Monday, January 30, 2012

Of Water Wings and Bicycles and the "Digital Haves"

Chairing District Accreditation teams, delivering software training, and conducting workshops have brought me in contact with schools and school personnel in a number of states. As we talk about technology, the topic is invariably raised of how many households have Internet access. We have sound educational objectives that involve student use of the Internet at home. Yet, we hesitate to move forward because of those who “don’t have the Internet.”

The discrepancies between the libraries in large cities and those in small towns are enormous. So too are the discrepancies between resources in affluent versus poverty-ridden schools. The great equalizer is the Internet. The Internet is the same in the Library if Congress as it is in the library down the street.

We must re-frame the question from, “Do you have Internet access?” to “How do you have Internet access?” Do you have access at home? If not, what about at work? Can you get to a public library on a regular basis? Can you go to a neighbor’s house?

As long as we operate in a mode that assumes part of our population will not access the Internet, we can never fully use this tool in the homework or projects we assign. We further the disconnect that so many see between our educational system and how the real world operates.

People generally rise to the expectations set before them. If we proceed with the assumption that our students can gain Internet access, they will find a way. If we proceed with the assumption that our parents can gain Internet access, they will find a way. Our communication methods can become more streamlined. Our assignments and the resources required to complete then can mirror how resources are used in the real world to solve problems. In short, we can move to a new level.

At the same time, we tend to rely on the crutches that are available to us. As long as you give me water wings, I don't have to learn to swim. As long as you let me keep the training wheels, I don't have to really learn to ride the bike. As long as you continue to send me a paper copy of everything, I never have to figure out a way to become one of the "digital haves."

When we continue to make allowances for those who have yet to make joining the "digital haves" a priority, we become part of the problem. We send the message that access to the unlimited body of knowledge available with a few mouse clicks is just not that important. Perhaps it's time to take away the water wings. Perhaps it's time to take away the training wheels. Perhaps it's time to stop duplicating every digital communication with a paper copy.

Let’s change the conversation. As we turn another page on the calendar to 2012, let's refuse to allow a segment of population to ignore a tool that holds so much potential. No longer ask the question, “Do you have the Internet?” Assume the answer to be "Yes." The only question is the “How?


What are your thoughts on how we can narrow the digital divide?
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