Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is there a digital divide?

Yes. The strange feeling that I have is that the disparities seem so large (and technology changes so fast) that it's hard to think about where to start. I've taught in schools, and I'm in the pedagogy SLIS class this semester. One of the major educational techniques that teachers use is something called "scaffolding," where a complex topic or task is slowly rolled out so that the end goal is less confusing, less overwhelming. But where to begin with the digital divide? First, basic literacy needs to improve. If that divide isn't closed, then the digital divide stays.

There are some skills that I learned in school that I take for granted, like knowing how to type. When I look at a keyboard, I see its complexity, but I'm not anxious about it. Then I think about how tedious it is to fill out online job applications, to attach a resume, a cover letter, that sort of thing, wondering how I'll stand out. But when I think about going through this process with concerns about basic skills, then I can understand how the willingness to do something exceeds how frequently it gets done (which is one of the findings of the book that I read).

The reason I selected my book was that I thought it might more explicitly address the sense of hierarchy (or scaffolding) that goes into learning anything. I think that's necessary, a plan of action that builds upon previous steps, the way that many teachers build clear expectations into their lessons. I imagine school systems are doing this more because of the requirement to build standards according to certain ages. What should be first? What are the early skills that students should learn?

The state of Wisconsin lays it out like this. The thing to keep in mind when looking at this is how much explanation and education would need to go into each standard. The goals are ambitious and the skills already complex by grade 4. That's not a bad thing. But I think you can get a sense of how quickly a gap can grow when you imagine someone falling behind these initial steps, while another swath of students learns the skills.

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