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As we look towards the future of technology in the educational setting it is helpful to look at how adoption of technology and new teaching practices has historically been accepted. This paper will look at the digital divide as seen through two lenses. A brief history of the digital divide will be introduced and then the digital divide will be looked at in the K-12 classroom setting and then in the corporate or adult learning setting.
Brief History of the Digital Divide
Ten years ago the digital divide was defined as people who had technology compared to those that did not have technology (Hertz, 2011). However, recently the amount of people in the United States that have access to technology in some way has grown significantly and therefore the definition of the digital divide has had to adjust. The digital divide has come to “refer to the inequalities among individuals who have access to technology and opportunities to learn ICT skills” (Hohlfeld, Ritzhaupt, Ann, & Kemker, 2008). A 2010 Pew Study shows that laptop ownership among Whites and African Americans broke about even in the United States. This statistic shows that access to technology in the home environment is increasing. Although laptop ownership does not imply internet access, with the increase in internet access through smart phones, internet access has increased among people of color (Hertz, 2011). Mary Beth Hertz also argues that the digital divide should now be adjusted to include the difference in accessibility of websites to those with disabilities and those without a disability. Although there are laws pertaining to physical buildings being accessible to those with disabilities there is nothing like that in regards to internet or technology. According to Hohlfeld et al. much of the research surrounding the digital divide is based on the access public education provides for those who have typically not had access to technology. In general public institutions are seen as a mechanism to eliminate any divide among socioeconomic levels. Since the majority of schools have internet access, researchers are beginning to look at the training provided to teachers and how teachers use technology in the classroom.
The Digital Divide in the Classroom
“Until recently, the educational experience of students was limited to the resources of the school, the family, the culture of the community, and the expertise of the classroom teachers. Immediate classroom resources consisted primarily of textbooks and library books” (Edwards 2002). These were exactly the resources most people older than 25 had in elementary school. Attendance was taken on paper that was later walked to the office and cafeterias relied on a cash register to keep track of who had paid for lunch. Typically a student took notes from what the teacher said or
wrote on the white board and any visuals were in outdated textbooks or printed from the teacher. Teachers tried to hit multiple learning styles but it was very difficult for them to do. By the year 2000, President Clinton required all public classrooms have access to the internet. The internet allows teachers and students to research any topic, converse with people around the world, promote student-centered learning, and address different styles of learning. The internet is transforming the work place and will help prepare students to get a job (Edwards 2002). After the year 2000, many schools had one computer in each classroom and a few labs that allowed each student to use a computer. These computers allowed teachers to access the internet and provide resources to students. Students were benefiting from this but they were rarely being taught to use the internet on their own. At the same time there were schools that had multiple laptop carts and the students were on computers daily in class. Their learning was much more student-centered. They were finding answers using the tools of the internet rather than having the teacher show them what he or she found. The digital divide began to change; all schools had technology but the access was different from school to school. The amount of technology in schools has greatly increased since President Clinton’s mandate of computers being in every classroom. There are smart boards, clickers, document cameras, iPads, smart phones, cameras, and personal laptops for students. These technologies are expensive and not all schools can afford all of them. Students have much different access to technology depending on the school they attend. The digital divide has changed; all schools have technology but the amount of technology varies greatly from school to school. The digital divide is very present when comparing the amount of access students have to technology. This is partly caused by the expense of technology. Only some schools have the money to afford multiple types of technology in every classroom. Technology is also something that is not always intuitive and teachers must be trained on how to use it successfully in their classroom. Training for teachers costs money; schools must find the time to send teachers to training, and teachers must be willing to put in the time to learn how to incorporate technology into their lessons. These are just some of the causes of the digital divide being present with the K-12 education system. Much research has shown the positive effects of technology. Technology brings more visuals and demonstrations to the classroom, which enhances many students’ learning. Stephanie Boles, a teacher for twenty-eight years, brought technology into her classroom. She started using science websites to introduce vocabulary with pictures and audio. Students were able to watch how a process happened rather than just reading about it. After one video from an internet site a student of hers said, “'Watching cell division is easier to understand than reading it.’” Boles found that students were able to create more in-depth responses and use a more academic vocabulary after seeing the visuals. Another benefit of internet learning is allowing students to pause the animation at any point so they can process the information at their own pace. (Boles, 2011). Students that do not have this technology may be missing out on a chance to find a connection in their learning and are losing the opportunity to learn vocabulary in a new way. The digital divide is present.
