Dialing Up the Digital Divide
Maybe those connected really don’t care about us!!
One of the following stories of the digital divide is a story of of the suburbs near Washington. I live in Washington DC, my family lives in Fairfax and I travel all over the US in my work to see and understand the various aspects of the DIgital Divide. I am passionate about the work because I am an accidental technology pioneer and I am a woman, and a teacher.
In the discussion of the digital divide opinions like mine are often dismissed.Many teachers have been overlooked in the quest for the meaningful use of technology. Lots of men want to cut to the chase and leapfrog over the teachers. I find that insulting. It is also short sighted in that teachers do indeed touch the future.
Is there still a Digital Divide?
Sure there is. As long as technology advances there will be a digital divide. We can at least talk about it again,this is a new administration. We have been asked by the FCC, the Dept of Education and other groups to give voice to our frustration and angst with the uses of technology. Of course the problem is that those who need to talk to us the most about the digital divide may not be connected.
I am a Digital Pioneer, and I helped to write the documents that helped the US to think of how we might use the Internet. The NIIAC KickStart Initiative was the first major effort by the private sector to identify the importance of integrating technology into the classrooms and to develop an initiative to make it happen. Then, in February of 1996, President Clinton issued his technology literacy challenge, at which time he challenged leaders from across the country to work together to connect all schools to the Internet by the year 2000. It did not happen.
As part of his challenge, President Clinton identified four critical elements — these have become known as the “four pillars.” These are:
Connections — Ensuring that all schools are connected to the Internet
Hardware — Ensuring that schools have adequate hardware for instructional use
Content — Ensuring that appropriate content exists for teachers to integrate into their curricula
Professional Development — Ensuring that teachers are equipped with the necessary skills to integrate the technology into the curriculum.
That was two administrations ago and a whole decade of student have grown up since then. I understand the plight of many teachers who have had little or no real training to be fluid users of media in their work. I also know that there are teachers who are not ready for the depth of knowledge that students can reach with the tiniest of fingers, on the Internet. It is true that many students do not know how to judge the information they attain as to accuracy. But that is only a small part of the story. First you need to be connected in meaningful ways.
Wiki, Blog? Twitter? Second Life , White Board.. Or?Ed Tech Pedagogy?
My story is variable. I work in Outreach to the use of Educational technology. I am an accidental pioneer in the use of technology, because a child had a need. I am always racing to learn the newest application, to finesse the uses of technology and sometimes I am behind in my learning. I am a minority who fell into the use of technology at the National Geographic for a summer and then later with the NASA educational portals and projects, and other prominent partnerships. I am a Christa McAuliffe Educator. I don’t believe in just vendored solutions to the problem of the digital divide. There are products that make a difference but the real difference has to be in changing the way in which we teach.
I like this paragraph too, in a recent Bob Herbert Opinion in the New York Times.
Bob says, ” For me, the greatest national security crisis in the United
States is the crisis in education. We are turning out new generations
of Americans who are whizzes at video games and may be capable of
tweeting 24 hours a day but are nowhere near ready to cope with the
great challenges of the 21st century.”
“An American kid drops out of high school at an average rate of one
every 26 seconds. In some large urban districts, only half of the
students ever graduate. Of the kids who manage to get through high
school, only about a third are ready to move on to a four-year college.”
“It’s no secret that American youngsters are doing poorly in school at
a time when intellectual achievement in an increasingly globalized
world is more important than ever. International tests have shown
American kids to be falling well behind their peers in many other
industrialized countries, and that will only get worse if radical
education reforms on a large scale are not put in place soon.”
So students have some familiarity with the use of media, but what about
subject content? What about the deep divide in knowledge networks and
access to learning resources. We know that many students, and families
do not have access to broadband, or quality resources based on a lack
of the first problem which is the tool.
They have neither regular access to the Internet at home, limited in some places but not a steady way to use the resources on the Internet. I call these the digitally deficit. They don’t have time to really, explore, examine, evaluate and embed the use of the Internet in their work. They cannot
learn the sophisticated uses of the resources that are available.
Or they don’t have a reliable tool, neither a phone, a Netbook, a PC. They have no easy access to what a lot of people take for granted. Cable is onetype of media they may have some access to and or limited games.
Contrasts/ Maybe They Don’t Really Care about us!!!
I went last month to the Supercomputing Conference in Portland where we talked about the future and saw wonderful things in Supercomputing, to a rural tribal area in Oregon where I only could do dialup, and it was much too slow for my work. I was busy all day at the conference and had no clue that in a few days I would be basically unconnected for days. My hosts did not have broadband it was also not available to me in the community without driving long distances in the dark over treacherous roads.
You probably don’t know the disconnect in rural areas, and I am very sure that you would be surprised about the disconnect in tribal areas of the US.
