The term digital divide emerged in the mid-1990’s to describe the gap that exists between individuals who have access to technology and those that do not have access (Eamon, 2004). Computer technology has transformed modern society in profound ways (Behrman & Shields, 2000). Everyday society exposes citizens to technology in some form. Citizens integrate technology into common tasks such as signing into work, paying bills, shopping, paying taxes, and even reading the local newspaper (Behrman & Shields, 2000).
The increasing integration of technology into society cause school systems to be more resolute about including technology in every classroom.
School leaders generally agree that access to technology prepares students to succeed in the 21st century (Bell, Judge, & Puckett, 2006). Other researchers point out that increasing access to technology in the classroom environment does not ensure academic improvement. These researchers point out that there are limits to the advantages that technology offers.
A meta-analysis by Crismann, Badgert and Lucking (1997) involving 27 studies concerning academic achievement of students who received traditional classroom instruction or traditional classroom instruction with technology integration showed interesting results.
On average, students receiving technology infused instruction attained higher academic achievement than 58. 2 percent of those in traditional classrooms (Page, 2002). The digital divide addresses societal differences that correlate to the educational outcomes of students.
Such differences raised concerns about the emergence of the digital divide between the children on one side who are benefiting from technology and the children on the other side who the lack of technology access leaves behind (Becker, 2000).
Broadband technology can transmit data, audio, and video all at once over long distances.
Researchers define the digital divide as discrepancies in technology use and access in learning environments based on ethnicity and socioeconomic status (Pearson & Swain, 2002). School systems and government programs supply technology equipment and software to United States’ schools in effort to close the digital divide.
Nearly every school is now equipped with computers, and over two-thirds of our nation’s children have access at home (Shields & Behrman, 2000). Equal access and supply cannot close the digital divide alone. Teachers need adequate training on selection of technology and integration of technology. Teachers, parents, and students must become technology literate in order to close the digital divide. Review of Literature Advantages of Technology and Academic Performance
The digital divide influences academic performance because limited student access to technology minimizes experiences and knowledge necessary to succeed academically. Computer based technology contributes to children’s academic achievement. Researchers associate having a home computer to better academic performance (Jackson et al. , 2006). Schools play a critical role in providing access to computers to students who do not have home computers. Teachers can have a profound effect on the digital divide by carefully examining how and when technology use is necessary.
Regular use of technology in the classroom directly contributes to student achievement, both by making students more effective in their learning and teachers more efficient in their teaching. Teacher education should not focus on technology alone, but on its alignment with the curriculum. In order for this alignment with the curriculum to take place, more computers must be available for students use. Technology integrated into the curriculum increases students’ time on task and extends learning into the home, beyond the traditional school day (Shield & Behrman, 2000).
Classrooms benefit from the advantages of technology if planning is efficient and effective for a particular group of students. Students must understand that the use of technology within lessons supports productivity. Technology is a tool that students use for learning, research, networking, collaboration, telecommunications, and problem solving. Technology lessons must be meaningful and engaging for students to improve academic performance. Teachers are able to shift student learning from memorizing answers to questions to knowing how to find answers.
Activities that encourage students to use technology outside of the classroom such as using the technology lab, school media center, or local public library prepare students for future educational experiences. Using technology for academic tasks plays a positive role in student achievement (Wenglinsky, 2005). If students participate in authentic technology enhanced activities on a regular basis, these activities will offer students the support they need to become learners that are more proficient and possibly narrow the divide. Limitations of Technology and Academic Performance
The level and quality of the student interactions with technology can limit the academic advantages that technology offers. Students must be able to use computers for more than web-surfing, chatting, game playing, and participating in low-level thinking activities. Student interactions with computers must be quality interactions that allow students to do research and create original multimedia products. Although 99% of public classrooms have access to computers, many students are not meeting the technology standards set by the National Educational Technology Standards (Morgan & VanLengen, 2005).
While technology exposes students to activities that allow them to use higher order thinking and problem solving techniques, they still prefer to engage in non-academic activities on the Internet. Becker (2000) states that “most student Internet activities were recreational in nature – such as email, chat rooms, web-based games, web surfing, and listening to music”. Many children’s activities on the Internet appear to be for entertainment purposes instead of educational purposes.
