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Digital Inequalities & Educators

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

What the research says and what you need to know to face digital inequalities in your classroom, district, policy, and beyond

You’ve likely heard the buzzword “digital divide,” but what does it mean to you and your campus or your district? How does what you do affect this? And is it even the best term? How can this research inform policy at all levels?

Let’s Call it Digital Inequalities

The COVID-19 pandemic made clear the necessity of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to education, employment, and life in general, but it remains to be seen if policy will reflect what to many is obvious. ICTs are not a luxury; they are a necessity. This issue is not limited to education and technology. It is truly interdisciplinary in nature and calls on perspectives from sociology, communication, and beyond. The integration of insights from multiple disciplines is necessary to fully understand and inform this global challenge.

Replicating Inequalities

Ok, so we know there are digital inequalities. Isn’t the Internet supposed to be democratizing? Isn’t it supposed to make certain parts of life easier for everyone? The research shows otherwise. ICTs are actually replicating current inequalities - with the privileged remaining so and the less privileged remaining so. How does this happen?

Digital Literacy

What does this have to do with literacy? Misconceptions about skills can lead to lack of differentiation for digital literacy instruction. And what about if digital literacy isn't considered 'literacy' in the sense that it's valued the same as pen/paper reading and writing? If the concept of literacy doesn't include digital literacies, they often don't get the same time and effort in the curriculum. As Coiro et al. (2008) asserts “the pervasive power of an assessment that measures only traditional print literacies profoundly determines what is taught during reading instruction, especially within schools that are under the greatest pressure to raise scores. This has resulted in denying online reading experiences to students in the most economically challenged school districts” (p. 8). Thus how we define literacy influences what happens in our schools and community centers.

Instructional Implications

What does this mean for you as a teacher or an administrator or even you as a possible influencer of policy? How can you use this research to better serve the people of your community? The research suggests:

  • Don't make assumptions about technological skill, regardless of age

  • Differentiate for all levels of digital learners

  • Offer ongoing support, especially to adult learners

  • Remember that access is only the first step in someone achieving digital literacy

Access is Not Enough

As an individual teacher, you have to realize that having Chromebooks or iPads in your classroom is not enough. Students need to know how to use them and how to navigate a complex digital world. And they all come will different levels of proficiency. To be truly empowered digital drivers, they also need access, use, and support outside of the classroom.

The real question is: what do we do with this information? How can this research inform policy at all levels?

Want to know more? Learn more? Read more? This blog was informed by the following sources:

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