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Addressing the Digital Divide

August 16, 2010

As Dr. Soloway (2009) indicated, the arrival of the future appears hinged on cost and support. In the case of the cell phone, since the cost of the device and access to the internet is low, the future is “accessible” to anyone who has a phone with the assumption that a hand-held device would be the technology that makes the connection to the future viable. In other words, we need to make sure this cost-factor and accessibility-factor are economically consistent to the entire world.

The difference between “cost” and “value” is key element in our current world of educational technology. Not everything that is costly has value; not everything that has value is costly. While the cost of a cell phone is negligible in terms of its cost to a citizen of the Western world, one cannot say the same thing in most other regions of the world. For example, it is common to have cell phone users in certain Asian countries depend on local technicians to repair and re-repair their cell phones over multiple generations of the device. This means that newer technology will be inaccessible to most people in socio-economic structures where cost and value are mutually exclusive.

With an estimated 800,000 Chinese handsets flooding into India every month—in 2008 figure was even higher, about 1.5 million—the government is restricting the number of cell phones in use fearing that terrorists could use untraceable phones (see Dean Nelson’s report).  This restriction will further widen the digital-divide because a governmental restriction will be the result of imposed higher costs. While Dr. Soloway makes the broad assumption that cost and access is relatively equal across genders, cultures, and socio-economic structures, the reality of the situation is that technology accessibility may have to be subsidized by governments for equal access to all citizens.

To make technology valuable to people across cultures, genders, and socio-economic structures, I think we would need to act on the following:

  1. We must know what specific technology works for individuals with well-defined needs. For example, someone with a disability needs to advocate his or her own needs. That individual needs to clearly communicate what is the need and what technology would fill that need. Additionally, by working with the student, developers can minimize access barriers (see Bergstahler’s report)
  2. We need to insist on universal design by including a wide range of anticipated characteristics of users and accessibility features into the design of an innovation.
  3. By providing rich technology experiences for all students, teachers can diminish the digital divide (see Swain and Pearson’s report)
  4. Pursue and encourage the 50×15 initiative. Advanced Micro Devices support to empower 50% of the world’s population by the year 2015. As Hector Ruiz noted, “Technology is only as powerful as it is accessible. Broader access brings education, information, and a sense of community that can help combat AIDS, malnutrition, ignorance and neglect. The power of a connected and enlightened world community is just beginning (ICT, 2010).”

It is my conviction that by engaging consistently and persistently in these and other activities, as an educational technology leader I can enhance the value of technology to people across cultures, genders, and socio-economic structures.

References

ICT, (2010). The Digital Divide, ICT and the 50×15 Initiative. Retrieved http://www.internetworldstats.com/links10.htm

Burgstahler, S. (n.d.). Bridging the digital divide in post-secondary education:

Technology access for youth with disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.rrtc.hawaii.edu/documents/products/phase3/10.pdf

Soloway, E. (2009). The digital divide: Leveling the playing field. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/courses/14936/CRS-WUEDUC8812-3730077/EDUC_8848_PK_Transcript.pdf

Swain, C. & Pearson, T. (2001). Learning and leading with technology. 28(8), 10-13, 59.

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