I just got back to Vancouver in time to enjoy the last few days of the Olympics. As I wandered around Robson street I couldn’t help but enjoy the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the cherry blossoms on the trees downtown. Spring has definitely arrived early this year. Despite the warm weather conditions and lack of fresh snow, the winter Olympics have managed to carry on successfully. As the old adage goes “Where there is a will…there is a way”. I saw this first hand at the end of January, when Cypress mountain closed to the public and began building the course for the moguls event and snowboard cross course using straw bales and transporting in snow via helicopters from neighbouring mountain tops. The time, expense and commitment to alter mother natures’ own plan has been phenomenal. The International Organizing Committee (IOC) for the Vancouver Olympics has shown us first hand what great things can be achieved when government, organizers, volunteers, trainers and athletes are all determined and motivated to achieve a common goal. I spent a great deal of time last night (while watching the women’s curling final) musing over what changes would have to take place in our education system to get administrators, teachers, librarians, parents and students all motivated to work toward the common goal of integrating technology into our schools effectively.
The digital divide that currently exists in our education system is not only about those with limited access to computers and information and communication technologies (ICT) but is about the unequal acquisition of related skills to use that technology effectively (Wikipedia). It is a complex issue that has many structural, cultural and social influences that impact it, including: income, education, geography, gender, age, disability and aboriginal status (Looker & Thiessen, 2003). The unfortunate nature of these influences is that “many of these divisions overlap, so that some groups are doubly or triply disadvantaged” (Looker & Thiessen, 2003). According to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) blog post entitled “Web 2.0 in Schools: Our Digital Divides are Showing”, the contributing factors to the digital divide in schools can be amalgamated into four broader categories: access, skill, policy and motivation.
Quite simply, without access to computers, adequate software and ample Internet connections, our students will be unable to participate fully as digital citizens. However, as funding to public education continues to be cut, “administrators report that they are increasingly unable to meet the budget strain to maintain adequate computer facilities” and upgrade hardware (Couture, as cited in Looker & Thiessen, 2003). We need continued government and administrative financial support to make information technology purchases and upgrades a priority in schools.
Secondly, “providing schools with technology is not sufficient to close the digital divide. Teachers must receive the appropriate training in order to use technology effectively and to increase student learning (Wikipedia). Teachers need adequate time and training to acquire pedagogies for teaching information literacy skills such as locating and evaluating digital information and using collaborative Web 2.0 tools effectively. Without proper skills, intellectual access to information will continue to widen the digital divide between students.
A third inequality exists in the policies that schools adopt with respect to restricting and filtering websites that block access to Web 2.0 tools. Although I believe that all policy makers have the same intent to protect our children in the online environment, there needs to be equality in filtering policies so that all students have the ability to access Google Docs and other programs that can be effective collaborative learning tools (Nelson, 2009).
Perhaps the largest factor that is interconnected with access, skills and policy is motivation. As my colleague Mark mentioned during our class discussion this week motivation “fundamentally influences all of the others” (Harewood, 2010). Motivation and perceived needs is what determines which restrictions policy makers put on students’ access to particular websites. It also drives government and administrative mandates for funding and providing technological equipment needed to schools. Motivation also plays an integral role in a teacher’s own professional development to gain the skills and pedagogy to effectively teach their students the skills they need. The motivation of parents also directly impacts whether their children have computer access at home. Finally, a student’s motivation will greatly determine whether they embrace information and communication technology and demonstrate responsible digital citizenship. Without motivation from all stakeholders, none of the other barriers that contribute to the digital divide can be overcome.
How I can motivate my administration, my colleagues and my students to recognize the importance of information technology and adopt its use so that it becomes infused in the curriculum is perhaps the biggest challenge I have as a librarian. Starting the discussion on the contributing factors to the digital divide is only the necessary first step. Some of the suggestions made by Jan Gahala in her article “Promoting Technology Use in Schools” that I would like to try are: 1. Request time from administrators for teachers to partake in ongoing professional development. This could take the form of paid release time for independent practice or classroom-embedded mentoring. 2. Advocate for adequate tech support. 3. Recognize teacher successes with technology and share these stories with all staff members during meetings. 4. At faculty meetings, share ideas for using technology within different content areas. 5. Continue to design collaborative projects for students with authentic uses of technology for real-world application in the classroom. When people are motivated they have the ability to overcome tremendous obstacles and achieve great things. Nothing could illustrate that better than Olympic athletes like Brian McKeever, Petra Majdic or Joannie Rochette. Despite the difficulties and problems they have endured and have persevered to not only become successful, but inspirational. They have shown us all that the seemingly impossible is yet possible. I still believe that this can hold true for narrowing the digital divide that exists in our schools today.
References American Association of School Librarians. (October 30, 2008). Web 2.0 in Schools: Our Digital Divides are Showing. Retrieved from: http://www.aasl.ala.org/aaslblog/?m=200810
Gahala, Jan. (October 2001.) Critical Issue: Promoting Technology Use in Schools. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved from: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/technlgy/te200.htm
Harewood, Mark. (February 21, 2010). Information Tech for Learning: Digital Divide Discussion Question One [Msg 24]. Message Posted to: https://vista4.srv.ualberta.ca/webct/urw/lc5122011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct
Looker, Diane. Thiessen, Victor. (June 2003). The Digital Divide in Canadian Schools: Factors affecting student access to and use of information technology. Research Data Centres Program.
Nelson, Cathy. (December 30, 2009). Educational Inequality: more than just race or funding. TechnoTuesday blog. Retrieved from: http://blog.cathyjonelson.com/?p=1078.
Wikipedia (n.d) Digital Divide. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide