The digital divide is not about physical access

Just a few thoughts after reading The digital divide is shifting, but is it for the better? (by Christina Costa)

In the debate about the digital divide, it’s no longer enough to differentiate between those who have access and those who don’t. It is increasingly clear that it’s not enough to have physical access to technology (hardware, software or networks). If you want to enable equal participation in the digital world (and today, what isn’t included in the digital world?), you must develop epistemological access alongside physical access.


Lowering the cost of access might get a connected device into everyone’s hands, but if the way you use technology is not strategically aimed at improving your life (for example, through the intentional use of information for personal or professional development), the digital divide will continue to grow.

To possess the machines, [they] only need economic capital; [but] to appropriate them and use them in accordance with their specific purpose [they] must have access to embodied cultural capital, either in person or by proxy.

Bourdieu (1986)

Bourdieu, P. (1986). Forms of Capital. In Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241–58). Greenwood Press.


Posted to Diigo 06/25/2012

“When I look around at the risk/reward curve for higher education it’s grim. We’ve really gone past the point where raising tuition higher than inflation and then financializing the payment system has become abusive. I certainly never intended for myself an academic career and, were the academy to suffer, I’d just go do something else. I don’t have a commitment to it or to really, frankly, almost any institution that assumes that it has to be stable forever.

Plainly, universities are the kind of institutions that are ripe for pretty radical reconsideration. Probably because the founding story of many institutions and particularly the ones that we think of as the kind of original avatars of American higher education was “notable gentlemen X donated their library.” Right? So literally just access to written material became an important enough gesture that you would organize a university around it. And whatever [laughs] — whatever it is people need more of today, it ain’t access to written material.”



Posted to Diigo 08/01/2010

xWeb « Connectivism Annotated

  • Naming things is important. It’s easier to say “web 2.0″ than “participative, fragmented content, conversation-driven web”. Unfortunately, names give shape to concepts that are often imprecise. Sometimes words hurt more than they help.
  • xWeb is the utilization of smart, structured data drawn from our physical and virtual interactions and identities to extend our capacity to be known by others and by systems. This is an imprecise definition, but it’s a start
  • It involves a negotiation of two key questions that I continue to grapple with:

    1. What does technology do better than people?

    2. What do people do better than technology?

With xWeb, we are rethinking what we have to do as people and starting to rely on what technology does better than we possibly could. Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to capture the nature of the change around technology. Some of the recurring themes:

  • augmentation
  • aggregation
  • semantic web
  • location-based services (geoweb)
  • data overlaya
  • smart information
  • visualization
  • social media
  • open data and data in general
  • Internet of things
  • cloud computing
  • mobile technologies
  • analytics and monitoring
  • And, to that list, we could add filtering, recommender systems, distributed “like this” tools, annotation tools (diigo), wearable computing, and so on
      • Web 1.0 mainly seemed to consist of semantics, Web 2.0 of connections, communications, multi-media, virtual worlds and the introduction of mobile devices through the emergence of wireless and higher Internet connection speeds; while Web 3.0 connects data streams in a supposedly intelligent way. The combination of all four would lead to Web X.0 (Steve) or Web X (Stephen)
      • Why would anybody need some researchers and developers to work on a PLE for them?
      • 1. Intelligent data connections are one exciting option for PLE development and networked learning. Recommender systems of information, resources, critical friends and experts could form part of the access options for learners in a PLE that they would not likely be finding in a self-directed fashion
      • 2. That brings me to the challenges of an open online networked environment for learning. Not all adult learners are able to critically assess what they find online and might prefer to receive guidance from knowledgeable others
      • educators have highlighted that there is a real need for critical literacies while learning informally on networks
      • people might not necessarily have the critical literacies required to learn and search independently
      • Learning in my view is not synonymous with accessing information, and requires a level of reflection, analysis, perhaps also of problem solving, creativity and interaction with people to be able to get the best out of the structures and sub-structures of the Internet
      • the majority of people in the northern hemisphere should now have access to technology (so happy to see Rita qualify the statement with “…in the northern hemisphere…”)

      • The people least likely to use the Internet are also the least likely to participate in adult education
      • And I haven’t even spoken about the people on the southern half of the globe, where the access and participation rate to technology and learning is even lower and the group of vulnerable people greater. Should we just leave these people behind?
      • The components that were formulated in Stephen Downes’ vision for a PLE at the start of the PLE project of the National Research Council of Canada are the following: 1. A personal profiler that would collect and store personal information. 2. An information and resource aggregator to collect information and resources. 3. Editors and publishers enabling people to produce and publish artifacts to aid the learning and interest of others. 4. Helper applications that would provide the pedagogical backbone of the PLE and make connections with other internet services to help the learner make sense of information, applications and resources. 5. Services of the learners choice. 6. Recommenders of information and resources.
      • Having been born into a world where personal computers were not a revolution, but merely existed alongside air conditioning, microwaves and other appliances, there has been (a perhaps misguided) perception that the young are more digitally in-tune with the ways of the Web than others
      • Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it’s legit.
      • many students trusted in rankings above all else
      • researchers found that even in this supposedly savvy minority, none actually followed through to verify the identification or qualifications of the site’s authors
      • students are not always turning to the most relevant clues to determine the credibility of online content
      • Several strands of research demonstrate that displaying a personal interest in students is not only effective as a way to encourage participation and engagement, but necessary for real learning negative emotions such as fear and shame, all too common in the college classroom, retard learning, due to “choking,” the shutting down of higher-order thinking, and the activation of more primitive areas of the brain associated with the fight-or-flight syndrome

        undergraduate students repeatedly mention the importance of one-to-one interaction with instructors. Displaying a personal interest in students is the first step toward demonstrating that community exists within the classroom and across the campus

      • Be available to students in ways that you judge are not too invasive of your personal boundaries

        Encourage and respond to email

        Solicit and respond to student feedback

      • Mid-semester evaluations that you create and use to fine-tune instruction midstream also convey to students that you care what they think and about their learning

        During discussions and other interactions with students, really listen to them, striving to hear what students are really saying; not what we want to hear and/or assume students are saying

      • making connections between academic material and students’ personal experience also conveys an interest in students and their learning.