While the Internet gives students access to an array of educational tools, it also gives them access to non-academic material. Teachers often have trouble monitoring student use of appropriate websites, electronic mail messages, instant messages, and live chat rooms. Without careful observation, students can easily use school time to access material that is inappropriate for children and will not improve academic improvement. Even if teachers properly monitor students, they may not benefit from having access to computers in the classroom. Research by Lilia C.
DiBello (2005) states that many teachers have not been properly trained to integrate technology in the classroom. While teachers may be comfortable with navigating various types of software, they often have trouble implementing the technology to meet technology standards (DiBello, 2005). Teacher preparation programs now require future teachers to take a technology course as a graduation requirement. However, technology is rapidly changing and school systems offer few opportunities that allow teachers to keep up with the changes modern technology brings.
When teachers are not willing and not prepared to integrate technology into their classrooms, they often fail to prepare students to perform authentic tasks using the computers. Teachers often use computers for low-level thinking activities such as drill and practice (Pearson & Swain, 2002). According to Pearson and Swain (2002), students in high-poverty schools use computers for drill and practice 35% of the time, as opposed to students in low-poverty schools, who used computers for drill and practice 26% of the time.
Schools who are below the poverty line are also more often to use computers for remedial purposes instead of higher order thinking skills. Teachers rarely teach students to use the computers to answers questions that they ask, research topics, or to prepare multimedia projects that coincide with the subjects they have learned in the classroom. Importance of Closing the Divide The digital divide exists both quantitatively and qualitatively. Gillan (2003) supported that quantitative gaps exist in schools and families where there is not enough access or time spent with technology.
Qualitative gaps refer to selection of appropriate applications and quality training. Many studies have drawn the conclusion that the key factor in closing the digital divide may not be access alone. As years have passed, attention moved away from who is connected to the question of who is served. It is important to consider that the upper-to-middle classes are given high-quality access to technology because technologists are hard at work creating “solutions” designed just for them. According to Morgan and VanLengen (2005), most affluent students use software that requires the use of critical thinking skill.
Less affluent students predominately use drill and practice software. Many school officials feel that technologists ignore solutions for the poor. The result is often that schools give the poor low-quality access that could actually hurt them and, in some sense, widen the divide. Because of the continued influences of technology on society, the United States must address the digital divide and implement strategies to narrow the gap. It is imperative to focus on what can be done if needs cannot be met. Students that are technology savvy have significant advantages over their peers.
Students with limited technology skills will not have the same educational or job opportunities and information that will be necessary for full and knowledgeable participation in society. Leaders should not subject students to the wrong side of the digital divide just because computer access at home is limited or none. It is the responsibility of the schools and communities to help narrow the gap. The schools are the primary source of computer access. Schools can promote digital equity for young children by including access to computer resources used in developmentally appropriate ways (Judge, 2005).
The digital divide has consequences that extend beyond the school. If the digital divide was only a matter of unequal access to equipment, closing it would simply involve duplicating the resources of wealthy schools in poorer schools (Riel, Schwartz, & Hitt, 2002). Educators need to learn the basics of information literacy: searching, evaluating materials for quality, risk assessment, and equally important privacy protection. These skills go beyond online behavior to include mass media and everyday communications.
Conclusion It is the job of educators to plan technology-integrated lessons that are appropriate for the particular group they are teaching. Educators must have knowledge and skills to integrate technology into meaningful activities of interest and relevance to children. Educators need to be aware of the advantages and the limitations of technology for all students. The primary key to closing the digital divide is investment in literacy and education. The biggest barrier to use of digital technology is lack of skills.
It is possible that the next generation of the World Wide Web, referred to as Internet, emphasizes the need to go beyond text to give users a sensory experience of the web. Some governments are exploring the use of cell phones, and applications like voice recognition technology or use of visual icons on various devices. The implications for closing the digital divide are important to society. Closing the digital divide will offer educational advantages, future employment and earning opportunities, chance for social and civic involvement, equity, and civil rights for all.
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