The term, “Digital Divide” was originally coined by Lloyd Morrisett (Hoffman & Novak, 1998 as cited in Roblyer & Doering, 2014, p.27) to refer to differences in access to technology based on socioeconomic status. The poignancy of the concept is reflected in Molnar’s now 39 year-old warning (1978 as cited in Roblyer & Doering, p.19) that non-computer literate students would be educationally disadvantaged and again in Mason and Dodds’ contention (2005 as cited in Soujah, 2014) that technological illiteracy gives rise to disadvantaged futures. The concept of digital divide is now also used to refer to differences in the urban versus rural (Erdiaw-Kwasie & Alam, 2015) and intergenerational (Friemel, 2014) diffusion of internet use and technology. Friemel found that internet use is strongly skewed according to age group leading to the partial exclusion of old seniors. That said, I often find my 82 year-old mother getting annoyed with me when I am unable to take her Skype call as I am preparing for class or asking me why I have not looked at my brother’s latest photos on Facebook.
This blog reviews the issues raised by the term, “Digital Divide” in contemporary education. Roblyer & Doering (p.28) point out that while low-income and minority students now have better access to technology the question of advantage has shifted to how students from different socioeconomic backgrounds experience differing opportunities to take advantage of the technology. They contend that students not only need access, but access must be accompanied by systematic and focused instruction. Vigdor & Ladd (2010 as cited in Roblyer & Doering, p.28) found that providing access to home computers without instruction can actually lead to decreased achievement because unmonitored children will use the computers for non-educational purposes. Mason & Dodds (2005, as cited in Soujah, 2014) suggest that children raised in homes with available technologies learn to use technology to solve problems, analyse information and communicate.
Roblyer & Doering (p.27) contend that 21st Century Standards focus educators on critical thinking and problem solving and that these skills require technology-based, inquiry-based, constructivist methods. If it is hypothesised that these methods are increasingly important factors that determine improving or high levels of student literacy, statistics about Australian students’ performance in the international PISA tests provide revealing insights into the relationship between equity, pedagogy and the digital divide. Thomson, De Bartoli & Buckley (2013, p. ix) highlight that Australian students performed relatively well in the international PISA tests compared to students from other OECD countries: an average of 504 for mathematical literacy versus an OECD average of 494, an average of 521 versus 501 for scientific literacy, and an average of 512 versus 496 for reading literacy. The authors also highlight (p. ix) that the range of scores for Australian students between the lowest performing (5th percentile) and highest performing (95th percentile) is comparatively wider than the OECD average for mathematical, scientific and reading literacies and that (p.224) NSW had the largest gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools, “111 score points, or more than three years of schooling.” If, as hypothesised, student literacy rates are increasingly determined by technology-based, inquiry-based, constructivist methods, these results provide tentative evidence of a connection between equity, or rather inequity, and the use of technology in Australian schools and NSW schools in particular. Advantaged schools, many of which are likely to be over-invested in technology argue Mason & Dodds (2005 as cited in Soujah, 2014), are able to embrace these non-traditional, technology-based methods and disadvantaged schools continue to rely more on traditional, technology-light, instructional methods.
The question is whether a new generation of motivated teachers versed in content, pedagogical and technological knowledge can successfully challenge the digital divide in Australian schools?
Erdiaw-Kwasie, M., & Alam. K. (2015). Towards understanding digital divide in rural partnerships and development: A framework and evidence from rural Australia. Journal of Rural Studies, Vol. 43, 214-224. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.edu.au/10.1016/j.rurstud.2015.12.002. Retrieved January 6th, 2017 from CSU Library
Friemel, T. (2014). The digital divide has grown old: Determinants of a digital divide among seniors. new media & society, Vol. 18(2), 313-331. DOI: nms.sa10.1177/1461444814538648
Roblyer, M. & Doering, A.H. (2014). Integrating education technology into teaching: Sixth Edition. Essex, UK: Pearson Education.
Soujah, S. (2014). Technology Integration in Schools Is We Overinvested and Underprepared? International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 4(5), 444-447. Retrieved December 20th, 2016 from ESC 407 Resources https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_14182_1&content_id=_1250304_1
Thomson, S., De Bartoli, L., & Buckley, S. (2012). PISA 2012: How Australia measures up. Melbourne, ACER. Retrieved 7th, January from https://acer.edu.au/documents/PISA-2012-Report.pdf