    Posted to Diigo 05/02/2010

      • You can’t force students to pay attention if they don’t want to. And even if you forbid all electronic gadgets, students will still daydream, whisper, and pass notes.
      • You can’t force students to pay attention if they don’t want to.
      • If you permit mobile devices, establish rules of etiquette.
      • Share research findings on task switching that show multitasking students learn significantly less and perform on tests more poorly than students who focus solely on classwork.
      • Survey results indicate that the majority of college students prefer courses that offer podcasts over those that do not. Students cite convenience, flexibility, and positive impact on learning as the main reasons to have recorded lectures (Nagel, 2008; Fernandez, Simo, & Sallan, 2009).
      • Lecture capture
      • archived lectures
      • allows students to review material at their own pace and convenience (Coghlan et al., 2007)
      • offers students more flexibility in note-taking
      • makes time for active learning during class by having the lecture available for viewing before the class meetings (Lund, 2008)
      • allows students to catch up with a missed lecture
      • No noticeable impact on students’ class attendance
      • In surveys, students report gaining a better understanding of class material in courses that used the technology
      • Undergraduate students have reported in focus groups and surveys that podcasts helped them stay focused on the course, made learning more fun and informal, supported independent learning, and enabled deep engagement with course material (Edirisingha & Salmon, 2007; Duke University, 2005)

      • Some students have reported that, because they had access to this learning tool outside of class, they took fewer notes during class and were able to pay closer attention to the lecture (Brotherton & Abowd, 2004)
      • Students report that they appreciate the flexibility of accessing podcasts anywhere and anytime (Fernandez, Simo, & Sallan, 2009; Winterbottom, 2007), and they like resources that are presented in a video or audio format, since this allows for self-paced learning and multitasking

      • students usually view podcasts shortly after a lecture has occurred and in the few days before an exam (Copley, 2007)
      • When considering the use of lecture capture technology, faculty should also understand students’ technological competencies. It is important not to assume that all students possess the same technology skills and have had equal exposure and access to technology (e.g., computers and MP3 players)

      • Given the potential differences in levels of access and technological skills, instructors may want to consider administering a short survey at the beginning of the term to determine students’ comfort with and access to technology required for using lecture capture (Zhu & Kaplan, 2011)

      • Since students take fewer or summary style notes in courses using lecture capture (Brotherton & Abowd, 2004), they have more time to process course material on the spot, which may lead them to ask more questions and want more interactivity during lecture

      • Make podcasts available as soon as possible after a lecture, since most students download podcasts within a few days of a given lecture
      • When appropriate, make reference to podcasts during lectures or when responding to students’ questions
      • Provide students with a clear explanation of instructional goals and technical requirements if podcasts are used for student projects or assignments.
      • the digital divide in education goes beyond the issue of access to technology.  A second digital divide separates those with the competencies and skills to benefit from computer use from those without.”
      • the digital divide is as much about access to reliable power as it is about access to ICT.
      • ICT use holds very real promise for facilitating greater inclusion of such groups into existing educational practices and environments as well — but such inclusion is by no means automatic, despite what countless pictures of happy children with computers from all walks of life might imply.
      • But do we really need to repeat the mistakes of others? If adopting ‘best practice’ is fraught with difficulties, and ‘good practice’ often noted but ignored, perhaps it is useful instead to look at ‘worst practice’.
      • 1. Dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen
      • 2. Design for OECD learning environments, implement elsewhere. Sometimes this works, but unfortunately many places roll out programs and products that have at their core sets of assumptions (reliable electricity and connectivity, well-trained teachers, sufficient available time-on-task, highly literate students, space to implement student-centric pedagogies, relevant content, a variety of cultural norms, etc.) that do not correspond with local realities.
      • 3. Think about educational content only after you have rolled out your hardware. It is a fact that, in many places, only once computers are in place and a certain level of basic ICT literacy is imparted to teachers and students is the rather basic question asked: What are we going to do with all of this stuff?
      • 4. Assume you can just import content from somewhere else. Much effort typically needs to be expended to map this content to explicit objectives and activities in the local curricula.
      • 5. Don’t monitor, don’t evaluate. What is the impact of ICT use in education? If we don’t evaluate potential answers to this question, rigorously and credibly, all we are left with is well-intentioned guesswork and marketing dross.
      • 6. Make a big bet on an unproven technology (especially one based on a  closed/proprietary standard) or single vendor, don’t plan for how to avoid ‘lock-in
      • 7. Don’t think about (or acknowledge) total cost of ownership/operation issues or calculations. We know that “total cost of ownership or operation” (TCO) is often underestimated, sometimes grossly, when calculating costs of ICT in education initiatives in developing countries.
      • 8. Assume away equity issues. Introduction of ICT in schools often exacerbates various entrenched inequities in education systems (urban-rural, rich-poor, boy-girl, linguistic and cultural divides, special needs students — the list is long)
      • 9. Don’t train your teachers (nor your school headmasters, for that matter). Teacher training is critical to the success of such initiatives.
      • Many of the lessons, or ‘worst’ practices that you describe can also be easily transferred over to the use of ICT in the health sector, so all nine points are applicable to us too.
      • technology can empower people, but not if their most basic needs are not met (i.e., safe water, sanitation, security).