Digital Divide: The Elephant Sized Barrier That Won’t Go Away

A look at one of the largest barriers to educational technology use and some innovative solutions to help combat the problem.

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There is no greater barrier to the adoption of educational technology than a lack of access to technology, more commonly known as the digital divide. Mattero (2015) states “the digital divide can be problematic because technology offers a new and sometimes more powerful way to learn” (para. 2).  Digital technology has fundamentally changed the way we educate our students, whether it be a classroom filled with tablets or students living in remote locations taking online courses. In successful 21rst century learning the common denominator is technology.  

Where is the divide noticed?

If you look close enough you will see traces of digital divide in just about every school in North America, but the problem is most noticeable in schools’ whose boundaries draw students from both low and high socioeconomic areas.  You will not find a sharper contrast in available technology than at a school whose boundary pulls students from the suburbs as well as the outlying boundary of inner city schools.

Homework Gap

If students do not have reliable connectivity at home, or devices to do their homework and work on projects, the digital divide is amplified compared to students who are always connected. A study by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Family Online Safety Institute and My College Options cited by McLaughlin (2016) found “nearly 50% of students say they have been unable to complete a homework assignment because they didn’t have access to the Internet or a computer” (para. 6.). This issue is known as the homework gap and is a product of the digital divide.

What can we do about it as educators?

The solution is not simple. In order to completely remove the digital divide, every student would need a device and connectivity, both at school and at home. Anthony and Padmanabhan (2010) argue “inequity has to be addressed not only in the social, economic and political spheres but also in the sphere of knowledge economy” (p. 60). Solving the digital divide will require everyone from Superintendents to board technologists and everyone in between.

Here is a great example of a community and its school coming together to create a solution. The Coachella Valley went to their district’s taxpayers asking for a $42 million investment in educational technology.  The results are amazing.

Simply supplying technology to students is not enough to bridge the digital divide, however; students, teachers and even parents need some coaching on how to use the technology appropriately. Once everyone is on the same level in terms of having adequate technology and understands how to use it in an educational context, the issue of digital divide begins to break down.

There are some innovative approaches to get technology and connectivity to students outside of the classroom.  Cavanagh (2014) reports that the school district in Green Bay Wisconsin announced that “In addition to being given school-issued Chromebooks, students in grades 6 to 12 will be able to take home a SmartSpot device that will provide Internet access to up to 10 devices within a range of 50 to 100 feet” (para. 2). Green Bay’s school district essentially sent the internet home with their students.

There is no getting around the fact that in order to fix the digital divide it is going to cost money. However, given the two examples above from Coachella Valley and Green Bay we can see that it is possible, we just need everyone pulling together in the proper direction.

References

Anthony, J., & Padmanabhan, S. (2010). Digital divide and equity in education: A rawlsian analysis. Journal of Information Technology Case and Application Research, 12(4), 37-62. doi:10.1080/15228053.2010.10856195

Cavanagh, S. (2014, February 14). School districts using mobile hotspots to help students connect at home [blog post]. Retrieved from Marketplace K–12 at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2014/02/school_districts_help_students_connect _outside_classroom_with_portable_wi-fi/

Mattero, A. (2015). Bridging the digital divide in education through professional development. Retrieved from https://www.teachermatch.org/blog/bridging-the-digital-divide-in-education-through-professional-development/

1 thought on “Digital Divide: The Elephant Sized Barrier That Won’t Go Away”

  1. David I really enjoyed your post. The problem of the digital divide seems to be part of a greater socio-economic problem. How can students with limited financial means be given greater opportunity to access technology at home? Public libraries are terrific resources where the public can have access to both PC’s and borrowed lap tops (some public libraries offer this service). Are the resources offered by public libraries being used properly? To narrow the “digital divide” is it the responsibility of schools to ensure all students have equal access to tech resources? This is a complex problem without an easy solution.

    Like

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