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What is the Digital Divide's Impact on Learning

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 5, 2014

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2007), school Internet connectivity has grown from 35% in 1994 to 100% in 2005, while classroom connectivity—what counts most for instructional purposes—has increased from 3% in 1994 to 90% in 2005. While these increases in access to the Internet are significant and laudable, a study conducted in 2004 and published by A Nation Online revealed that Asian American and Caucasian households were more likely to be online than black households who in turn were more likely to be online than Latino households. Until meaningful ways to bridge this digital divide are identified and implemented, the positive impact of technology on learning will be limited to those with the greatest access.

In an article titled “The Gap” (2006), Carvin states that 2006 marks the ten-year anniversary of the digital divide.

Rewind to 1996: Middle-class Americans were just beginning to explore the possibilities of the Internet as a tool for education, civic engagement, and entertainment. Yet less affluent citizens, lacking the necessary skills and exposure, did not enjoy the same access to these opportunities. (p. 1)

His research data support this conclusion. Carvin found that nearly nine out of 10 households in which someone has attained graduate-level education were online. In contrast, less than one in five households (16%) of people without a high school diploma had Internet access.

This gap in access to technology is seen throughout the research literature. Wilhelm, Carmen, and Reynolds (2002) present a bleak picture of this lack of access:

In 2001, 83 percent of non-Hispanic white children lived in households with computers, compared to only 46 percent of black children and 47 percent of Hispanic children....There are similar gaps in access to the Internet at home. Based on data collected in 2001, 50 percent of non-Hispanic white children were able to connect to the Internet at home, compared to only 25 percent of black children and 20 percent of Hispanic children. (p. 4)

Closing the Gap: Integrating Technology into Classroom Learning

Carvin (2006) discusses the link between access and achievement and contends that access alone is not the only factor we need to consider. He believes that we need to look at the digital divide, not only from the perspective of access to technology, but also from the perspective of ways in which technology is being integrated into the classroom and curriculum. Cummins (2005) refers to this as the “pedagogical divide.”

An Education Week report (2007) points out that for low achievers and for students in poor urban schools, technology is still typically introduced as a remedial tool involving skills-based software whereas teachers of more advanced students tend to use a variety of more sophisticated programs. Warschauer et al. (2004) similarly reviewed a number of studies showing an emphasis on remedial or vocational uses of new technology by low-SES or black and Hispanic students and more academic uses of technology by high-SES or white and Asian students.

In general, despite the benefit of integrating technology into the classroom, research studies find that computers are being used for development of higher-order thinking skills by only a small percentage of teachers (Means et al., 2000; 2005). The majority of computers are being used for teacher work or the development of lower-order skills through drill and practice activities. Furthermore, the focus of many instructional technology reform efforts is the computer technology itself and not the effective infusion of technology into instruction (Means et al., 2000; 2005).

So how can teachers begin to use technology more effectively and efficiently in their classrooms? One very important component is to understand how to modify your existing learning environment to create an optimum technology-enhanced learning environment. The following vignette highlights how teachers can effectively integrate multiple uses of technology into the classroom curriculum.

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