Schools that have multiple computers for students allow for more personalization of lessons and for student-centered assignments. The computers allow students to conduct research from multiple sources and create meanings of topics on their own. An article written by Bergen states, “Teachers in the later grades usually extend the range of activities to carefully controlled Internet projects, although some encourage E-mail communication with students from other parts of the country or world, or to ask questions of professional ’experts’ about certain topics” (1999). In many jobs people must communicate with other professionals around the world. Learning to do this at a younger age will be beneficial in the students’ future classes, job searches, and jobs. Schools that lack this technology are not able to give their students either the personalized technical instruction or the chance to communicate with others around the world. Again, the digital divide shows the difference in opportunities for students. Internet is not the only type of technology available to schools. One study showed the technology of electronic response systems to be engaging. The study found, “The majority of the Hong Kong University students in the high-use class agreed strongly with statements such as ’helps me to learn the subject matter of this course in greater depth’ and ’knowing how my classmates respond to questions in class increases my interest in the subject matter’” (Judson and Sawada). Not all students are motivated and engaged to do well in school and in the past there was little immediate accountability for the student. Electronic response systems help keep every student accountable for answering the question and can create instant conversations based on the class’s answers. Students that do not have electronic response systems in their classrooms are missing on an engagement component to promote discussion. In this manner the digital divide in the classroom shows itself again. Interactive whiteboards are becoming more common in schools. A study done by Kratcoski, Bates, and Hopkins found the smart board to be more engaging for their third grade students. Students would create concept maps, number lines, tables, and timelines. The authors said, “the ability to save and revisit our recordings allowed the students to confirm or refute their hypotheses with research, and then present to the class their evidence or new information.” The authors also found that the smart board helped them meet many of the learning styles in the classroom. They were able to use more visuals and thus tactile learners could maneuver items on the board (Kratcoski, Bates, & Hopkins, 2007). Technology has become part of the lifestyle in America. Almost all children have access to technology of some sort. They might own a smartphone, a Nintendo set, or a computer with internet. However, it is not enough to just have access to technology. Students need to learn educational ways to use this technology and how it can help them find answers. Many students from low income families do not have people at home that are able to teach them educational ways to use technology. These students depend on the training they get at school. To be successful in today’s job market, students must have some level of technology proficiency. The cost of technology will always be an issue so schools must get creative on how to provide the best technology education possible with the resources available. Students without education in technology are at an automatic disadvantage compared to some of their peers because students entering the workforce must be able to use multiple forms of technology to be successful. The gap only seems to be widening with more technology being developed. The digital divide still exists.
The Digital Divide and Adult Learning
In the early 1990s, The U.S. Department of Labor undertook defining the general workplace skills a typical American worker needed in an evolving economy (SCANS, 1991). Fundamental requirements were identified by researchers from interviewing workers, trainers, and employers from various industries. A new skill referred to as technical competency emerged and was found to have penetrated all of the tested skill areas, including communication with colleagues, management of resources, and the acquisition and use of information (Ginsberg, 2000). The pervasive nature of technological competency’s presence among different skill sets suggests that sufficient literacy and numeracy skills are no longer enough by themselves. The ability to effectively use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has now joined the group of foundational skills (reading, writing, arithmetic) necessary for further education and training. The threshold for entry in these programs is usually equated with skill levels comparable to those acquired by the end of secondary school (Ginsberg, 2000). The growing need for ICT in various aspects of everyday life serves as motivation for adults to educate themselves in this area. Keeping track of finances for example - whether it’s managing fiscal household affairs, paying bills, or investing in the stock market, they all require basic ICT skills. Many adults with children in school find ICT skills necessary to assist with their children’s homework. Being able to make decisions about medical procedures, finding appropriate legal advice, and simple data entry in industrialized jobs are all completed more efficiently with ICT skills. Even general adult education classes are incorporating ICT skills. With the presence of ICT in the classroom, and the correlating pedagogical changes, teachers are more able to create engaging real-life learning exercises with practical applications for the adult learner. Students are able to develop reading, writing, mathematics problem-solving, and technology skills which they can immediately apply to their everyday lives. Distance learning with the help of ICT can also cater to the modern day adult learner’s often complex schedule and timing constraints (for example, those who work during the day or are needed at home for parenting duties) allowing the learner to study when they want to and at their own pace (Ginsberg, 2000). The LiteracyLink initiative (Literacy Link, 2012) was designed to use print resources, ICT, and the Internet, to assist adults in achieving literacy and a high school diploma or GED equivalent. The program contains 26
