Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Digital Divide

I began this week thinking that the term "Digital Divide" referred to the chasm between digital natives and digital immigrants. In my mind, I pictured a digital native standing on the edge of a cliff staring out over a seemingly bottomless pit filled with streaming numbers (much like the Matrix) to a digital city lit up by thousands of computers in every window of every house.

So, not surprisingly, I found myself completely remixing my definition of digital divide once I began reading more about this topic.

What is the Digital Divide?
According to the International Telecommunications Union, the "digital divide refers to the gap between those who benefit from digital technology and those who do not."
mmardis takes this definition a few steps further by defining the levels of the digital divide in her blog post, Web 2.0 Tools: Our Digital Divides Are Showing, she summarizes the levels in this chart.

Why Does the Digital Divide Exist?
There are many variables that cause the four levels of the digital divide, "including income, education, age, and geographical location" (Unveiling the Digital Divide) all of which contribute to the "diffusion of the Internet" (Unveiling the Digital Divide). "Understanding barriers to access and use of new technologies remains important"(The Digital Divide in Canada). To put it in simple terms, access is the first level. If you can't access the Internet, how can you learn how to use it? Next, the person accessing the technology must learn how to use it to derive quality benefits from it. Just because a school has the technology, the school may not have the qualified instructors to teach the skills. Even worse, the school may have the staff but is being constantly thwarted by policy and filtering. I think that the most frustrating barrier to bridging the divide is the fact that many schools DO have the technology (especially in urban Canada) but do not have the motivated staff to see that that the students are getting quality instruction.
In my own experience, I do not see that skill and motivation are all that different. In today's education system, if you have the means AND the motivation, skills are not that hard to come by. After all, for those of you that know me, know that my learning curve has been ever so steep these past two semesters and my skill level has followed suit!

Ahhh, I Can See Clearly Now!
Although access to technology helps bridge the divide, it does not ensure that the gap is completely filled. Think of it in these terms: drop a state of the art computer lab in the middle of a poor African village. Equip this lab with toys, tools, and all the bandwith and internet access anyone could ever dream of. Problem solved? Digital divide closed? Think again. "It took digital-divide researchers a whole decade to figure out that the real issue is not so much about access to digital technology but about the benefits derived from access" (
(If you are interested in learning more about global initiatives to bridge the digital divide check out this video on the Digital Equilizer Program).

What Is My Role In All Of This?
The next step in this exploration of the digital divide is to define which barriers I am facing in my district and school (because within my district, it varies widely) and decide what to do about it. Looking again at the levels of digital divide chart, I see that
Access, Skill, and Motivation are problems within my school. There isn't a computer in our lab that is newer that 10 years, we have wireless (yeah!!), but it is not consistent through the school. Although there are skilled teachers in the school, they are being underutilized and I do feel that there is a lack of motivation for teachers to develop their skills. So, what can I do to increase access, skill, and motivation at the school level? Here are some of my thoughts:
Skills Level
* Offer short, informative, and engaging workshops on Web 2.0 tools to staff and students.
* Continue building relationships with peers so that I can become a mentor to those wanting to explore integrating technology into their teaching.
* Provide model lessons or co-teach with teachers in the computer lab.

* Continue to be an advocate for the need for updated technology/bandwith in our school.
* Continue to foster working relationships with stakeholders that decide where money gets spent in our school.
* Provide open lunches for students in the computer lab.
* Encourage teachers to integrate technology into their classroom practices.
* Continue to explore engaging and easy to use tools for classroom projects.
* Be creative in finding ways to get teachers online! (Free classroom books for the teacher that finds the typo in my library blog..........etc....)
* Partner with administration to work together to encourage teachers (provide release time to train teachers on Web. 2.o tools?)

Hmmmm..........why does it feel that with each passing week, I am adding to my workload?? To those of you tuning in, I'd like to share a quick quote that helps me stay focussed on my quest for bridging the Digital Divide:

"The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential." Steve Ballmer

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