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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Digital Use Divide

The Digital Use Divide:  

Challenges to Technology Implementation

As schools continue to integrate technology into the teaching day, educators are talking about an emerging phenomena called "the digital use divide".   Many people talk about the digital divide with respect to access to technology, but the digital use divide is speaking more to what happens when schools and teachers have access but implement technology in different manners.

Here is a good working definition of "the digital use divide" from the U.S. Dept. of Education:

"Traditionally, the digital divide referred to the gap between students who had access to the Internet and devices at school and home and those who did not. Significant progress is being made to increase Internet access in schools, libraries, and homes across the country. However, a digital use divide separates many students who use technology in ways that transform their learning from those who use the tools to complete the same activities but now with an electronic device (e.g., digital worksheets, online multiple-choice tests). The digital use divide is present in both formal and informal learning settings and across high and low-poverty schools and communities."

Some of this, of course, revolves around how teachers are using technology.  If students are simply doing electronic worksheets, then they are operating on the lowest level of the SAMR model.   Really, no educational gains are made from a consistent use of substitution of electronic worksheets for paper worksheets or multiple choice tests.  Perhaps an argument could be made for quick formative assessments using electronic multiple choice tests as this could immediately inform instruction for the day.

Great (albeit unequal) strides have been made in technology implementation and best practice with respect to classroom instruction over the past several years.  However, the 2016 report from the U.S. Office of Educational Technology notes that there are many areas in need of awareness and improvement.  Some of these include

• Research on the effectiveness of technology-enabled programs and resources is still limited, and we should build capacity to generate evidence of individual-, program-, and community-level outcomes. • Many schools do not yet have access to or are not yet using technology in ways that can improve learning on a daily basis, which underscores the need—guided by new research—to accelerate and scale up adoption of effective approaches and technologies. 
• Few schools have adopted approaches for using technology to support informal learning experiences aligned with formal learning goals. 
• Supporting learners in using technology for out-of-school learning experiences is often a missed opportunity. 
• The focus on providing Internet access and devices for learners should not overshadow the importance of preparing teachers to teach effectively with technology and to select engaging and relevant digital learning content. 
• As students use technology to support their learning, schools are faced with a growing need to protect student privacy continuously while allowing the appropriate use of data to personalize learning, advance research, and visualize student progress for families and teachers. 

Change with regards to technology integration is coming more rapidly than most educators would have imagined and probably will continue to do so.  With this change comes challenges and nuanced situations that require systemic thinking from all parties involved.  That includes teachers, school administrators, district leaders, and community members.  For many districts, it is a matter of not knowing what they don't know.   Implementing technology and reimagining education and classroom instruction is empowering.  However, time and thought are needed to do this effectively.

For more reading on this subject, go to 2016 National Technology Plan

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