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The insidious digital divide

Posted on: March 18, 2013

When something is insidious, it is not obvious when examined casually.

The “digital divide” is often viewed from the obvious technology access lens. For example, if teachers or students do not have devices and Internet access, how are they to curate or create content? While that perspective is important, it should not be the only argument against integrating technology into education.

In the context of post-industrialized countries, that point is moot. There are ways of putting technologies in the hands of learners. Every learner. The technologies get better and cheaper. Financially there are sponsors, donors, assistance schemes, etc. Schools need to think outside the box they create for themselves.


Video source

There is another more insidious box that divides the haves and have-nots. I have reflected on this before. There is the nature and quality of technology use once you have access to educational technology. The video above articulates this nicely.

The video describes a techno-pedagogical divide. I can think of many examples but will illustrate with just three.

A teacher might have access to an Interactive White Board in her classroom. But all she does is focus on didactic teaching and perhaps entertaining her students with slick animations, eye-candy transitions, and funny YouTube videos. She might do something similar by telling a riveting story with an oversized book, so her strategy for using the book and IWB are essentially the same. She is on the wrong side of the divide even if she has the IWB.

Another teacher can have access to a cart of iPads and reliable Internet access. But he allows access to the cart only when he asks his students to search for definitions, images, or videos to shed light on a concept. He does not leverage on what his students already carry in their pockets or bags, nor the spontaneity of search. He is unlikely to model information search skills and ethical use of what he finds. That teacher is also on the wrong side of the divide.

Now consider a group of teachers attempting to innovate by using a Edmodo or Facebook in their lessons. They transfer only what they experienced in the learning management system during their university days to the social media platform. They post content-only questions and expect students to answer them. They upload PowerPoint presentations and PDF readings. They wrap socialization around content instead of the other way around.

All those teachers are using new technologies with old methods. That is like moving to another country and refusing to learn the language and culture of the place. Both you and the residents may initially be wowed by the novelty. But soon both will tire of it and eventually resent it.

The insidious divide is a pedagogical one and it is far more harmful than the technological one. In a technological divide, the have-nots do not know what they are missing out on, but over time eventually might gain access to the tools.

In a pedagogical divide, the technology is present but its use is mismanaged and this sends the wrong message. This leads both the learner and instructor to question its validity and subsequent reliability.

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