The Digital Divide
The concept of the “digital divide” has been around ever since digital technology has been used in classrooms. Initially, the term applied to students who had access to digital devices and the internet at school and at home versus those who did not. Today, however, that term has come to mean something else. The almost ubiquitous availability of digital technology available to students in the US today has rendered the previous definition a led to a redefinition mute and the term now applies to how the technology is used. The US Department of Education in introduction to their latest National Education Technology Plan (NETP) says the digital divide now separates “students who use technology in ways that transform their learning from those who use the tools to complete the same activities but now with an electronic device” (US Dept. of Ed). This redefinition is not merely a question of semantics. The implications are significant as we struggle to facilitate digital leadership for the current generation of educators and students. It also relates to my question for this week regarding ISTE teachers standard 4 indicator b, which calls for teachers to “address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources” (ISTE Teacher Standards). My question initially involved searching for what learner-centered strategies exist for this endeavor, but I was more curious as to how this would provide equitable access.
Link to Boardthing overview of NETP Introduction: https://boardthing.com/board/59225c6394aad1fe05ec17ff
When searching for ISTE’s definition of “equitable access” I came across their page which defined this concept as not only the effort “to bridge socioeconomic gaps and truly support digital learning for all students,” and, “an initiative must ensure sufficient bandwidth and connection speeds to allow learning and teaching to occur anytime,” but they also explained that, “equitable access means more than simply providing devices and connectivity. It also means giving every student the opportunity to learn from teachers who understand how to use technology to both enhance learning and create quality learning experiences for students with special needs” (ISTE Essential Conditions). This expanded definition of equitable access fundamentally changes the game. The paradigm shift here is that the physical material for facilitating digital education will present – that is practically a given. The change lies in expectation that teachers are to provide a transformational learning experience using this technology. This is the somewhat unexpected answer to my question. Mike Ribble and Teresa Northern Miller allude to this in their article on digital citizenship. Though addressing the issue of educating for digital citizenship, they point out that the entire educational experience must be changed if it is to effectively incorporate digital technology. “All technology users need to begin a process of understanding basic skills of technological literacy starting at a very young age. Students today are coming to school with a wide-ranging set of technology skills that are beginning to change how teachers are teaching, as well as when and how students learn” (Ribble p. 141). And while this can certainly be a challenge, they point out that it is a case of applying appropriate pedagogy to the technology and the curriculum, “For many educators this is a frustrating time as not only is the technology use changing within the classroom, but so are the standards for education. These may seem to be different topics but they are pointing to the same end: better educational opportunities for students. Educators need to look at these changes as opportunities to bring the concepts of technology and educational theory together” (Ribble p. 142).
My artifact that addresses this topic more directly is the 2012 piece by Mark Warschauer for Americas Quarterly titled, “The Digital Divide and Social Inclusion.” In this essay, Warschauer examines the so-called “magic bullet” theory that wider physical access to computers in schools is the great equalizer; the solution for the education gap between developed and developing countries. He reviews the MIT project by Nicholas Negroponte to put a $100 laptop in the hands of impoverished children around world. A noble concept, to be sure – it is thought to be the key to social inclusion. But it is a project that has been plagued by technical difficulties and questionable results. But more importantly to Warschauer, it also contains a pedagogical flaw: “mere access does not guarantee learning, as anyone who has witnessed a child wasting hours playing games on a computer can testify. Instead, research has shown that beyond just having the hardware, what is important is the “social envelope” it comes in: the technical and social support provided to children as they learn.” Essentially, he’s arguing that teachers and student-centered strategies matter. “It may seem a simple concept—long held true in other areas of pedagogy—but it’s one that seems to have been forgotten when it comes to technology” (Warschauer 2012). This is an interesting indictment from someone who is an advocate for digital education, but not one unwarranted given the current educational climate. This is also a topic he addressed in his 2004 book, Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide where Warschauer warns of “technological determinism” and the “fire” model educational technology which assumes technology will bring education just like a fire brings warmth (Warschauer 2004 p. 202). Here too, the salvation lies solely in the technology; devoid of the means of instruction. It suffers from the same pitfalls as the opposite error outlined in his book, “neutralism,” in that both approaches fail to account for the “social embeddedness” of technology. Warschauer writes, “There is a complex, mutually evolving relationship between a technology and broader social structures, and the relationship cannot be reduced to a matter of technology’s existing on the outside and exerting an independent force” (Warschauer 2004 p. 202). Teachers are a key piece to unlocking the connection between the technology and those social structures. Mandated, top-down application of the technology without consideration of these structures is folly.
