Friday, February 1, 2013

On the Digital Divide(s)

Here we go Again: Is it Either Or?

by Karen Hamilton - Monday, June 28, 2010, 03:12 PM

First off, I have to declare that I’m not that convinced with the either/or mentality that simplifies a complex problem to two sides- haves and have-nots. It seems to me that it is a little more complicated and certainly involves a number of factors that leave many people excluded or marginalized.
 Is it a digital divide, a literacy divide, a socio-economic divide, a gender divide? Is the internet going to solve it all?

While the article Digital Divide: What it is and Why it Matters suggests a two pronged approach that includes an indirect approach that extends rural health and quality education to the poor, it has statements like “Closing the Digital divide is a precondition for reducing poverty,” Closing the Digital Divide is a precondition for resolving terrorism,” and “Closing the Digital Divide is a precondition for achieving sustainable world markets.” Was it just me who thought those statements sounded more than a tad extreme? Sounds like some kind of magic internet to me.

While I applaud initiatives like the One Laptop program and 50x15, there’s a lot more to it than just throwing technology at the wall and hoping it sticks, so unless the technology is integrated with literacy these programs will not be as effective as they could be.

Speaking about throwing technology at the wall, let’s move to the case study. In this case we know that the teacher assigned a project and the kids had an option to use the library, the internet or both as long as they didn’t plagiarize. I hate to always be blaming the teacher, but here I go again. What were the outcomes for the assignment? I think the only clear one is “write without plagiarizing.” It would have been better if the teacher had said specifically that everyone use both the library and the internet and then he/she could make sure that students are comfortable using and documenting sources for both.

However, the teacher didn’t do that and what was observed was that the boys all went to the computers and the girls all went to the library. It isn’t clear whether this is a group or individual assignment but it seems that the group has separated itself. There could be any number of reasons why this happened. One reason may be that not all students were comfortable using computers or books so they moved to their respective comfort zones. If this is the case this is a problem. Has the teacher oriented students to the use of the computer for researching? If the answer is yes, did both genders perform the tasks at similar levels? On this particular assignment, was there a significant difference in performance between genders that is not observed in other writing assignments? In other activities have the girls avoided using the internet or computers? Have the boys avoided the library? What exactly were the boys doing while on the computer? Were they diligently working on the assignment? Is one area more comfortable than the other? Do the girls not want to be around the boys for some reason? Do the boys not want to be around the girls for some reason?

If any of the students have been avoiding using computers or internet is there a reason? Is school the only place they have access? Do these students or the whole class need some training on how to use the internet for writing and research?

From what we have been given, we can’t know. We might blame the teacher for just saying there are computers and there’s the library. In the way it was given it was a little either/or. We might question that approach. Answers aren’t all piled up in one place these days. If the students have not been taught on how to use the technology or the library, the teacher is to blame. There would need to be lessons. You can’t just say there is an internet out there, go to it. There is also an issue of potential gender bias. Many have suggested that background and school experience can have an effect on girl’s willingness to use technology.

Since I’m a college teacher and our libraries all have computers, this is not something that would happen to me. But if I were the teacher, I’d have to question what is going on with what appears to be a separation. If I had eliminated other possible factors, and concluded that the girls were not comfortable on computers and/or the boys were not comfortable using books then, yes there is a problem. Everybody needs to come together and learn about the library and everybody needs to learn about computers and the internet and everybody has to experience them. So preliminary orientations to both and experiential learning needs to take place, and a clearer assignment should be given. If separate assignments on the computer and at the library are given earlier then the next assignment should be one in which everyone uses both those sources to complete the assignments.


Digital Divide: What it is and why it matters, International Telecommunications Union.

The digital divide, ICT and the 50x15 initiative, The Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics. Retrieved from

An educator’s guide to gender bias issues. Retrieved from

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