Sunday, January 17, 2010

A New Digital Divide

For the last 10 days I have been on a rock climbing trip in North Central Mexico. El Potrero Chico is a series of Limestone Mountains that grace the relatively small town of Hidalgo. It is not a tourist destination but a typical town and the only businesses are a cement factory located prominently in the town centre and the various campgrounds and small restaurants that cater to climbers a few kilometers outside town limits. It seems as though the internet access here is as reliable as hot water…intermittent at best. I can usually pick up a wireless connection at our campground when the weather is good. However, it has been rather cold and rainy the past few days and I had to venture into town to find something more reliable. I spent part of yesterday working at the sole internet “cafĂ©” (and I use that term very loosely). It is an unmarked, unpainted cement building that has 10 computer terminals for a town of 30,000 people. (Only 6 of the terminals actually worked.) Fortunately for me, the Policia picked me up as I was hitch-hiking into town and delivered me to the front steps otherwise it is unlikely that I would have found it. As the afternoon school session let out around 5:30pm a few high school students dressed in their red uniforms arrived to work on their homework. Six students shared the only 3 open computers and were working diligently as I left for dinner. Never before have I been so cognizant of the economic and technological divide between Canada and Mexico. The disparity between our countries still boggles my mind in this day and age. At home, I get frustrated by only having one smart board in my entire school, when the reality for most Mexican students is having no computers or internet access until they reach high school. It made me think of some of the articles I read this week, particularly one entitled “Things that Keep us Up at Night” by Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson.

In this article, Valenza and Johnson state,
“We have no textbook for what 21st century school library practice looks like”. So how do we ensure that all learners have access to new tools and resources? Not only that, but how do we ensure that all learners are taught the necessary skills to navigate this world? This may present a “new digital divide” that is no longer about access to computers but is about whether students “can appreciate, understand, and create quality information”.

In Canada, most students are fortunate enough to have easy access to computers and the internet. I am becoming increasingly concerned however, that they are not receiving proper instruction on how to navigate the Web 2.0 world and building the proper communication skills that they will need to work and be successful in the 21st century. Many of the other articles I’ve read lately show that despite their avid use of computers and technology many students are not as proficient as was previously thought with these ‘new literacy’ skills such as using search engines effectively, reading websites, selecting hyperlinks and comparing information across sources (Asselin & Doiron, Todd). For me, a shift is occurring from advocating for more and better resources to promoting their use more effectively. “It’s not about learning to use the software, it’s about the skills our students will carry with them that these tools and others like them allow. It’s about our students expressing themselves clearly, beautifully and skillfully” (Foote). If we can guide and teach our students to do that throughout their lives, then in my opinion, we have achieved our goal as educators.

A colleague of mine questioned me this week why I would start my Master’s in Education in Teacher-Librarianship when my position has been reduced dramatically to one hour a day and my budget has become so dismal it’s practically nonexistent. To be honest, I sometimes do get frustrated that I don’t have enough time in a day to do my job as effectively as I would like. However, I am strongly reminded this week that my school is more fortunate than others in that we have easy access to computers and a welcoming, warm environment that is rich in print and digital resources, with a caring Library Assistant and part-time Librarian. Not all schools in Canada are that fortunate and certainly not in Mexico or other parts of the World. I am also privileged to work with an encouraging, supportive and collaborative staff that consistently model life-long learning and strive to inspire their students. I am grateful for what I have, but I believe it has become an integral part of our jobs as Teacher-Librarians to promote what we have to offer and strive to continually improve our practice and make our current education system better to meet the changing needs of our students. It is becoming clearer that "today’s students are no longer the people our education system was designed to teach." (Prensky, 2001 as cited in Asselin & Doiron). And it is a call to action that Teacher –Librarians should take a leadership role in advocating for and promoting changes in our own practice that respond to particular needs within our own schools.

For me, that means concentrating on closing this new “digital divide” that is forming. What does it mean for you?

Asselin, Marlene. Doiron, Ray. (July, 2008). Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries 2.0.e School Libraries Worldwide. Vol 14. Iss 2. Retrieved from

Foote, Carolyn. (November 30, 2009). What are We Really Fighting For? Not So Distant Future blog. Retrieved from:

Todd, Ross J. (July, 2008). Youth and their Virtual Networked Words: Research Findings and Implications for School Libraries. School Libraries Worldwide. Vol 14. Iss2. Retrieved from:

Valenza, Joyce. Johnson, Doug. (October 1, 2009) Things That Keep Us Up at Night. School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

1 comment:

Cynthia Peterson said...

I loved reading your description of the digital divide you experienced in Mexico. Imagine if all educators (and students!) had the opportunity to experience another less privileged culture for a while -- how our attitudes might change.
You say, "I believe it has become an integral part of our jobs as Teacher-Librarians to promote what we have to offer and strive to continually improve our practice and make our current education system better to meet the changing needs of our students."
As a fellow tl, I'd like to thank you for your commitment to the profession, and for pursing your M.Ed despite the cutbacks!