instructional videos (Workplace Essential Skills) pertaining to fundamental competencies as well as job searching, career planning, and workplace culture orientation. The videos are augmented by on-line and print material. Another element of the LiteracyLInk called LitHelper provides the opportunity for teachers and students to tailor the video, print, and on-line instructional materials to specific students or to local literacy programs (Ginsberg, 2000). LitHelper has the ability to generate personal appraisals which assist in catering the instructional programs to match the learner’s individual needs. The aforementioned programs encourage and provide the platform for online learner interaction as well. All of the interactions are recorded and saved into collections in a personal Homespace, which includes portfolio functions that assist in on-going assessment of learner achievement, and schedules periodic revisions where the lesson plan (student specific) can be altered. As ICT skills have become more important in our society, various organizations and institutions have stepped forward to provide opportunities for adults to establish and expand their ICT skills. The near future certainly shows no potential decline in the need for these skills, and hopefully adults will have continued and expanded opportunities to become ICT proficient.
The Digital Divide in the Corporate World
As a generation of students come to the corporate world never knowing what education was like without the internet or other technology, it is important to look at how the views of adult educators and the mobility of learning will increase access to new content. Within many positions, people must get trained on the latest way to perform their job correctly. Whether these trainings happen face-to-face or online, the digital divide is present at these trainings. Adult Learning is increasing in demand and importance in the United States. For the first time in the history of our society there are more people over the age of 18 than there are under the age of 18 (Merriam, 2007). Educational institutions, corporations, industry, government, and the military all provide adult learning opportunities. Today’s adults are better educated than ever before, more economically stable, and enjoy better health (Merriam, 2007). The transition of our economy first from an agrarian to an industrialized work force, and then today to a serviceoriented society has changed the type of learning required. This constantly evolving and increasing need for adult learning has produced a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Today more money is spent on adult education than is spent on education for K-12 learners combined (Merriam, 2007). Technology is a significant factor in shaping how and what adults learn today. While technological advances such as robotics, automation, and computers make many fields of work obsolete, these advances also create new options for employment like internal technology, job sharing, and telecommuting and a new place for a generational digital divide. The latest research
shows that 80% of adults are using the internet compared to 95% of teens in America (Dorman, 2012). As more adults gain access to better internet connections corporations are looking at training a workforce through the use of technology in order to decrease training cost. As we consider how technology impacts adult learning, we must focus on one of the newest and fastest-growing sectors in emerging technology – mobile learning. The mobile learning field will reach a billion dollars faster than any industry in history (Quinn, 2012). Many different definitions exist for mobile learning, but perhaps the best comes from the Advanced Distributed Learning website which describes mobile learning as “leveraging ubiquitous mobile technology for the adoption or augmentation of knowledge, behaviors, or skills through education, training, or performance support while the mobility of the learner may be independent of time, location, and space.” Devices for mobile learning are portable, lightweight, and should be able to fit in a pocket or a purse. Mobile learning is unique to the context in which learning occurs. It is used to access information, assist in problem solving, and provide performance support wherever the learner might be in a timely fashion. With connectivity, these devices can be used to support and coordinate learning activities from different locations. Although mobile devices are being updated frequently there is a large portion of the older population that resist using any type of mobile device thus accentuating the digital divide. The combination of the dynamic field of mobile computing and the global marketing of these devices is allowing mobile learning to be a reliable and cost-effective element of online and distance learning for adults (Kukulska-Hulme, 2005). With the influx of new technology, mobile learning has become increasingly popular in higher education, formal and informal learning, social media, and training. Many offline and online colleges advocate the use of mobile devices to access online lectures and videos through podcasts, as well as providing access to free online texts and learning materials through the internet. These mobile devices also allow adult learners, who are often pressed for time, to transcend traditional school hours and geographic locations, often enabling them to earn an online degree without attending school fulltime. The amount of teacher-learner communication has increased with mobile technology, offering the opportunity for more individual instruction and feedback to the learner. Other features like instant messaging and online chats allow instructors to respond to various questions regarding examinations or papers. Additionally and more importantly, mobile learning enhances group interaction and helps develop critical thinking and problem solving skills among learners.
