arts institution with 1100 students and 100 faculty. As Chair of the department of Psychology I designed and supervised networks of IBM-compatible and Macintosh computers with connection to the campus local area network (LAN) and the Internet, and I have been a campus leader in use of computer network resources for teaching and research. For the past five years I have served as the Personality Psychology member of the editorial board of PSYCOLOQUY, a refereed electronic journal sponsored by the American Psychological Association and currently estimated to reach a readership of 40,000. PSYCOLOQUY is distributed without charge through the Internet. I also write a popular column on individual differences in uses of computing technology for Webster's Weekly, the first Internet weekly features magazine.

Although I have never received Fulbright funding for research in Morocco, I have a deep and long-standing commitment to Moroccan society and to comparative research there. I have 25 years experience in the social sciences, much of it concerned with Morocco, and I am the coauthor of a book of Moroccan adolescence (Davis & Davis, 1989) as well as numerous professional papers on Moroccan youth and society (cf. Davis, 1987; Davis & Davis, 1993). I teach social science technical writing and statistical trechniques at one of the best colleges in the US, one famed for its emphasis on teaching. I am an experienced and well-known cross-cultural researcher with excellent access to colleagues in Morocco and the international scholarly community who can aid this project. I have lived a total of more than three years in Morocco since 1970, speak Moroccan Arabic fluently, and am ready to conduct the seminars and other teaching activities proposed in Arabic (as I have done on several occasions for INSEA and the Ministry of Health--cf. curriculm vitae). For the past decade I have been intimately involved with all aspects of computing and networking, from design of institutional desktop and networking facilities to consultation with individuals about software and trouble-shooting personal systems. I have an unusual ability to communicate effectively with novices about computer use and to help them design systems meeting their needs.

Bibliography

Balka, Ellen, & Doucette, Laurel. (1994). The accessibility of computers to organizations serving women in the Province of Newfoundland: Preliminary study results. Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture, 2(1).

Cunningham, Sally Jo. (1994). Guidelines for an introduction to networking: A review of the literature. Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture, 2(1).

Davis, D.A. (1987). Formal operational thought and the Moroccan adolescent. In J. Valsiner (Ed.) Cultural context and child development: Towards a culture-inclusive developmental psychology. Hofgrefe, 1988.

Davis, S.S., & Davis, D.A. (1989). Adolescence in a Moroccan town: Making social sense. Rutgers University Press.

Davis, S.S., & Davis, D.A. Dilemmas of adolescence: Courtship, sex, and marriage in Moroccan town. (1993). In D.L Bowen and E.A. Early (Eds.) Everyday life in the contemporary Muslim Middle East, Indiana University Press, pp. 84-90.

Papert, Seymour. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.

Turkle, Sherry. (1984). The second self: Computers and the human spirit. New York: Simon and Schuster.