Digital Divide: Access & Ability

The computer is an invention that has advanced society in more ways than one. The Internet, email and World Wide Web that followed only made further strides to connect even the most distant individuals across the globe. With such a fast-paced electronic change to the way the world communicates, there were some groups that got left behind and this is where the thought of digital divide arises. The problem that once started as a device and hardware distribution issue is turning into one of digital literacy and knowledge of these devices.

(IMAGE: Flickr/photos/superkimbo)

With so many new technologies being introduced to the public there is an emerging digital culture with every new Snapchat, Instagram, or social media trend. The increase in accessibility is being seen in the school systems, but throwing computers into every school is not going to simultaneously increase the skills to use them.

Recent movements, like the National Education Technology Plan, have pushed to close this digital divide by touching on this accessibility issue, but Jewish philosopher Maimonides once said,

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Give a classroom a computer and provide learning for the day; give a classroom a computer and the right tools to use it and provide further learning forever.

Digital Divide: Definition

The digital divide was once defined, in D. Colby’s “Closing the Digital Divide” as, “…the disparity in access across classifications of race, gender, age, income, and education to telephone, personal computers, and the internet.

But Everett Rogers, communication scholar, sociologist and teacher, argues that, “The digital divide, while currently an access-divide, may at some future date, when the rate of adoption of the internet is very widespread, evolve into a ’learning- divide’ or a ’content-divide’ or some other disparity, based on individuals’ ability to use the internet in certain ways.”

Rogers continues with a reference to the knowledge gap hypothesis in his 2001 article. This hypothesis treats knowledge as a commodity and holds it to the fact that commodities don’t get distributed equally throughout the socioeconomic ladder in everyday America. Having a knowledge gap is closely related to having the currently emerging digital divide in our school system.

(IMAGE: Flickr/posters/dianecordell)

A Learning Divide

According to Statistic Brain, 81 percent of teachers say online interactivity enriches the classroom and 77 percent of teachers use the internet for daily instruction. From this same data collection, 3.9 percent of those schools have a computer for each student and 12 percent have laptops to lend out. Computers, the internet, and other electronics are being used to teach our next generations to come, but some are getting left behind.

This digital divide is more than just getting the device into these student’s and teacher’s hands, it is giving the teachers the right knowledge to teach the students how to use them. Not only in the classroom, but at home as well.

Digital Literacy: Definition

Just like when the television and telephone, the hardware gaps and learning gaps from the rise in Internet use in schools will eventually be bridged with the right focus; digital literacy.

The University of Illinois defines digital literacy as:

  • “The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information.
  • The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers.
  • A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.”

Digital literacy is not primarily about knowing how to upload the best selfie or keep up on Facebook, but rather using the access you have to computers and the internet in a positive and constructive way. stated in 2011 that, “While there is no single solution to closing the broadband adoption gap, increasing digital literacy skills among non-users is key to bringing them online and opening doors to opportunity.”

(IMAGE: Flickr/photos/RobinHutton)

Digital Divide in Education

Although there is a bigger and much larger gap in this divide within the subgroups of elders, race and different socioeconomic status, there is also a divide that is seen within school systems from elementary school all the way through university courses.

This is where the shift from access to ability presents itself. Where the fact that you can have an iPhone in your hand and still slip through the cracks of the divide proves itself to be right.

Sara Hurt is a 21-year-old student from Garden City, Michigan in her first semester of college. After taking a three-year break after high school, Hurt is now attending Schoolcraft College right in her neighborhood and feels this gap as she tries to grasp her title as a student once again.

“It’s been so long since I have used the internet for something other than my own personal entertainment that I am now teaching myself all of the new technological advancements my professors require us to use,” Hurt explained.

There is a certain expectation from our school system, if you don’t have a computer of your own, to at least know how to use the Internet when given one. With such things as Moodle for Oakland University, or Blackboard for Schoolcraft College, even the highest level of education is requiring this digital literacy.

But it doesn’t stop when school stops. 96 percent of working Americans use new communications technologies as a part of their everyday life and 62 percent use the internet as an integral park of their jobs.

Bridging the Gap

98 percent of schools have one or more computers in the classroom along with 84.3 percent having high-speed internet, so this digital divide needs to be recognized as a lack of ability rather than access.

Below are standards that teachers should be holding in their classrooms and three out of the five have something to do with a digital presence.

(IMAGE: Flickr/Slides/DeniseKrebs)

Starting early and not forgetting about the ones who might be too close to the edge will slowly but surely bridge the digital divide gap present in American school systems today.


(IMAGE: Flickr/Posters/WesleyFryer)



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