The idea of a digital divide has received more and more attention as society continues to increase its use and dependency on technology. Unfortunately, advances in bridging the technological gap between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” has failed to match the pace of technology’s evolution and implementation (Servon, 2001). Economic disparity isn’t the only contributing factor to the digital divide; social and cultural factors also play a significant role in the meaningful use of technology (Servon, 2001). People who are considered technologically under-
privileged need more than mere access to technology; ongoing instruction and guidance is also necessary for the meaningful use of technology. As stated above, research has shown the positive impacts technology has on K-12 education. This implies that schools must have and use technology in educating their students. Legislation could be passed to provide funding to schools for technology education. Districts can look for grants to purchase more technology. However, it is not enough to just own the technology. Students must know how to use it. If money is provided to schools to buy technology, training must be included. Technology should be provided for teachers who want to use it and they should be given the training on how to implement the technology into their classroom. Not only do K-12 students need educational access to technology, so do adults. One form of aid in bridging the digital divide comes in the form of community technology centers (CTC). Broadly defined, CTCs are community-based efforts which provide computer access and training to disadvantaged populations who would otherwise not have such access (Servon, 2001). Although CTCs are most popular for providing unstructured computer access they also focus on developing computer literacy and IT skills. Another important CTC focus is to create and distribute content through the use of technology, so that users aren’t just passive recipients of information. CTCs stress three areas regarding content creation: 1) helping community members connect to important information that already exists on the Internet; 2) creating material that constituents can use; and 3) teaching community members to create relative content (Servon, 2001). CTCs started on the grassroots level, but have now been embraced by companies like Microsoft through their Corporate Citizenship program. “Microsoft supports CTCs which are found in various locations, from remote villages to major metropolitan areas. CTCs provide people of all ages and abilities free or low-cost access to resources that enable them to learn about computers, use the Internet, explore new careers, further their education, participate in community activities, and develop job-related technological skills” (Ballmer, 2012). Microsoft has gone so far as to develop on-line learning platforms designed specifically for use by CTCs. Microsoft’s Digital Literacy Curriculum focuses on teaching fundamental computer concepts and skills such as using the Internet, sending email, and creating documents. The Microsoft Community Learning Curriculum goes one step further and builds on some of these basic tenants by teaching technical skills “intended specifically for CTCs, the content is designed to help people develop skills that apply to real-world challenges and opportunities. Available in 21 languages, the curriculum is provided free of charge for noncommercial use in nonprofit CTCs” (Ballmer, 2012). The use of an asset-based approach of building community technology has been, and will continue to be an effective measure in combating the digital divide. The asset-based approach focuses on using available resources from within the community as opposed to externally perceived needs (Pinkett, 2000). These resources include individuals with the capacity to teach ICT skills, associations, business, libraries, and schools with technological capacities. Building internal relationships between these different elements can increase a community’s cooperation, efficiency, and frequency of communication relative to a technological initiative (Pinkett, 2000).
Funding is a common problem with implementing new technology. however “adequate funding is essential in closing the digital divide. Funding spent unwisely will not advance student education or teacher instruction” (Dodds & Mason, 2005). In the Edutopia article one suggestion for reaching people in a rural setting was to have a company provide mobile broadband access similar to the traveling exhibits of the school museums of the past. As technology is evolving some will argue that the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ will be based on the newest technology. Since 2000, America has come a long way but we still have a divide. There are those who have a cell phone, those that have a smart phone, and those with the newest smart phone. The question then becomes, is there a way to make technology equal in a society that is inherently unequal?
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