Monday, August 1, 2011

The New Digital Divide

Every one of us gets through the tough times because somebody is there, standing in the gap to close it for us.
- Oprah Winfrey
While 73% of faculty say digital content is essential for 21st century classroom, only 11% of districts are using it, according to IT professionals.
- 2011 CDW-G 21st-Century Classroom Report

 Not all students have equal access to technology.  The gap between those that have access to technology and those that do not has been called the digital divide.

There are different levels of access that needs to be considered.  Does the student have access to technology, such as a computer?  Does the technology have access to the Internet?  Does the student possess the skill sets needed to access and use an e-learning system?  Is adapted technology needed to overcome a physical handicap, such as blindness or loss of hearing?  Then there is a new one.  Does the school actually provide e-learning or is the e-learning experience up to the level of the students’ expectation and proficiency in technology?

Discussions on the digital divide express the concern that students without computers and without access to the Internet do not participate in online learning and other online benefits.  According to a 2009 survey conducted by the PEW Internet and American Life Project, 95% of all teenagers ages 14 – 17 use the Internet.  According to a 2010 survey conducted by the same group, 90% of all young adults ages 18 - 29 use the Internet.  The Digital Divide widens as older age brackets are examined and when race, ethnicity, and income are considered.  The trend, however, is that the digital divide based on access to technology and to the Internet has lessen significantly and is diminishing.  And by inference, concerns about the skill sets needed to access e-learning systems should also diminish.

 It is a mistake, however, to assume that teachers and students would instinctively know how to access and use an e-learning system.  As a guideline to teaching online, Gilly Salmon has outlined a Five-Phase Model for Online Learning.  In this model, there are five stages of e-learning from the student, teacher, and technological perspectives.  

For the student the first stage is learning to access the system. In the second stage the student begins to appreciate the social environment of the e-learning experience. The student begins in the third stage to appreciate the benefits of the e-learning experience.  The fourth stage there is a change in roles in which teacher and student begin to work collaboratively.  The student, in the final stage, becomes more independent in the e-learning experience.

The teacher in the first phase is welcoming and encouraging as the student learns to access system.  In the second phase, the teacher provides bridges between cultural, social, and learning environments as the student begins to appreciate the online experience.  In the third phase, the teacher facilitates tasks as the student begins to appreciate the benefits of online learning.  In the fourth phase, the teacher facilitates the learning process while working collaboratively with student.  And in the fifth phase, the teacher is encouraging, as the student becomes a more independent e-learner.

There is also help to close the digital divide based on other factors.  For example Club Digital is a program designed to help families bridge this technological gap.  A Spanish language summer program pilot was recently launched to help close the divide that disproportionally affects Hispanic families in America.  It is a comprehensive bilingual multimedia Internet training program.  Created with the partnership of AT & T, California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), and Dewey Square Group, it will provide a free opportunity for millions to learn basic Internet skills.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2011), one in four American adults live with a disability that interferes with activities of daily living.  Only 54% of these adults use the Internet while 84% percent of adults without such disabilities use the Internet.  This subsection, of course, overlaps with the older age bracket of adults that seldom use the Internet.  The point that adaptive technology is needed for students with a disability is still valid and more pressing than for the general population.

New and interesting to note is a juxtaposition shift in the Digital Divide discussion.  In a news release by a private provider of technology products and service, CDW (2011), the second annual 21st Century Classroom Report states that only 39% percent of students say their high schools are meeting their technology expectations.  Perhaps it is time to consider that the Digital Divide now is more about meeting the expectation of today’s students than it is about making technology available.

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Club Digital 

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