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0. A Virtual Chasm. Crossing the Digital Divide. Keagan O’Mara Kent State University. What is the “Digital Divide”?. 0.

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A Virtual Chasm

Crossing the Digital Divide

Keagan O’Mara

Kent State University

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What is the “Digital Divide”?


  • The lack of access to technology is a fundamental barrier to the widespread development of digital literacy. While simply being able to access a computer does not mean that a learner can confidently surf the Internet, it is still a good place to start (Access, 1999).

  • The digital divide is the ever widening gap in aptitude and skill with working with technology and electronic devices, including but not limited to computers, PDA’s, and other high-technology equipment. This gap is exacerbated in low-achieving areas by a lack of funding for school technology programs and inadequate access to technology in educational and public settings.

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Why Is Technology Equity Important?


Computers and technology hold immense promise to improve teaching and learning as well as shape workforce opportunities. (Hess & Smith, 2001).

Technology equity is every bit as important as other forms of equity, namely, educational equity. If certain people or groups are not allowed or given equal access to technology, then those groups are less likely to understand the importance of technology in their lives. Those groups are also more likely to be noncompetitive in the workforce, which will in turn affect the overall competitiveness of the American workforce.

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Who does the Digital Divide affect?


  • According to A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age (2004), the most affected groups are Hispanic and Black populations, as well as those with an annual family income of $34,999 or less- of these categories, computer use is less than 50%.

  • In addition, employment status also affects computer use, as unemployed persons are almost half as likely to use a computer or the internet despite the fact that the internet is an excellent resource for finding employment. (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2004)

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Areas of Technology Inequality


  • Lack of access to computer equipment in general

  • Lack of access to up-to-date equipment

  • Insufficient training on equipment

  • Little or no access to trained instructors in technology use

  • Internet access unaffordable or unavailable

  • Lack of access to personal computer equipment

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Research Findings


  • Research has shown that students with access to technology in school can have higher achievement in other subjects if a strong technology education plan is created and implemented in the schools. (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2005)

  • Also, students who are more likely to be computer-literate are those whose parents have an annual income above $40,000 and have either White or Asian American ethnic backgrounds.

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Percentage of households owning personal computers by educational level (Warf, 2001)


Percentage of households using the internet by income and ethnicity warf 2001 l.jpg

Percentage of households using the internet by income and ethnicity (Warf, 2001)


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Home Internet Connections by Technology, 2001 and 2003


Graph Data from A Nation Online (2003).

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Frequency of Persons’ Internet Use by Home Internet Connection Technology


Graph Data from A Nation Online (2003).

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Possible Solutions to Technology Equity


  • The $100 Laptop-

    • Part of the One Laptop Per Child technology initiative sponsored by the MIT Media Lab

    • Will create a small, lightweight, rugged computer that can be powered by solar energy or hand crank, and running open source programs on a Linux platform

    • Machines will be for sale in massive quantities to governments for distribution in an effort to bring technology and computing to remote and/or underdeveloped areas

      of the world

Artist’s conception of the One Laptop Per Child project’s laptop design.

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Possible Solutions to Technology Equity (continued)


  • Technology Waste Reprocessing, Refurbishment and Redistribution programs

    • Program volunteers accept donations of used/outmoded computer equipment and refurbishes them to modern standards, then distributes equipment to low-income or other families with demonstrated need

    • Reduces digital divide in low-income areas

    • Provides families with expensive modern computing equipment at little or no cost

    • Example: Computers for Classrooms

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  • Technology is not used by certain disadvantaged groups and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • Modern, updated computer equipment and software as well as other technologies needs to be provided to students in these areas in order to lessen the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in public schools.

  • Also, decreasing the price of computer equipment and internet access will assist in lessening the digital divide.

Computing facilities such as this should be provided for equal student access to technology.

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Brown, M.R., Higgins, K., & Hartley, K. (2001). Teachers and technology equity. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(4), 32-39.

Gaines, C.L., Johnson, W., King, T. (1996). Achieving technological equity and equal access to the learning tools of the 21st century. Retrieved 07 March 2006 from THEjournal website at: http://www.thejournal.com/articles/12458

Morse, T.E., Ensuring equality of educational opportunity in the digital age. Education and Urban Society,36(3). 266-278.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, (2005). Critical Issue: Using Technology to Improve Student Achievement. Learning Point Associates. Accessed 14 March 2006 from: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/technlgy/te800.htm#illustrative

Rivero, V. (2006). An e-rate update. American School Board Journal, 192(3), 42-43.

The Digital Divide Network, (1999). Access. Retrieved 16 March 2006, from The Digital Divide Network Web site: http://www.digitaldivide.net/community/access.

U.S. Department of Commerce, (2004). A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age. U.S. Government publication. Retrieved 20 March 2006 from: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/anol/NationOnlineBroadband04.htm

Ujamaa, N. (2006). Facing the digital future in San Diego. Retrieved 07 March from the Digital Divide Network website at: http://www.digitaldivide.net/articles/view.php?ArticleID=66

Warf, B. (2001). Segueways into cyberspace: Multiple geographies of the digital

divide. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 28,3-19.

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