Dulce Rodriguez: Telecommunications Systems Engineer
Discover how Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bristol, Dulce Rodriguez, turned her interest in how technology impacts society into a full-blown research project that aims to create a blended intergenerational learning environment.
June 29, 2017
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As a Ph.D. candidate at the University of
Bristol, Dulce Rodriguez has an interest in how
technology impacts society, particularly how
people can use technology to improve their
lives. Her current research aims to design and
implement a blended intergenerational informal
learning environment, where seniors and
children with limited access to technology could
work together to develop digital literacy.
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Dulce: I am particularly interested in working with groups that experience digital
exclusion because it seems that everybody’s using technology, however, there are
certain groups in society who actually are not using technology or their use is
So, I’m working with two of these groups, which is seniors who are over 65 years old,
particularly I work with seniors who live in a care home or in a retirement home. And
the other group is young people, but those who live in poor areas, because their access
to technology is very limited. So, what I do is put them in contact. They communicate
through a virtual environment, through video conference. We only use free resources
and any technology we could find in order to communicate. And they work together.
The goal is that they should be able to develop digital literacy. What I mean by digital
literacy is learning how to use technology but beyond the technical use of it. It’s
about actually being educated in what’s going on when we are online. For example,
when companies are targeting us to make money or how can we use resources
that are online to improve education. Or how can we use social media, for example,
to actually have a voice in the world and let the world know about the issues that
these populations [that experience digital exclusion] are facing. So, being literate in
technology is beyond learning how to manipulate it.
Please tell us about the research you are
currently working on…
...digital literacy is learning how
to use technology but beyond
the technical use of it.
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Dulce: Everything started because I lived in a retirement home for a few months.
This retirement home is full of nuns. All of them belong to a religious congregation
but they are retired so now they are like 85-90 years old. So, living with this group
I realized that their brains are still thriving and they have a lot of knowledge to
share. They are isolated, as once you live in a retirement home you start to lose
connection with the world.
How did you come up with this project
and what were your motivations
So, I started to use technology with them by sharing my iPad and getting them into watching videos on
YouTube, finding music, and so on. And they got very into technology. At the same time, I realized that in
Mexico, because a lot of people live in poverty, a lot of children are growing up by themselves on the street
because their parents need to work all the time. So, these children have homes and they do have families
but nobody takes close care of them. Then I thought, here we have a bunch of young people who want to
be heard. At the same time, I have here a lot of older people who have a lot of knowledge and not a person
to share it with. Then I thought about using technology as a bridge to allow them to communicate and to
learn from each other. That was my motivation; that’s how everything started and now I’ve been doing this
for around two and a half years.
I thought about using technology as a bridge to allow
them to communicate and to learn from each other.“
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Dulce: Four seniors (83 years old average) and 8 children (11-13 years old) participate
in this research. However, the group members change all the time as I need to work
with many different persons.
My senior participants live in the United States, in San Francisco in a retirement home.
This is the retirement home I lived in that I referenced earlier. The children live in
Mexico, in a very poor area in Tijuana. So, the way it works is my sister lives very close
to these children, to this area of the city, and she has been helping them for a long
time. In that community, not those children in particular, but the community knows
her. That’s how I was able to meet them. So, the only requirement is they need to be
children between 11 and 13 years old. And that’s it. There are so many so I just work
with the first eight that want to work.
Can you expand on the participants and the
specifics of the research?
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Dulce: The communication between seniors and young people takes place thanks to
technology. However, there are challenges that make communication difficult. For
instance, because internet bandwidth is limited, we can only have one videoconference
at a time, and children must take turns to use the internet to search for information.
Cellular communication has very limited bandwidth and voice quality is poor, so it is
currently not an option.
Ideally, video and audio communication between seniors and children should be
crystal clear. This is vital because some seniors have hearing issues, therefore if there
are interruptions in audio, the seniors can’t fully understand the children and may
misunderstand what they say. Similarly, it is very important that video communication
has good quality and occurs in real time, because seniors and children gather a lot of
information from each other’s body language. Therefore, delays or bad quality on the
video limit them to fully engage with each other.
So, since you’ve been doing the program for
two and a half years what would you say is your
biggest challenge in doing the program?
In some of the groups, my participants spoke different languages because the seniors only speak English
and the children only speak Spanish. In order to communicate with each other, we use apps, like Google
Translate for example, and other apps to translate. Imagine if we lose some internet connection, the
voice gets cut out and then the seniors cannot hear.
Also, technological devices to make the video conference should be easy to use, not only the device
(iPad, smartphone, etc.), but also the video conferencing software (FaceTime, Skype, etc.). This is key
because some seniors may have difficulties remembering how to use them. If software or devices fail,
seniors don’t know how to troubleshoot the problem. It’s very different from the seniors and the young.
The young may not have that problem, they may learn very easily how to manipulate the devices but
the young have, for example, the lack of technology. Many of them don’t even have a cell phone. Like
three of the current participants, for example, don’t even have a TV. So, it’s another kind of learning.
With the young, you have to explain to them how to use them but not technically. Let’s say what are the
affordances of technology. What happens when you are online? And what kind of data is collected from
you when you are online? What are the risks? All that stuff.
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Dulce: It’s not possible to eliminate digital exclusion but I think my biggest motivation
is that these two groups, at least the persons who are participating, are learning how
this digital world works and how they could take advantage of it even though they are
in excluded groups. So, by learning they will be able to do more than what they are
doing now, and perhaps they will stop being excluded in that way. It could take on a
At the same time when old people and young people work together, that is called
intergenerational practice. This kind of practice has a lot of advantages for each group.
But that’s beside technology. That’s only because they are very old and very young.
For example, for the older people, they feel connected with the world, with someone,
because they can speak, share their thoughts, and their knowledge. So, that has a
direct effect on their health. They have something to do, if you want to put it that
way. In the young people, it has a lot of impact in their resilience because they found
someone that actually cares for them, like, in terms of what they are doing, what they
like, how they feel.
I always say that this project is using technology as a bridge to be connected. But one
day one of our senior participants told me, “This is not about a bridge. This is about
connecting hearts. I feel very connected to those children.”
What were you looking to accomplish with
this project? Or what have you seen so far as a
This is not about a bridge. This is
about connecting hearts. I feel very
connected to those children.
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