This “digital divide” is defined as inequality between the digitally educated and digitally deprived which widens the socioeconomic disparities within society (Anthony & Padmanabhan, 2010); this extends to causing further disadvantages for students from lower socioeconomic classes. It is possible to extend this definition to include whether students have 24/7 internet access at home, or at a library or school only since there may be time limits, site blocking and limits in one’s ability to store, download and upload material – leading to a gap in skills and competencies known as the participation gap (Jenkins, 2008).
Warschauer et al. (2004) found that in California, high SES and low SES schools had comparable numbers of computers and internet access per student; all whilst the gaps in academic achievement continue to widen throughout the US, whether measured by standardised test scores, graduation rates or university admittance by race and socioeconomic status. The study claims that high SES schools and educators had much greater emphasis on research and data analysis – that is, students used computers and the internet for statistical analysis in an advanced placement statistics course, or constructed a greater amount of visual presentations. Low SES schools used computers for more perfunctory reasons such as searching for definitions or individualised instruction programs for solving specific problems in geometry and algebra. Lankshear and Knobel (2003) define this as performativity – where teachers simply tick off students’ checklists of skills, rather than giving attention to issues of knowledge construction and purposeful learning. Additionally, Warschauer et al. (2004) also found that workability was a significant issue – that is both teachers and students in low and high SES schools had concerns about the functionality of digital networks at their respective schools. Warschauer et al. (2004) conducted a case study of one high SES school in a wealthy suburb where 99% of teachers have full teaching credentials, and one low SES school in an urban neighbourhood where only 78% of teachers have full credentials. Whilst both schools had similar student-computer ratios, the high SES school had 12 technology facilitators that were selected from the teaching staff. These teachers are from various departments and are available for other teachers as a mentor – that is, if a classroom teacher is unable to operate, or has issues with a piece of technology, this technology facilitator can help them in the classroom and is also someone who teaches the same subject. These facilitators also undergo extensive in-service training. On the other hand, the low SES school had much greater difficulty in being able to use computers for instruction. For example, the school had two computer labs, one with Macintosh computers and the with Microsoft operating systems, which eventually merged into one, causing many compatibility problems. Furthermore, lab monitors who were non teaching staff hired to take care of the computer labs, did not seem to be familiar with what software was on the computers, hence leading to scheduling frustrations for the teachers.
Anthony, J. & Padmanabhan, S.R. (2010). Digital Divide And Equity In Education: A Rawlsian Analysis. Journal of Information Technology Case and Application Research, 12(4), 37 – 62
Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2003). New literacies; changing knowledge and classroom learning. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Warschauer, M., Knobel, M. & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: deconstructing the digital divide. Educational Policy, 18(4), 562-588