I was talking with a student a couple of weeks ago about completing a paper, and I requested that it be written in a Google Doc and shared with me. I have been a Google Certified Educator for four years and with the omnipresence of “Google” in our Internet society, I honestly didn’t think anything of the request. A few days later, the student contacted me and said simply, “I am sorry. I don’t know what a Google Doc is. Can you show me?”
If you are curious, this conversation didn’t happen in a high school. It occurred with a 23 year old graduate student working on their master’s degree.
I pondered the request over and over in my head. This student was not that far removed from high school. Clearly, they knew how to navigate the Internet, conduct basic research and searches, and knew how to access online material for my course, but the knowledge of Google Applications clearly escaped this student.
How did this happen?
A recent article in Education Week reported that schools spend over $3 billion on technology in the classroom. With the latest and greatest of technology in schools today, how are students escaping what I think is basic knowledge when it comes to navigating digital content?
One possible reason is a lack of access to technology. Despite the seemingly incredible investment in technology in schools, not every school is reaping the benefits of funding for their students. In fact, it is not uncommon to find limited a limited number of devices and limited wireless coverage in some of our poorest schools in the country. This means that many students, much like my own graduate student, are coming from underserved areas and lack the technology skills necessary to be able to navigate a university classroom. This phenomenon is known as the “Digital Divide”.
In a Pew survey, teachers of low income students reported that there are obstacles to using educational technology effectively when compared to teachers in more affluent schools. As affluent students become more accustomed to using technology at home and in schools, low income students tend to get left behind. Affluent students are more likely to have one or more parents who use technology on a regular basis in their careers compared to low income students and are also more likely to have an Internet connection at home. According to the 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” only 62 percent of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the Internet, while in those making $50,000-$74,999 that percentage jumped to 90 percent.
Access to technology has already moved from a luxury to a necessity. Educators have advocated for the need to increase access for students to multiple forms of technology in the classroom. I believe it is time for other members of the technology community to become advocates as well. The quick pace of change in technology is better measured from those who build and improve the technological world than from those who merely integrate technology into lesson plans. Closing the digital divide is a responsibility for everyone.