Has the Academic World Forgotten the Digital Divide?

Some have proclaimed that it doesn’t exist, but I am sorry – the digital divide is alive and well. My wife teaches at the second largest high school in the nation. She is attempting to integrate technology into her classes. She also has a hard time finding all of these so-called “digital natives.”

I just got out of the keynote speech for today at the 2007 IOL conference. The speaker brought in several college students to demonstrate to us how today’s generation is different from previous generations. I loved hearing what they had to say – they did a great job. I was disappointed in the fact that the panel was not very ethnically or economically diverse. I’m sure they aren’t all rich – but they all mentioned owning things that most of my wife’s students will never own. I’ve surveyed my wife’s students on technology, and I have found that all of their responses were radically different than ANY fact presented to us at this session. And my wife’s student are predominately African-American.

Of course, if you travel across the digital divide in Dallas, and you will see every student is just like the ones that we saw on this panel. And – I want to make sure I point this out – I liked the panel. I thought the did a good job of representing their side of the digital divide. What I am concerned about is that I haven’t even heard the digital divide mentioned at the last 3 conferences I have been to (I’ve only been to three in the past year). But, now thanks to more scholarships and grants, we are having more students from what I call the “forgotten side” of the digital divide going on the college. Time for a wake up call…

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

8 thoughts on “Has the Academic World Forgotten the Digital Divide?

  1. I agree. I see evidence of this digital divide when students from areas similar to where you wife teaches become enrolled in our programs. It’s always a steep learning curve for them. Much like reading, I think healthy habits that include technology need to develop a culture that is supportive at home and with family as well. I attended the same conference and would have loved to have had a discussion on this topic. Something for next year? BTW – great presentation you two! ;)

  2. Hi guys! I finally crossed the digital divide and joined your site. As a teacher, I find that there is a problem that I think is more difficult to conteract than the digital divide – the problem that students have discriminating between legit and non-legit information online.

    The reason that I suggest this is a more difficult problem is that students can learn how to use technology pretty quickly, even if their previous exposure has been minimal. In the case of information, something is missing in education from a very early age. Students think everything online is real and equal. They have not been taught how to determine the worth and/or legitimacy of information from various sites. For example, students give wikipedia the same weight as a peer reviewed journal (sometimes more!). Once they get to college it is almost impossible to convince them there is a difference. They have trouble understanding my argument that wikipedia is a good place to start, but not an authoritative source.

    Not sure how we fix this. One possibility is the creation of a course on digital information that all students have to take their freshman year. Another is to include a section in communications classes that addresses this. Of course, this may be too late – the education should start as soon as computers are introduced to kids.

    Thanks for letting me vent!

  3. Matt Crosslin

    I totally agree with you. Sometimes, I feel the term ‘digital native’ is just a totally bogus concept. It seems to imply that someone is going to be a computer expert just because they are born after a certain year, and are more than likely to have a computer at home. Just having a computer at home doesn’t mean you are even going to learn how to use it correctly.

    I think both problems can be solved by just not assuming that your students are tech experts. Of course, we also don’t want to force students to go through a lesson on how to do stuff that they already know. So, I guess if you are going to include technology in your lessons, you will also need to provide supplemental how-to guides for those that need them.

  4. Matt Crosslin

    Thanks! This would be a great topic for any conferences that are coming up (hint, hint to our readers). Sometimes, I wonder if people at the college level assume that the digital divide won’t affect them. It could be that they assume most students like this won’t make it in to college. But that’s not always the case. I could be wrong, but it just makes me wonder.

  5. I feel the term ‘digital native’ is just a totally bogus concept. It seems to imply that someone is going to be a computer expert just because they are born after a certain year, and are more than likely to have a computer at home.

    I fully agree. Also the counter argument that anyone who was born before that date is going to have difficulty using them. I’ve seen a good point made – someone who’s learnt English as a second language often has a far better grasp of the grammar etc. behind it, than those of us who have grown up using it. So, the theory went, those of us who might be seen as ‘digital immigrants’ may well have a better technical understanding of what we’re doing with it.

    I agree about your point that not all children have access to IT – that’s why the One laptop per child is such a good idea. I’m in the UK, and there have been some initiatives to try to get net access for all; however, I’ve not been able to find the particular report I was looking for – though I can remember reading it!

    I also agree very much with the point that children (and indeed many adults!) find learning how to evaluate online information difficult.

  6. I would love to think that the how-to guides worked, but in my experience, most students ignore them. I think students assume that they are “experts” already (maybe because we call them digital natives) and they don’t think they need the tutorial. In my online class, I always have a rash of problems at the first of the semester that would have been completely avoided if they had just read the getting started guide and uploaded the necessary plug-ins.

    I really like the English analogy. I agree that many non-natives have a much better grasp of the technology. My dad, who is in his 60s, is much more comfortable with a lot of the technology than I am. He has been a blogger for years now.

    This reminds me of a situation at school last year. Some of the students were trying to offer a computer tutoring session to senior citizens as part of their community service requirement. They were completely surprised that the “old people” (as they put it) didn’t need their help. Seems like it is motivation, not age that determines tech-knowledge!

  7. You are right – grading should be part of the equation. I will make them take a quiz on the getting started tutorial. This should motivate them to read it. Thanks for the idea!

    BTW – if I didn’t answer their questions, they would blame Katrina and Darren for the problems since they know I am just as clueless as they are. Therefore, I try to help when I can to take the heat off of our awesome designers. :)

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