I was at a school district meeting on technology the other night and one of the parents in attendance asked why her son’s teacher didn’t use the beautiful SmartBoard the school had purchased over a year ago. The discussion quickly turned to the school’s lack of resources: no training, poor planning, not enough time in the teacher’s day, etc. My thoughts, however, went elsewhere. I began ruminating on the so-called "Digital Divide” that exists between the technological haves and have-nots.
The traditional argument delineates the Digital Divide at an economic level. While economic factors can (and often do) play a role in the Divide, they are certainly not the only factors worth considering. Isn’t there also a clear divide that can exist at a generational level? Grampy will usually get his butt kicked by his 10 year old grandson in a game of Madden -- and, while my parents are overwhelmed by the Skype video call, I just wonder why this technology took 20+ years from the days when I was involved with PictureTel.
The rate of adoption for technology at an individual level is driven by a few factors, including one’s personality, education, and overall acumen. Some folks may not be self-starters or adventurous types where technology is concerned. Still others may just not have had the education necessary to get them started with new technologies. This alone can prevent them from ever turning their new SmartBoards, meaning that they miss out on hundreds of tutorial videos, and, in turn, hundreds of potential lesson plans that utilize SmartBoard features. Acumen, education, and economics go hand-in-hand. A geometry teacher with the acumen to try a flipped classroom knows whether all of his or her students have access to a computer and high-speed internet at night so they can watch their Khan Academy videos on the Pythagorean Theorem.
I recently watched an interview with a doctor who is closing his practice after 30 years because he can’t adapt to the government’s new Electronic Medical Records requirements. Much like the discussion at the school district meeting, this gave me pause. I realized that our expectations aren’t often aligned with an understanding of the Digital Divide -- so just as we expect all teachers to be using SmartBoard technology, we expect all doctors to have their records maintained electronically and accessible by any hospital. Without the proper training and resources at hand, this is neither fair to the teachers and doctors, nor the students and patients. It seems in the best interests of administrators and planners to consider this when building well-intended technology programs.
I am encouraged about the state of such things in RI. We have strong advocacy and deep technological understanding in this area at the state level, led by our friends at BroadBand RI (BBRI). To learn more, check out their policy paper here:
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