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.