At one time, the technological divide in the United States was the difference between having a personal computer and not. But as all technologies have boomed during the 21st century, those divides have only deepened.
Today's digital divide alludes to the gap between certain demographics or regions and their access to modern information and communication technologies. This disparity includes access to cell phones and service areas, high-speed internet access and personal computers.
According to TechTarget, the digital divide "typically exists between those in urban areas and those in rural areas; between the educated and the uneducated; [and] between socioeconomic groups." Given the diverse cross-section of students teachers encounter in their daily work, understanding the effects of the digital divide is essential to addressing them. An online Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction with a Specialization in Educational Leadership from Texas A&M International University instills graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to address such issues.
For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic thrust digital technologies to the forefront of the education process, requiring teachers to adapt to a new instructional medium. Unfortunately, the forced transition to remote or blended learning environments has also exacerbated the digital divide in areas where it was left unaddressed before the pandemic.
One area where this is of particular concern, as the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) points out, is among students who require assistive or accessible technologies: "These students may need adaptive equipment and special software … [and] require different kinds of instructional planning and preparation, including ongoing evaluation to determine the appropriateness of particular online and hybrid approaches."
School districts can also take steps to combat the digital divide.
Define Future Goals for Digital Education
What will digital education look like in a given district in the next few years? A study from the nonprofit Common Sense Media suggests assessing the needs of digital learning in your district to "build out, evaluate, and scale plans" while also considering how the plans might have to change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare a variety of such issues, such as the need for effective internet connectivity in the homes of all students as a necessary alternative for in-class education in certain situations. Constructing a solid vision for what a healthy digital future would look like helps demonstrate its importance in education in the years to come.
Organize Access to Devices and Connectivity
Until more funding is available, some communities will have to act independently to address digital divides. School districts partner with nonprofits or other local groups to help distribute hardware and software to students that need them, although these measures are typically only temporary.
Some districts find creative solutions to address disparities for the communities they serve. For example, the Texas-based Duncanville Independent School District sent four buses equipped with Wi-Fi hotspots to neighborhoods most impacted by the digital divide. This innovative if ad-hoc solution became necessary when a shortage of funds led to provision of a device for every student, but shared connectivity through the Wi-Fi hotspots.
Advocates for fixing the digital divide point to several increased benefits for students who would otherwise be at a disadvantage, including improved digital literacy, skills and autonomy, as well as an equitable learning experience that allows for growth.
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