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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Sunday, July 23, 2017

School Scaffolding and the Digital Divide

School Scaffolding and the Digital Divide

As it turns out, buying devices for students is the easy part.  Educators enjoy spreading the news that their school is providing access to students and teaching digital skills that will be critical to their futures.  Delivering the devices, opening them up, and watching pleased faces is a feel good moment for most people in a district (granted, the people who are imaging and managing the machines might take issue, but I suspect that device rollout days are exciting as well as exhausting).

Districts, after hearing horror stories from around the world, are more aware of network wifi loads and speed issues, and many are able to avoid the challenges that faced early adopters.  And although 75% of districts do not have a plan for internet access outside of the school, at least the issue is starting to percolate through the diligent work of many educators throughout the United States.

Actually, one of the greatest ongoing challenges tends to be the assumption that some districts have about digital learning.  In an MIT Study on education and social media, researchers examined districts that assumed student digital prowess and those that didn't.  As one might expect, districts that implemented a 1 to 1 program without significant professional development found that devices were improperly and under used and had a higher breakage rate.  Districts that took the more costly and longer route of training their educators on how to implement laptops found a much higher success rate.   This "longer implementation" framework often includes school wide awareness programs and proper use and a common set of expectations.  Additionally,  the professional development pushed teams of teachers to think more about redefining and broadening education through digital implementation instead of just substituting paper worksheets with electronic ones.  Proficiency in teaching with technology does not come overnight.  At best, it takes several years to master the art of tech integration and informal training "on the go" is minimally effective.

In sum, as districts move forward there is often a sequential implementation of 
1.  Buying Devices
2.  Focusing on the Network 
3.  Thinking about home access
4.  Considering Professional Development with respect to digital instruction.

Although this flow seems to make sense, successful districts more often than not consider professional development and instruction first and not last.   Putting training first, although it delays the big rollout, can pay much bigger dividends down the road.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Family Dynamics and the Digital Divide

Family Dynamics and the Digital Divide

When thinking about the digital divide, many educators start talking about devices and then move to home connectivity issues.  The main focus (as it should be) is how to provide opportunities for all of our students to learn in this increasingly connected world.  In examining the digital divide and family dynamics, though, some interesting trends have emerged.  In higher income households where parents have higher levels of tech proficiency, many parents educate their young on various uses of the internet and online applications.   In lower income households, parents still do some of the educating, but their children are now providing a significant amount of help in this ever changing landscape.  


Why is this significant?  When low income parents start learning online skills such as accessing medical records and applying for jobs, their success for a better standard of living increases.   When a school sends a laptop home, it might be the first computer that has ever been in that household.  In districts where there is no student computer checkouts (the great majority) sending students home with technology skills can still be a game changer as parents and guardians might ask for computer guidance from their children at places like public libraries.

Much has been said about how there is a significant computer use gap developing between higher income and lower income families.  Specifically,  students without parent guidance tend to use computers more for gaming and social media and far less critical research.   This digital literacy gap is an ongoing challenge.  With that said, the trend of students from low income households teaching their parents computer skills is a trend worth noting because it extends the power of tech integration into areas far outside of the initial educational mission.   When adults can learn basic technology skills from their students, everyone can benefit.  As government programs, educational opportunities, and health care increasingly go digital, whole families can benefit when technology is successfully implemented in schools.