Recently a group of tribes went to the FCC.
Among the key policy recommendations in the NPM New Media Study are that the Federal government needs to:
Implement a new and robust strategic initiative targeting Tribal communications development.
Create a Tribal Broadband Plan within the National Broadband Plan.
Create new means of effectuating consultation and coordination with Tribal governments.
Undertake Universal Service Fund Reform to recognize the unique characteristic of both Tribal Lands and Tribal cultures.
Increase access to spectrum and remove barriers to use of spectrum by Tribal Entities.
Undertake greater federal funding and education, and the creation of a new federal program mechanism to support further connectivity and adoption within Native Nations
Support future additional research and analysis.
I have a dear friend who lives near Olympia That was where I went next.. She only uses dialup once a week. Her eyes were wide in wonder as I snapped pictures with my IPhone. The GPS was new to her too. She did have limited channels of television on Comcast. She would have loved the FoodNetwork. I was able to show her how to pull recipes from the web.
She is not a minority, nor poor. She just was not into the technology of today. We do email together. I never knew that she had limited technology resources. This was In rural Washington State.
What No Connections?
No broadband was available to me until I checked into a posh hotel. I curled up at the fireplace and attacked the mountains of email that had waited for me. In the rural place I did have an IPhone, but checking my vast correspondence with the IPhone was a task I could not accomplish. I work a lot with developing nations. Perhaps we have many places in the US that also qualify as places of need.
My other tools worked just fine.I could find and locate the places I wanted to drive to by satellite. Most of the time my cell phone worked.
Who Tells the Stories of the Digitally Deficit?
In my work I carry a DVD from the George Lucas Education Foundation in my purse to tell the story of the DIgital Natives.
I don’t think many people are telling the stories of those who are digitally deficit.I admire the work of the Department of Education in outreach, but many of the people they need to talk to are unaware of the best uses of technology. You can just check into the school system in the District of Columbia to see what I mean, if you wanted to test my theory. Even, however in Virginia, once you drop below Richmond, Virginia teachers tell me that they cannot access most of the sites i want them to use in workshops. It is a fact.
. There is also a group that does not have a clue as to what they are missing who do not do the participatory culture, or much beyond a possible cell phone, and or video games. They would never quality to write a story for the various foundations because they are not equipped to use the new tools of media that are a part of the application, except perhaps in a guided experience at school or in a learning place where technology is used. What would happen if the NTIA and or other groups had a way of letting people tell their digitally deficit story?
There are digital natives, digital immigrants, and the digitally
deficit, as well as digital pioneers. When you are cruising on the net,
poking in the cloud, using your 2.0 applications you may forget that
there are people who cannot, on a regular basis access the content you
can on the net.
According to the Pew Charitable Trust,
Home broadband adoption stood at 63% of adult Americans as of April
2009,up from 55% in May, 2008.
The latest findings of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American
Life Project mark a departure from the stagnation in home high-speed
adoption rates that had prevailed from December, 2007 through December,
2008. During that period, Project surveys found that home broadband
penetration remained in a narrow range between 54% and 57%.
According to the report the greatest growth in broadband adoption in
the past year has taken place among population subgroups which have
below average usage rates. Among them:
Senior citizens: Broadband usage among adults ages 65 or older grew
from 19% in
May, 2008 to 30% in April, 2009.
Low-income Americans: Two groups of low-income Americans saw strong
broadband growth from 2008 to 2009.
Respondents living in households whose annual household income is
less, saw broadband adoption grow from 25% in 2008 to 35% in 2009.
Respondents living in households whose annual incomes are between
and $30,000 annually experienced a growth in broadband penetration from
The important clue here is respondents. If you don’t have access you
can’t respond to the query, and give a voice to your frustration. Maybe
you don’t have frustration because you don’t know what you are missing.
Maybe you don’t care!!
Digital divide narrows, but gap remains for many
By Annie Gowen
Saturday, December 5, 2009 1:41 PM
Julija Pivoriunaite’s heart sinks when one of her teachers at Glasgow
Middle School announces that the class must go online to do a homework
assignment. It happens almost every school day.
Julija’s mind whirls with the complicated — and stressful — options
available to get her assignments done, as her family has no reliable
Internet service at home. The 11-year-old could work after school in
her Fairfax County school’s computer lab, but she said it’s only open
two days a week. The library has free computers, but students can only
work for a limited time if it’s busy. Finding rides is tough.
“I see my friends do their work, and I struggle to get the access I
need. It makes me sad,” said Julija, 11, a hoodie-wearing blond whose
fluent English betrays little hint that she came here from Lithuania
just a few years ago. She keeps asking her parents for high-speed
Internet and the answer is always the same: Soon, soon, but money’s
The digital divide has narrowed dramatically in the last ten years.
