Guest Post: The New Digital Divide
The New York Times recently published a thought-provoking article entitled “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era” which provided some compelling data indicating that students simply having access to technology is not enough to fix the infamous “Digital Divide.”
Instead, the article states, “As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.”
The U.S. government may intervene: under consideration is a $200 million proposal to create a “digital literacy corps” that would serve to train students and parents how to more productively utilize technology.
As educators, what should our response be to this? I think three things are clear:
1. We must provide our students with ubiquitous access to technology.
Students solely accessing a computer lab once a week is no longer acceptable. How will students learn to use technology in powerful educational ways without extended access to technology in their primary educational environment?
Ideally, we must work to provide 1:1 classrooms in which every student has access to Internet-connected technology whenever needed. Before and after-school technology access should be offered as well, either through students bringing machines home with them or computer labs kept staffed and open beyond the school day. Even though access alone is not enough, access to technology remains critical.
2. We must teach our students how to use technology for educational purposes.
Despite the best intentions of a government-funded digital literacy corps, we as educators are clearly the people best positioned to make the largest impact on our students’ technology use. We must teach them (and then provide numerous opportunities allowing them) to use digital devices as powerful research, communication, and creativity tools instead of simply entertainment devices. We must also help them to understand that with their posts, tweets, and uploads, they are creating a “digital footprint” that will stick with them forever.
3. We must help our students’ parents to understand positive and negative uses of technology.
We must help our students’ parents and guardians to understand that not all student time spent on technology is equally beneficial. Hosting basic training sessions about things like monitoring their child’s online activity, filtering inappropriate websites, and using technology productively are worthwhile undertakings for any school district. Empowering parents to take action when their child is using technology in negative ways is critical.
In summary, access to technology, while certainly beneficial, is not enough. It’s time for educators to take the lead in helping students and families unlock the true educational power of technology both in the classroom and beyond.
About the Author:
Mark Pullen has been an elementary teacher for 13 years, currently teaching third grade in East Grand Rapids, MI. He’s an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group, a leading provider of laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance for schools and universities: http://www.worthavegroup.com/education