Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is the digital divide as wide as we once believed?

Often in education, there is a discussion of the “digital divide.” In 2001, Marc Prensky coined the phrases digital native and digital immigrant. He posed that the arrival of new technologies had changed the way that students process information. He also proposed that since students were growing up in a media-rich and digital world, they needed their educational experience to mirror that which they were a part of outside the traditional classroom. 

Since then, we have used the terms to describe those who are born into a world of digital devices such as cellphones, computers, and tablets. On the flip side, there are those who grew up without the digital devices who are entering the world as adults. The technology skills of the “digital natives” are assumed to be greater because of students’ exposure to digital devices. Similarly, teachers are assumed to lag behind students in skill level and understanding. Teachers and students are seen as being on opposite sides of the divide due to age difference, while skill level may not be a great divisor.

For some, this divide has created fear among teachers and a loss of confidence in teaching skills. Some teachers see a teacher’s role as being the expert in the room, which includes the need to be the expert in technology before it is incorporated into lessons. Some teachers see an opportunity to teach content to the students and learn from them about technology, creating a synergy around teaching and learning. Some teachers combat the fear by continuing to do what they’ve always done and avoid technology in the classroom.

As many are seeing in schools today, especially ones where the schools are implementing a 1:1 program (1 device per student), the divide may not be as wide in an educational setting as one may believe. Those who are “digital natives” have a lot more practice with using devices for personal reasons such as watching videos, texting, playing games, downloading apps, and other personal and social reasons. Understanding how to use the device as an educational or productivity tool is not as developed, and the gap may not be as wide in the educational setting.

While students are using the devices for personal enjoyment and entertainment, educators strive to find ways to incorporate technology into their lessons and use it to enhance learning opportunities. They create online quizzes, hold Mystery Skypes, participate in Google Hangouts with other classrooms, hold online book chats, and more. For many students, these opportunities are “aha” moments for them. 

Until these experiences, students viewed the devices as their personal connection to their friends, but teachers approach the devices in ways that allow students to connect with their classmates and the world. Once exposed to these opportunities, the students’ understanding of a global and collaborative society is deepened.  Also, these opportunities plant seeds for new ideas to be generated from students. Teachers and students can then learn together to use technology create transformational learning opportunities together.

It is important for educators to understand that a student’s limited viewpoint of his device is part of the process. Students' viewpoint can be changed and widened with teachers’ help. Educators must continue to close the digital divide for students’ sake.


  1. All of this is spot on. While I am a young teacher (<10 year gap between me and oldest students I teach), I still feel some distance when it comes to our technology usage. I find that my generation of teachers eagerly gravitates towards new technology, but at least for me, I find myself trying to "convert" the older generation. Older teachers see me as useful, but think that there is no way I can be more competent in the educational side than they are. They take a "mommy knows best" attitude towards the ideas that I bring to the table. I think the challenge is to bridge experienced teachers with younger teachers who are embracing technology with open arms to create innovate yet classic lessons which accomplish the ultimate goal of educating students.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Sara. Don't you wish your "older" teachers would see your knowledge as an opportunity to add breadth to their depth? I think if we could take their knowledge of pedagogy and content and combine it with technology, a phenomenal learning experience can be provided for our students.
      Keep doing what you're doing!