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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Continuing Challenges and Nuances

Devices, Access, and Training

School districts across the United States are integrating more devices into classrooms, although this integration certainly varies from district to district.  The visibility of devices and the expansion of school network capacity is an ongoing process.  Many people, though, are hopeful for the progress that is being made.

The more difficult problem, though, is figuring out how to provide access for students at home.  Currently, 67% of U.S. households have broadband access at home.  More families, might have access via phones, but this isn't the same type of access that is needed to complete collaborative and complex classroom assignments.    Unfortunately, the vast majority of districts do not have any plans to address home access.

As educators and districts throughout the country work to solve device and access inequities, these changes will not facilitate significant educational gains unless educators become skilled in coaching students in technology use.  This includes digital literacy, of course, but it also includes the transformative use of technology that goes beyond simple substitution tasks.   This process might take years to fully complete, but the current struggle and thinking around this issue is a step in the right direction.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Digital Access Shift in Progress

Digital Access Shift in Progress

Access trends can be hard to analyze as technology and tech use constantly evolves.  With that said, it is worth noting the shift from broadband access to mobile only access.   The complete reasons are probably fairly nuanced, but an important reason for the shift is economic.  If people can use their phones for most of their daily needs, then paying several hundreds more a year for a home connection might not make sense.  Here is the latest trend as reported by the Pew Foundation:

Of course, this shift in adoption is not distributed equally throughout the population:

This change has many implications for educations.  Although most teachers will find that a large number of their students have broadband, assigning digital work that requires home broadband will greatly impact those without access.  This doesn't mean that teachers should not be assigning digital work.  When done thoughtfully, digital learning can personalize, differentiate, and challenge students all at the same time.  This means work that is creative, collaborative, and exploratory and not a series of electronic worksheets.

They key, then, is to actually find out about the make-up of students in a school and/or district.  Educators across the United States are working to combat the digital divide, but the first step is to find out what type of connections student have and how the type of connectivity relates to the teaching and assignments.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rich Teenager, Poor Teenager: Uses and Opportunities

Rich Teenager, Poor Teenager:  Uses and Opportunities

When addressing the digital divide in U.S. education, it becomes clear rather quickly that there are many divides.  These include economic, rural/urban, ethnicity, geography, and even skill levels and opportunities.  What is exactly meant by this? 


As more students gain access via cellphones, the number of broadband internet subscribers at home is actually declining.  Families that have to choose between cell phone access and broadband access overwhelmingly choose cell phones as they provide an important family communication tool.  

Generally, poor students are much less likely to have home internet access in comparison to peers.  This is really not surprise, but it does have implications for what types of digital skills students are actually learning.  Students who don't come from a home where there is a culture of internet use are more likely to see the internet as a mode for gaming or social media and not as much for research, news, and/or creative production.   The graphic below shows an international computer use survey as it relates to students and their economic status.  

The implications, of course, are important for educators.  The broader culture often makes sweeping generalizations about the proficiency of young people vs. older people with respect to computers.   Proficiencies in digital literacy and critical thinking can vary widely among students in the same classroom.  In the end, educators play a key role in conducting formative assessments with each class as a "digital divide" of skills has emerged based mostly on economic lines.

More discussion on student family wealth and how it relates to computer skills and assumptions can be found at https://goo.gl/Rz9IST