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Ed Tech: Closing the Digital Divide

 

For all students, becoming fluent with the use of technology is critical to ensuring their future job opportunities.  Yet there exists a troubling technology disparity: a significant number of U.S. students, especially those in low-income households, do not have access to a computer or an Internet connection in their home.  This “digital divide” makes 1:1 programs even more essential.

 

School districts with 1:1 technology programs, which offer each student access to a computer throughout the school day, are best positioned to close the technology gap and to allow all learners to become fluent with technology.  This article will take a brief look at the statistics behind the technology gap and provide a possible answer to this problem.

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The Digital Divide: Whom Does It Impact?

In 2010, more than 20% of U.S. households still did not have an Internet connection at home.  Rates of Internet use in the United States are heavily influenced by household income: whereas 95% of people earning $75,000 or more have Internet access, the same is true of less than 60% of individuals earning $30,000 or less.  Individuals with higher educational attainment (college degree vs. high school diploma, for example) also consistently display higher rates of Internet use than individuals with less education.

 

Broadband Internet usage also varies dramatically by both income and race.  A 2009 survey[1] showed that Asian American households and white households far more frequently had broadband at home as compared to Hispanic and African American households.  For all races, broadband Internet usage rates increase as household income increases, and it also increases as educational attainment increases.

How Should Schools Overcome the Digital Divide?

Knowing that Internet access is so highly correlated with income and educational achievement, it is critical that we work to ensure that all of our students at the very least have access to an internet-connected device throughout the school day.  (Many 1:1 programs take this even further, allowing students to use their devices outside of school hours as well.)  It is imperative that we teach all of our students the skills needed not only to successfully navigate the Internet but also to critically assess the validity of the information they find from a variety of online sources.  It is also crucial that we teach our students to view themselves as creators of online content, not merely consumers.  Computer labs which students visit once or twice a week are simply not sufficient to address the digital divide.  It’s time for schools to close the technology gap once and for all by implementing a 1:1 program for all students.

Plan B: Closing the Digital Divide One Step at a Time

For some schools, an immediate jump to 1:1 computing just isn’t feasible.  The initial cost in many cases is too great, and in other cases too little professional development has been done for all teachers to be immediately ready to take advantage of the opportunities provided by 1:1 devices.  Here are three alternate routes districts can take to begin closing the digital divide without needing to purchase a computer for each student.

 

Sugata Mitra and the 4:1 Model

The education research of Dr. Sugata Mitra has shown that even completely computer-illiterate groups of students, when given one Internet-ready computer to share, can learn how to use it to understand content they’re interested in with very little (or even no) teacher intervention.  Believing in the power of student discussion and collaboration, Dr. Mitra suggests having groups of about four students all share one computer.  A modified, classroom-based version of this 4:1 model could work well in helping high-poverty schools to bridge the digital divide at just one-fourth the cost.

 

Pilot Classrooms

A second option for schools not yet ready or able to move to a 1:1 environment is to create pilot classrooms where 1:1 technology could be implemented.  One tech-savvy secondary math teacher, for example, could keep a class set of laptops in her classroom and allow students in all of her classes to benefit from this technology.  In that way, a set of 30 computers might benefit 150 or more students over the course of each school day.

 

Before and After-School Access

Finally, schools that cannot afford to implement 1:1 technology should maximize student access to the technology that does exist in the school.  Computer labs (or pilot classrooms) should be staffed before and after school, allowing students free access to technology during those times.  Students without Internet access at home should be encouraged to utilize this time to complete homework assignments, conduct research, and learn computer skills in a safe environment.

 

As technology continues to get cheaper, cost issues will become less and less of a concern, but in the meantime, any of the three ideas listed above will help schools to take their first steps in closing the digital divide.

 

How are you overcoming the digital divide in your school or classroom? Share in the comments section!

 

About the author:

Mark Pullen, 1:1 classroom teacher, on behalf of Worth Ave. Group. Worth Ave Group provides laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance to schools and universities. They have been insuring schools since 1971. http://www.worthavegroup.com/education


[1] U.S. Department of Commerce. 2010. “Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States.” Washington, DC: National Telecommunications and Information Administration.