Valdez and Duran’s 2007 study “Redefining the Digital Divide: Beyond Access to Computers and the Internet” bears out this hypothesis. Their examination of five “low resource” schools compared with one “high resource” school determined that the digital divide was not merely the physical access to digital technology, but the way in which it was used. “S6 [the high-resource school] with its greater access to C&I [computers and internet] than low-resource schools, had more teachers using C&I to support instructional activities. In addition to more frequent use, we presented modest findings that S6 teachers were more likely to engage in C&I practices that encouraged creative and critical thinking in their students” (Valdez and Duran 2007, p. 38). Schools with more resources not only provide more opportunities for use, but the teachers employ higher-level pedagogy in their instruction. This is the embodiment of the ISTE 4c indicator of “address[ing] the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources.” We have an obligation to model this form of instruction under the standard.
I will admit that I entered this exercise with a completely different (and partially incorrect) understanding of what this standard meant. I assumed that the “equitable access” mandated by the indicator “merely” meant physical access to digital equipment. To this end, I was somewhat puzzled how the teachers’ instructional techniques were going to bring that about. While it is certainly important to make sure students have physical access to the technology (it’s hard to implement digital education without the technology), I am glad that my journey with this question has led me to a broader understanding of what this concept means. Equitable access and the new understanding of the “digital divide” are crucial concepts for any digital ed tech leader to grasp. Our mission now is to educate others about these issues and implement the necessary changes to address these concerns. The specifics of how to do this may well form the basis of another future blog post.
Assigned ISTE 4 reflection topics:
What are your thoughts on how districts (you can speak specifically to yours, or you can speak more broadly) attend to and empower teachers to not only be ethical users of technology, but empower their students to as well?
Connecting to your GCP and indicators in ISTE TS 4, how does your district empower teachers to promote global awareness of other cultures through the use of technology? If you don’t see evidence of this, how could you, as a teacher leader, even begin to promote this principle?
I can only really speak to my particular situation as a secondary history teachers in a mid-size private religious school. Teachers are encouraged and empowered to both use and encourage their students to use technology, but as my last post illustrates, there is little actual direction as to how to do this and especially how to do this ethically. I think most of the ethical considerations related to copyright and intellectual property issues are assumed to be addressed in the language arts department – as this usually pertains to plagiarism, but this is only a fraction of the actual concern. In the elementary and middle school, they are starting to enact programs dealing with cyber-bulling and other socially-oriented facets of digital citizenship, which is good, but we’ve still a ways to go. The desire is there and the need is definitely present, but a more cohesive top-to-bottom approach needs to be developed.
With regard to my GCP, ISTE TS 4 and how it relates to district empowerment, I would say that the school has been very encouraging and empowering. I know the Spanish department has used technology to facilitate Skype chats with other students in Latin America and they were very on-board with my GCP proposal. So I would say empowerment is there. As for promotion, that can be more complicated. I think there’s a realization of the potential for this sort of global awareness through technology, but the implementation, at this point, feels very bottom-up. In my experience, it must come from the teachers. As a teacher leader, I think the best way to promote this would be through successful implementation in my own classroom and then collaboration with other teachers to show them how it’s done.
ISTE. “Essential Conditions.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/tools-resources/essential-conditions/equitable-access
ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers
Ribble, M. & Miller, T.N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), pp. 137-145. Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1011379.pdf
US Department of Education (2017). NETP: Introduction. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/netp/
Valdez, James R. and Duran, Richard (2007). “Redefining the Digital Divide: Beyond Access to Computers and the Internet.” High School Journal. Feb/Mar 2007, Vol. 90 Issue 3, p31-44.
Warschauer, Mark (2004, September 17). Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide. MIT Press.
Warschauer, Mark (2012). “The Digital Divide and Social Inclusion.” Americas Quarterly. Retrieved from http://www.americasquarterly.org/warschauer