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Crossing The Digital Divide

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Lpaho13

            Technology's integration into the modern classroom shows huge promise for education. But there are a few stumbling blocks on the path toward universal technology implementation in every classroom. If teachers and administrators are not advocates for new technologies in the classroom, there is little chance of it occurring by some sort of osmosis.

  • Teachers can be as guilty as anyone else of being resistant to change and of having to learn new teaching methodologies.
  • Administrators are often resistant to technology adoption because of the expense involved. And they've got good reasons for it. If a school district can't afford basic building maintenance or has to start charging for bussing because of dips in property taxes; it stands to reason that they shouldn't be contemplating the purchase of new iPads for students.

But the success of online learning in university contexts makes technology integration an even more important component of improving education outcomes. Finding a way to continue adopting technologies as they become current will be an important component of creating more online learning environments going forward.

            Introducing new technology to teachers and ensuring that they're comfortable using it is the easiest part of the puzzle. Even the most Luddite-minded teacher will change ingrained teaching methods when they observe how effective certain technologies can be at reaching and engaging certain students. I remember when I first started using Moodle in the English classroom. I have to admit that I saw it as an intrusion into my already effective methods. Why should I use Moodle when my imitation of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society was working so well? I was engaging my students as well as any teacher and if I had to jump up on my desk to get it done that was all in a day's work right? I was fooling myself. I may have been enthralled by my antics but I wasn't engaging all of my students like I thought I was. And some students who may have looked attentive were just wearing a façade of interest on their face but weren't absorbing the crucial information.

              Moodle proved invaluable to me almost immediately. I began to have students write a daily journal and work on in-class writing assignments in which they responded to my questions or writing prompts. I could see in real time what they were absorbing well and what they needed more help with. I was able to fine tune and target my teaching in a way that would have been impossible without Moodle. So attitudes about technology adoption can be changed. I was as Luddite as they came and my viewpoint in regards to new technology was that you'd first have to pry the chalk and eraser out of my cold dead hands. But I also had an advantage that most teachers don't. I had computers for every student. That was pure dumb luck because my classroom was also the writing lab the last period of each day. I lucked my way into innovation. I had pre-existing resources and I finally began to use them and began to see immediate results.

               The more significant problem with technology adoption is a structural one. The gap between schools with resources and schools that don't, already poses a serious problem for a country that values fairness above all else. We have a patchwork solution to school funding that results in poor kids going to poor schools and wealthy kids going to wealthy schools. Sure, there are exceptions. But the school you have access to is a big predictor of future success. When technology acquisition is thrown into an already inherently unequal education landscape, a disturbing possibility emerges. What if the digital divide continues to widen? This possibility transcends debates and normal bickering about education policies. The potential of widening the gulf between haves and have-nots is never a good prospect for a democracy that values fairness and equality.

                New technologies are no longer luxuries. They're necessities. Fifty years ago a lecture, blackboard, slide rule and textbooks formed the core of academic necessity. Even poorly funded school districts with leaky roofs could afford these tools. And they equipped students to go out into the world and encounter success. But students today who don't have access to computers in their homes, and have little access to technology in the classroom, are especially at risk of being grossly unprepared for any career field. If we can find creative and innovative ways to fund technology adoption for all schools we might be able to find a bridge across the digital divide.

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