The digital divide used to be about who had or didn't have technology. Business Week claims the digital divide is now about broadband access. Another take on the divide involves how early one started using technology: "Neo-millennial students," "gamers,"
"digital natives," and various other terms are used to describe people
who grew up with computers in contrast to those (like me) who first
used technology as an adolescent—or even later. Marc Prensky said
that "today's students think and process information fundamentally
differently from their predecessors" and even have different brain
structures than digital immigrants. But no matter how you define
"digital divide," the growing impact of technology on our daily lives
is undeniable—as long as you stay outside the public K-12 classroom.
I went to three back-to-school nights in the past few weeks, for a
third grade daughter and for seventh and 10th grade sons.
Back-to-school night is when parents visit their children's classrooms
and, in the case of the middle and high schools, attend abbreviated
versions of each of their children's classes in order to meet teachers
and hear about the curriculum. The most sophisticated technology I saw
on my visits was a touch-sensitive SMARTboard used by the high school
math teacher. A few teachers projected from laptops; for instance, a
middle-school gym teacher displayed a school site with schedules for
after school sports. Some provided paper handouts or wrote on a
whiteboard. While I didn't see the mimeograph machines of my childhood,
I did not see major technological transformations in these schools.
Outside of the classroom, many of these teachers, especially in
the higher grades, use technology for homework-related communication.
Some teachers assign homework to be done online. Students learn how to
search and do research online, but they also develop non-technological
research skills that include using libraries or, for example, examining
the night sky with their own eyes-not through someone else's
webcam-though they do know to look for data online when skies are
overcast. There is a real fluency to their research skills, and they
expect to find whatever they need online (and often do). Of course,
there is also heavy use of technology for entertainment purposes.
Given that children in many parts of the world are digital
natives, and given that technology and broadband access are widely
available, why has the classroom itself changed so little from the
classroom of my childhood? I think the real digital divide in education
lies in the gulf between today's classrooms and those we'd like to see
in our communities—classrooms that effectively integrate technology in
a way that measurably improves learning.