Digital divide, participation gap, cultural divide: over the decades the language of equity issues in technology have shifted along with the technology. This shifting language reflects the way we view technology and our relationships with it. What hasn’t changed is the challenge that these terms highlight—that some individuals have greater access to technology, both inside and outside the classroom.
Two fundamental components of access to technology are a fast, consistent internet connection and an appropriate device: Who in your classroom has internet at home? Who has a device they can use at home? What tech is in the classroom? What controls on student use exist?
A harder to see component of access is the participation gap and cultural divide: Who is consuming digital media? Who is participating and engaging in digital experiences with others? Who is being taught how to understand and critique media? Who has the resources (time, cultural understanding, money) to create digital work that improves their social status (both inside and outside the classroom)? 
These two frames demonstrate how a technology gap must be understood as occurring on multiple levels, from hardware and connectivity to our roles as consumers and producers of digital media. We can use these frameworks of access to assess technology in the classroom, specifically ones own classroom.
As the evolving construct of the issue demonstrates, the way we as educators use the technology impacts our individual students and the divide. When we become more aware of ourselves, the differences our students bring, and how we react to those differences we are more equipped to set up a meaningful learning environment.
How we think about technology
Technology is a tool, and like any tool, the way we think about it impacts how we use it and how we ask our students to use it. We can use it to enhance traditional ways of learning and producing, such as word processing and memorizing. We can use it to increase participation, both between students inside the classroom and outside the classroom, through collaborative tools and multi-media. We can also use it to develop critical cultural skills of questioning and evaluating digital media and power structures.
When we limit our view of technology to a digital pen and paper, we miss the ways students can increase their participation, build relationships, and develop cultural capital. For those students whose primary access to technology is through the classroom, this further widens the gap. When we use technology to allow for a variety of ways to access, evaluate, and develop knowledge, we demonstrate how we value multiple avenues of knowledge.
As a classroom teacher when you become aware of the frameworks you use you can increase your choices of how to use the technology available to you.
Questions to answer:
- How do you use the tool of technology?
- Do you consume, produce, and/or participate?
- How does your personal use of technology shape the way you think about the tool?
- How do you critically think about the tool?
- How can this tool be used to connect people, build participation, increase critical awareness of equity issues?
- How do you think technology allows for various forms of knowledge to be valued?
How we view others
How we think about technology shapes the way we approach planning our use of it. How we think about our student’s use of technology shapes the way we interact with them and their use of it, much of the time when we are unaware of it.
Research looks at the technology gaps, both in hardware/connectivity as well as use in the classroom. Holfeld, et. al. 2008, have found that schools with lower socioeconomic status have stricter student use policies and teachers who are more likely to use technology for rote learning, rather than creative engagement. These schools and teachers are most likely not aware they are furthering the technological divide.
The cultural message that children and youth are more tech savvy than adults can also affect our policies and practices that increase the tech divide. This message implies it is a “natural” thing for children and youth to be good at tech. This hides the socio-economic and cultural factors of tech access. It also produces the flip side of the message that when children are not good at tech, for lack of access, they are individually flawed. For teachers who unknowingly believe this message it can result in preferential treatment to those students who have access outside of the classroom, thus furthering the divide.
Just as increasing our awareness of our framework is helpful in impacting our behavior and reducing the divide, increasing our awareness of how we think about other’s use of technology impacts our behavior and affects the divide.
Questions to answer:
- What is your first thought when a child seems to be “tech savvy”? Does it just seem “natural” to them?
- What is your first thought when a child doesn’t seem to be at ease with technology?
- How do you engage students in questioning technology, questioning the viewpoint of sites, analyzing the credibility of games? Do you engage different students differently in this critical thinking?
- How do you think about the reasons for the economic and social circumstances of your students (at all SES levels)?
- Do you think about how your SES shapes your relationship to technology?
- Do you try to control the content of some students more than others?
- What are your judgments of differing family involvement?
- Do you set up technology use so people with a wide range of backgrounds can use it?
- How open are you to learning, and incorporating, the way your students think into the way you teach and use technology?
Wrapping it up
Access to hardware and connectivity is only part of accessing technology. Accessing the possibilities of participation and cultural knowledge is harder to see, but more within the classroom teacher’s control. When educators see technology as a meaningful, varied means of expression for students, it invites students to participate in unique, every-evolving ways. When students see themselves as capable of learning and using technology, they are empowered to continue accessing participation and cultural knowledge. This empowerment moves us all towards a reduction in the technology divide.
 Hohlfeld, T. N., Ritzhaupt, A. D., Barron, A. E., & Kemker, K. (2008). Examining the digital divide in K-12 public schools: Four-year trends for supporting ICT literacy in Florida. Computers & Education, 51(4), 1648–1663. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.04.002
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