Digitally Divided

by Matthew Koslowski on December 16, 2009
in Essays

In This Essay

Digital divide narrowed, but lives on for students across US by Annie Gowen, The Washington Post via boston.com
 

How do we provide equal access to education when one-third of households do not have Internet access?

In our fervor to embrace technology, we are leaving children behind. We are creating a two classes: the digital haves and the digital have-nots.

The idea of a digital divide had occurred to me before I read Annie Gowen’s article. But the full impact had not occurred to me. I had not thought of how stressful it would be for a child of eleven or twelve to try to juggle getting to and from school when is computer lab is open with getting to and from the library when its computer lab is open.

When I first moved back to Massachusetts after more than six years in Illinois and the Midwest, I lived something of the digital divide myself. My experience illuminates problems the students have.

Siren’s Song

At first I decided to eschew getting Internet at home, in part from budgetary concerns. Although the Internet is a powerful medium for communication and research, while in the Midwest, I had been using the Internet to waste time:

  • I spent most of my time just dithering around on the same few websites;
  • I spent more time on social media than being social;
  • I spent more time on casual games than on learning.

Vast stores of human knowledge and opinion. And I was more interested in playing Bejeweled.

Something Had to Change

I knew something had to give.

I was worried that I would fall into my old habits in Massachusetts if I established Internet access at home from the start. I was worried that I fail to reconnect with old friends. And I was worried that I would fail to make new friends.

The public library system of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium has many libraries that are open until 9:00pm Monday through Thursday, many with reasonable hours on Saturday and a handful with Sunday hours.

Home. Office.

I decided to make the public libraries my office.

I believe that I was more effective at the libraries than I would have been if I had established Internet access at home immediately. But I still was not very effective. Getting to the library was difficult: if I went home before going to the library, I usually did not want to venture out again; if I went straight to the library without taking any time to relax and unwind from work, I usually wasted time switching gears.

Plus there was the distraction of all those books. Why should I research teacher training programs when there are shelves of poetry to investigate? Why should I read teacher blogs to find out what teaching is like day to day when I could look through art monograms? Why should I write emails when I could be reading great and not-so-great works of fiction?

Failure

I established Internet access at my home after much hemming and hawing.

When I went to the library, I could not focus. Even the quiet that I hoped would help did not. I failed repeatedly to be effective at the library. These failures in spite of having many advantages:

  • I have my own car so I could come and go when I pleased;
  • I had full control over what I chose to learn;
  • I was learning for pleasure, so I was under no deadline other than my desire to slack my thirst for certain subjects;
  • I have my own laptop, so I did not need to rely on the public terminals;
  • I am a grown man so I did not need permission nor have I a curfew;
  • and I meditate, so I should, hypothetically, have better ability to focus than a student;

Struggling Students

Now, strip all those advantages away.

Without Internet access at home, some students are unable to get their homework assignments, participate in discussion boards, or collaborate with their classmates. As we move more our materials for schools online are we preventing our students from learning?

Some teachers, according to Ms. Gowens’s article, are unforgiving. Students who have trouble accessing the computer lab, whose work gets erased because the computer reboots after so many minutes, or whose libraries don’t have the proper software, are getting an inferior education and increased stress.

Is this our generation’s separate and unequal?

I don’t have any good answers on how to reduce or eliminate this problem. I am glad to be aware of it, so when I become a teacher I can try to find ways to compensate.

If you have thoughts on how to bridge the digital divide, leave me a comment below.

Comments

One Response to “Digitally Divided”
  1. John Spencer says:

    I work within the Digital Divide. The biggest issue is access, not to computers, but to the internet. My immediate solution is to have then do much of their work on Puppy Linux and save their work on the flash drive. This works well for writing assignments. Next year, I’ll have a class set of netbooks and use a similar framework. For all the hype about “the cloud” my students are unable to access internet and many of them are too young to be on certain cloud-based programs. Sure, Zoho is great, but it also requires an age minimum of fourteen.

    The second issue is one of technology criticism. Here is where students from all walks of life are failing and schools are to blame. Students are become entertainment addicts and participating in the dehumanizing of social relationships. Yes, I sound like a Luddite, but I assure you I am not Ted Kazcynski.

    I actually just wrote a blog post on that topic. (http://jtspencer.blogspot.com/2009/12/redefining-digital-citizenship.html) I feel that many technocrats fail to see the darker side of the internet. I know we’ve had conversations about this, but embracing technology for the sake of technology is outright dangerous.