Bridging the Digital Divide in Education

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

In this lesson, we will look at the issues posed by the digital divide that many teachers face in their classrooms, including strategies for finding technology to use in the classroom, and how to thoughtfully incorporate technology into lessons.

What is the Digital Divide?

A teacher stands at the blackboard, chalk in hand, while students sit at their desks, shuffling papers and taking notes with their yellow #2 pencils. You might imagine this scene in a classroom fifty years ago, but this is what a typical classroom still looks like in many schools in America today. In other classrooms, however, students sit with laptops, tablets, or myriad other devices, completing interactive tasks online. Their blackboard has been replaced with an interactive whiteboard that serves as a blackboard, projector, and computer all in one. It is the differences between the traditional classroom and the high-tech, modern classroom that represent the digital divide in America.

As teachers, we know that great inequalities exist between school districts, within school districts, and sometimes even within schools themselves. Rarely is there technological equality across an entire population. Typically, there are students who are digitally adept, who have devices and Internet access at home. These students, known as digital natives, have grown up surrounded by technology and have already acquired a basic level of technological proficiency. In other cases, you may have students whose only exposure to technology is at school, and many students probably fall somewhere in between.

The digital divide refers to the inequality in access to technology that exists between communities due to regional and demographic differences, particularly socio-economic groups. One of our goals as teachers is to help bridge the digital divide so that students can acquire the technological skills they will need to be successful as adults. While some students are considered digital natives, having grown up immersed in technology, other students, for a variety of reasons, have not reached this level of technological skill.

Getting the Technology Into Your Classroom

The first step in bridging the digital divide in our class is to get technology into the hands of students. Start by assessing what technology you have at your disposal. The chart below provides an outline to help you assess the technology that might be available.

Inventory of Technology Available

Inventory the Technology Available

Quite possibly, there are items that you may not have considered because you don't always use them in your classroom (or perhaps, they are items that have been around forever). Before you try to bridge the digital divide, you will need to thoroughly assess what technology your school has to offer, even if you share it with your colleagues.

BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

If you lack technology at your school, you may want to consider using BYOD - Bring Your Own Device. In this model, students bring in a device from home (a laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.) to use during classroom instruction. One benefit of BYOD is that students will have devices in class that they should already know how to use. However, there are also definite drawbacks. Depending on the socio-economic breakdown of your class, you may have students who don't have a device to bring. Another issue you will encounter is that the variety of devices will make it more challenging to ensure that the websites or applications you are using work correctly on all devices.

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