Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overcoming the Digital Divide

Many school districts have socio-economic diversity.  I know in our District there are school communities that are very affluent and others where families are quite poor.  We also have schools where there is a diverse mix of affluent and poor families.  When technology and access to the Internet is brought into the mix, we are unfortunately faced with the Digital Divide, a canyon so to speak, between have and have not families. (photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bestrated1/29567927/)

We, as are many other school systems, talk about how technology (laptop, netbook, mobile) will become a common school supply.  This is based on the belief that tech costs will continue to decline and families often buy game consoles that cost about what a netbook costs today.  I wonder how close we are to this becoming a reality?  One where all families have equal access to technology in their homes, connected at high speed to the vast Internet, and their children have a mobile learning device to bring to school.

I read an article “Opening Digital Doors” (author: Donna DeGennaro) in the November 2010 issue of Educational Leadership.  The story takes place in Boston and how the citywide Tech Goes Home (TGH) program has provided computers to low-income families in 43 schools.  It involves providing a low-cost laptop (families pay $50) after parents / guardians have spent 25 hours in training classes (video available here).  This is an interesting mix of educating the adults, their children learn and teach along side them and help, and getting a useful 21st century tool in their home.  Kids help their parents learn search strategies and pursue career goals.  It supports the entire family in being connected to what has become an essential tool and resource for student and adult learning and managing other needs.  The parents are taught how to communicate with email with the school / teacher.  They learn useful skills with Excel to manage their home budget.  Overall, parent and student information and technical literacy rises.  The author writes about providing a rigorous curriculum grounded in

“pedagogy in inquiry, exploration, experiential learning, and the chance to make connections among various learning areas.  Digital technology is central to this inquiry focus.  Teachers use technology daily to support learning.  As a result, students see technology as integral to constructing knowledge.”, pg. 74

I think the last statement is important for parents and guardians to understand – the importance today of technology to support learning – 21st century learning, and personalized learning.  Another significant benefit the TGH initiative has produced is strengthened relationships between parent and teacher, parent and child.  

I believe the digital divide is not just a financial problem, but rather it is a problem of understanding the connection of technology to learning.  There is a divide in people’s understanding of how technology supports and transforms learning today.

We need to overcome both divides: understanding AND finances for families.  Could the Neighbourhood of Learning Centres (NLC) springing up in BC schools be an answer?  Could afterschool computer access be made available to parents with their kids?  Who would teach them?  What about IT support needs?

3 comments:

  1. Good Post Brian. When acces is discussed in B.C. I think it is also often an urban / rural divide because of access to high-speed internet. I have beome more cautious in proclaiming the need for every child to have a device - either from home, the school or the community - because this alone does not guarentee access.

    I still think there are lessons we can learn from what we did with calculators. Twenty years ago we successfully operated a hybrid model of school supplied and student supplied devices as prices fell and student ownership increased.

    I do still vividly remember speaking to one student at Riverside who would access the internet on the weekend from just outside the school - he didn't have internet at home but could get on the school wireless even from just outside the building. I also remember another student who stayed after school to type and print out his mom's resume since they didn't have a computer at home. There is great power in our schools as centres of the community and as a hub for technology access.

    Chris K

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  2. Thanks Chris. I think the access issue is complicated by what's available (rural vs urban), finances of families, and budgets of schools and districts. I also share the calculate "lab" example and think computer technology is following this path - it's just taking longer than I had hoped.

    I think public ed has a moral obligation to keep equity in focus as we roll along with new technologies for learning. Also the better we can support families with their use and understanding of technology, the better able their kids can be to effectively use technology in their learning at school or home. Kids use a lot of tech but alot of use is still pretty unrelated to learning... we need to equitably teach and enable students with technology as well. Equity would seem to have many layers hey.

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  3. This is something special! never seen this before! thank you!!!

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