Digital Divide

Years ago, when my school district began planning a transition to “Bring Your Own Device” for the schools, there was a question that invariably came up: what about students without devices? Will they get left behind or be put at a disadvantage? It would be wonderful if every student had the exact same kind of device and Internet access — a level technological playing field — to complete certain assignments, but they don’t.  Some have the latest model from Apple or Samsung, some have a basic cell phone. Some have brand new ones, some have broken screens. Some have high-speed Internet at home, some have no Internet at all. This is where the term “digital divide” comes in. Digital divide initially referred to the divide, or gap, between students that have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. Cell phones and smart phones have become ubiquitous since the turn of the century and according to the Pew Internet Project, 95% of teens can access the Internet. Digital divide now refers to the divide in how the Internet access is being used. This is something I’ve never considered before.

Another study done by the Pew Research Internet Project looked at how households of varying income brackets used the Internet. In general, students who live in households earning less than $30,000 are less likely to frequently use the Internet, get online news, research a product, check political news or government websites, seek information about a medical issue, or check online classifieds. They’re also less likely to own a desktop or laptop (see chart). As Mary Beth Hertz points out in “A New Understanding of the Digital Divide,” “you can’t fill out a job application through a cell phone or update your résumé on a game console.” Going forward, I will need to be mindful of this whenever I assign something that requires desktop/laptop access. My lesson plans need to be adaptable enough to be used on any device.

My Computers in Education class has put together a VoiceThread discussion about the digital divide. Listen to it here.

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7 Comments

  1. Brandon, I think you brought up a very important point when you said “digital divide now refers to the divide in how the Internet access is being used. This is something I’ve never considered before”. I too have never considered this as a gap between individuals, and was really surprised to read about the issue.

    We should also take into account the cost of the apps or the softwares being used in a specific class. While there are many free applications that can be used, some teachers try to be more creative and use sophisticated softwares to enhance the creativity of the students, without noticing the consequences!

  2. Your infographic data is much more broken-out than mine! However, it is still enlightening to see just how many individuals have access to technology tools–mainly, the cell phone. While I am much like you, I need to be mindful of what my students have access to, for example, Internet, I am also of the mindset that most (if not all) of my lesson’s content should not be adapted to work on a phone. Maybe that makes me old school, but I have a strong affirmation that students need to learn that not everything should and can be completed on a phone. I know, I know. It seems like everything anymore can be completed on a cell phone, but much like what you said, one wouldn’t think to complete a resume or job application on a phone. However, give it time! Soon, we’ll have companies creating an app for that, too!

  3. Brandon,

    I have found it interesting with our BYOD how we thought that different devices would cause a major problem in the applications we wanted to use in our classrooms, but it hasn’t really presented as big of a problem as we thought it would. Now we are getting ready for a 1:1 implementation over the next several years by “giving” students all the same machine. I think it’s laughable that we are doing this, as they will be outdated almost as soon as we issue them. So what do you think the answer is? Does providing a certain machine for all really fix anything?

  4. I like how you made the connection to your own experience with including personal devices in the classroom. Bernard mentioned in her article “Crossing the Digital Divide: Bridges and Barriers to Digital Inclusion,” that perhaps the ban on cellphone use in schools is outdated. But, you make a valid point, that not everyone is going to have the newest and best device available. It is great that you have been able to reflect on this and are using in away to enhance your teaching.

  5. I agree with you. The more digital devices used does not necessarily mean that the narrower the digital divide will be. In fact, the negative scenario is observed when more cell phones is being used. Those devices have limited capability of information processing and when used solely for learning purposes it will create a Digital information divide between those who use laptops and desktops and those who use cellphones for learning.
    Please checkout the following link:
    http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2011/06/what-exactly-can-you-learn-on-a-mobile-phone/

  6. I was surprised to see in your graphic that 79% of households with income > $75K have desktops and 79% have laptops. It would be interesting to see a venn diagram of these graphics to know what percentage of this income group have at least one of these devices. I would have predicted much higher percentages of households in this income bracket have a computer.

  7. Brandon,

    Our school is also operating on a “bring your own device” program as we wait for the full implementation of our district’s 1:1 technology program. More info here: http://www.hse.k12.in.us/ADM/academics/hse21/index.aspx

    It can be really tough designing a lesson that can mesh with a variety of devices and also include those students that have no device at all. I am hoping that lesson planning will become easier in this area once our students receive iPads at the junior high.

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