Roughly two-thirds of American households now report using the Internet
at home, according to the U.S. Census. In the affluent Washington
suburbs, the numbers are even higher; more than 90 percent of Fairfax
households with children have home computers, according to a recent
survey by the school system.
But even in Fairfax, the digital divide lives on in the study carrels
of Woodrow Wilson library. Most afternoons, the Falls Church library is
crowded with students from low-income or immigrant families using
computers. While they live in one of the richest counties in the
nation, these students recount skipping lunch to work at school labs or
trudging up to 45 minutes to the library after the school day is over.
Such effort is necessary because students are doing more and more of
their work online — reading textbooks, watching podcasts, posting on
discussion boards and creating PowerPoint presentations. The most
searched-for term in the D.C. area this year was “fcps blackboard”
according to Google. That’s the county’s 24-hour online system where
teachers post homework assignments and study guides, children ask
questions or participate in discussion groups, and parents monitor
classwork and grades.
University of Southern California professor Henry Jenkins calls this
new phase of the digital divide the “participation gap” — the huge
chasm between students who have 24-7 access to the Internet at home
versus those struggling to do their work in public spaces. Those with
home access have a big advantage because they’ll have ample time to
develop social networking, research and other skills necessary to
succeed later on, Jenkins said.
Without a computer, “There’s a kind of a wall, a barrier to the world,”
explained Ying Wu, 18, a senior at J.E.B. Stuart High School.
She earned a 4.2 G.P.A. in the school’s International Baccalaureate
program despite the fact that she did not have a computer at home until
recently. She says she got really good at coping skills like writing
her papers out longhand then typing them out “so fast” at school. She
filched her sister’s library card so she could get more than her
allotted time at the library. It’s another complicated calculus – card
holders can only work in two 30 minute increments if others are
waiting, for a total of 60 minutes a day.
She remembers looking longingly at a classmate’s elaborate PowerPoint
project on eco-friendly medical technology, trimmed with pictures of
doctors and solar panels, that she would never have had time to do. She
worked at a Borders book store this summer so she could buy herself a
$700 Dell laptop.
“This is the most expensive thing I have,” Wu said, rubbing it
lovingly. “It’s the whole point of my world.”
Administrators said they work to accommodate students like these by
opening school libraries and computers labs before and after school and
at lunch. The district has 103,000 computers, about 90 percent of them
available for student use.
But the effort is complicated because many lower-income students take
the bus home right after school to care for younger siblings or work
jobs to support their families.
“We are limited unfortunately because of the situation of many of our
students,” said Pamela Jones, the principal at J.E.B. Stuart, where 40
percent of students hail from other countries and more than half are
eligible for free and reduced lunches, a key indicator of poverty.
“It’s hard for them.”
This year the school instituted a 40-minute study period called “Raider
Time” built into the school day aimed at those who can’t stay after
Students said their instructors showed varying degrees of sympathy for
“They don’t want to hear excuses,” said Daritza Perla, 16, a junior at
Edison High School. She was cited for being tardy earlier this year
after she got held up at the school library trying to print an
assignment out. “Most of my teachers are pretty understanding, but they
would prefer to have it on time.”
Her mother, Maria, 49, said in Spanish that she and her husband, an
auto mechanic, would love to buy Daritza a computer, but can’t afford
it. She worries that she misses important news from school by not
having email and wishes her daughter was home more instead of
constantly at the library.
“It gives me sadness and frustration,” she said. “I would prefer she be
Librarians at Woodrow Wilson crafted an excuse note for 15-year-old
Juan Henriquez after he lost a eight-page paper on the Bill of Rights
because his session on the computer timed out before he’d saved his
“I felt mad,” Juan recalled recently. “I didn’t know what I was going
Librarians often find themselves stepping out of their traditional
roles to become part counselors, part social workers to the students.
“Even in one of the richest counties in the country, there are pockets
…where people don’t have access to modern technology,” said Mohammed
Esslami, the Woodrow Wilson branch manager. Fairfax has the
second-highest median income in the country, second only to neighboring
Juan, the son of Salvadoran immigrants, said he prefers working at the
library because if he stays after to work in the school lab he gets too
hungry. He usually takes the bus home and eats a quick dinner of beans,
chicken and rice his mother has left him before heading out to study.
He lives in one of the many low-slung brick apartment complexes in the
Culmore neighborhood just off Route 7 in Fairfax. From there, it’s a
short walk to Best Buy, where he often goes to look at the shiny
laptops for sale. He wishes he had one. But he insisted he doesn’t envy
his classmates who do.
“I don’t feel jealous for nobody,” he said.
A minute later he sees a reporter whip out a small BlackBerry. His eyes
“Do you have WiFi on that?” he asked.