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Diffusion in the Borderland

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THE CONTEXTParticipantsEvaluating the Overall ModelDiffusion Along the Borderlands: p. 1Diffusion in the Borderland:A Study of the Implementation of Broadband Connectivity in an Ecological ReserveTracking Number: ICA-4-10488Kimberly Mann Bruch (Student)School of Communication–San Diego State UniversitySan Diego Supercomputer Center9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0505858-822-0977 – [email protected] A. AndersenSchool of Communication–San Diego State University5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA [email protected] SpitzbergSchool of Communication–San Diego State University5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA [email protected] submitted for competitive evaluation for presentation at theInternational Communication Association Conference,San Diego, May 2003Diffusion Along the Borderlands: p. 2Diffusion in the Borderland:A Study of the Implementation of Broadband Connectivity in an Ecological ReserveABSTRACTThis study investigates the communication and diffusion of a broadband telecommunications infrastructure (the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network - HPWREN). Recently deployed sensors and cameras allow researchers at wildlife reserves throughout the world to conduct studies and receive sensor and camera data via the Internet. Based on Rogers’ (1995) diffusion of innovations theoretical framework, field researchers’ perceptions of network connectivity, communication channels, and use of the network were assessed. Results supported eight of nine hypotheses related to network attributes (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity), communication channels, and network use. Regression analysis of diffusion communication supported the importance of relative advantage and complexity but not perceived compatibility. Regression analysis of all variables, with adoption as the dependent variable, showed perceived compatibility, perceived complexity, and diffusion communication all significantly predict HPWREN adoption. Results are discussed in terms of the vital role played by communication during theinnovation development, implementation, and use stages.Diffusion Along the Borderlands: p. 3Diffusion in the Borderland: A Study of the Implementation of BroadbandConnectivity in an Ecological ReserveAlong the borderlands in the extreme southwest of the United States lies the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, part of a pristine network of wildlife reserves located among the most populous regions of southern California. Located in San Diego and Riverside counties this 4500-acre ecological reserve is the site for our study of the diffusion of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded high technology broadband information system called the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN). This study examines the diffusion of the HPWREN system among field researchers at the reserve. THE CONTEXTThe NSF recently proposed that Congress provide federal funding for the development of a National Ecological Observatories Network (NEON), which first equips ecological reserves throughout the country with computerized instrumentation (e.g., remote sensors) and then networks the reserves together (Dalton, 2000). This broadband telecommunications network would allow for simultaneous transmission of signals (e.g., voice, data, video). In turn, both local and national ecologists can easily share field data collections with one another and also communicate their findings via observatory museums with targeted publics such as students, the general public, government agencies, and policymakers. Efforts such as NEON seek to bridge the gap between the scientific community, the general public, and policymakers. Scholars such as Valente and Rogers (1995), as well as Dearing, Meyer, and Kazmierczak (1994), frequently discuss social change and policy research in relation to technology and scientific innovations. However, a review of more than 100 diffusion studies reveals dearth of data on diffusion in the scientific community and no quantitative study regarding the impact of technology upon ecological field research has been conducted. Many researchers focus their efforts on technology implementation, its use, and adoption among individuals and organizations (Papa, 1990; Rubinyi, 1989). These studies, however, do notDiffusion Along the Borderlands: p. 4include specific insights into new communication technologies among scientists or along the borderlands between ecologists, students in the field of environmental science, applicable landowners, government agencies, policymakers, and the general public. Social science research that assesses the current methods of communication among ecological field researchers, their perceived attitudes toward technology, and the impact of broadband connectivity upon communication methods and ecological field research will provide the broader community with a better understanding of how NSF-funded high technology projects such as the NEON project might positively impact environmental issues faced by the United States. Creation of high technology systems such as NEON and HPWREN do not guarantee their success; it is through the process of diffusion of innovationsthat humans come to understand, use and benefit from new technologies.Diffusion of Innovations: Perceived Attributes, Communication, and AdoptionThe diffusion of innovations, according to Rogers (1995), is a ubiquitous human process whereby ideas, processes, and technologies are spread throughout a social system. He further defines diffusion of innovations as a process involving four elements: (a) one or more social systems, (b) an innovation, (c) one or more communication channels, and (d) time. As mentioned, this study examines attributes of a new technological innovation among field station scientists.Vital to the adoption of any innovation are five specific attributes: (a) relative advantage, (b) compatibility, (c) complexity, (d) trialability, and (e) observability (Rogers, 1995). Relative advantage refers to the degree that an innovation appears to be better than its preceding idea, practice, or object. Relative advantage is typically expressed as the degree to which an innovation benefits, profits, or generates prestige for the individual or the overall social system. While the benefits of an innovation may outweigh its costs for one social system, this may not be the case for other social systems; for example, some individuals


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