Feb 12 2009
The True Digital Divide
Last evening I was invited to give a brief presentation to the History of American Education class I am in about Diigo, and how we might use it to collaborate during the rest of the week when we are not in class. I was about two minute into explaining what it does, when the self-described “Type A personality” interrupts me demanding, But why should I care?
I’m getting to that, I say. Not only can you save your bookmarks, your favorite websites, but we can form a group; we can collaborate, we can comment and annotate with highlights & sticky notes on the websites we are viewing as a group! Isn’t that cool?
Unfortunately, the demonstration computer didn’t have an up to date browser that would allow Diigo to function correctly, making it all the more difficult to sell my case. When the sign-up sheet was passed around collecting e-mail addresses of those interested in checking it out, as you can guess, Mr. “Type A” was not among the names. Neither were about half of the rest of the class.
I have written before about how I think Web2.0 should be taught in teacher education programs. Last night’s experience only bolsters my position.
I remember back when the “information superhighway” was just starting to catch on, and there was a big hub-bub about the potential for a “digital divide between the haves and the have-nots”. Wealthy kids could tap into this rich source of information while the poor kids wouldn’t have the means to do so, and there was a big push to wire every classroom in the country.
I believe the digital divide is very real, and the division line is not along economic boundaries. The boundary lies between those with a curious mentality towards technology and those without.
The real digital divide is between mere consumers of content and information, and those who are learning about the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 technology and its amazing content creating power.
Students without a role model at home or at school might be able to cross the digital divide on their own with their own curiousity and some blind luck. I would rather see adults setting the example for them.
When Benjamin Franklin was a young man, he embarked on a daily program of personal improvement. I should like to think that were old Ben alive today, he would be among the curious, teaching himself all he could about becoming a contributor in the digital age. He was all about self-education, which is exactly what every IT expert in the world has discovered is required to remain abreast of developments in the field.
Somehow, we have gotten away from the value of a self-education, in favor of a passive education that is supplied to us by a knowledgeable and well-qualified teacher.
Part of our struggles in the classroom is related to this change in attitude towards learning. How can I engage my students? How can I get them to take ownership of their own learning? Learning is not a passive thing; indeed in the end all learning must be self-taught.
Mr. Type A from my class, you should care because students need role models of parents and teachers who are themselves traveling a path of life-long learning and discovery. Technology is an ideal area to engage in life-long learning because it is revolutionizing the world, and because you can never learn it all; it simply changes too fast. Not to mention you also run the risk of leaving your students on the wrong side of the digital divide if you don’t.
Edit: This video explains the power of social networking in a way I never could.