Friday, April 10, 2015

Access Denied

   There is more to this digital divide than students lacking internet in their homes, or schools not being able to provide 1:1 technology in the classrooms.
We are looking at a completely different kind of divide. While access has increased substantially, the kind of access varies. Most minorities in the Pew studies reported using their phone for accessing email and the Internet. In 2010 only 56 percent of African American households reported having broadband access compared to 67 percent of white households (Home Broadband 2010). This creates an entertainment vs. empowerment divide. As one of the Pew studies suggests, you can't fill out a job application through a cell phone or update your résumé on a game console (another way that many minorities report they access the Internet). The divide has shifted from an access issue to a kind of access divide.
From "A New Understanding of the Digital Divide" by Mary Beth Hurtz, Edutopia
  It's not just the kind of access, but also how the technology is used, and what it is used for. I work in a low income/urban school and I have been giving a lot of thought to the issue of equal access lately. I wanted to understand how my 6th grade students view technology, so I asked them to do a "quickwrite" about technology. I told them to say whatever they wanted, that it wouldn't be graded, and that they didn't even have to put their name on it if they didn't want to. I gave them the following questions as a guide:

  • How do you use technology?
  • What kind of technology do you use? At home? At school?
  • What do you use technology for?
  • How does it help you?

   They use tech to gather information, but not to create it. From what I have seen in class and read in their responses, they look up how to spell/define words, get answers to questions from Google and copy and paste text into documents. I don't feel confident that they have the skills to judge the credibility of the information that they find, or the reliability of the source that it came from while they "search up the internet". From what I read, I believe that they view technology as a quick answer to a basic question-a tool to think for them rather than a tool to be used to develop their own ideas through collaboration, discussion, and inquiry.
    Most of their responses regarding how they use tech in school were related to research, printing, typing essays and taking tests. This really bothered me. I work really hard to get students collaborating on projects and to use tech in meaningful ways to create, share, present, develop awareness, compare analysis and spark interest in a topic. Right now they are working in groups of three to create an infographic comparing two representations of a story-one set in the 19th century and one in the 22nd century. When I give them a test (I like to use Kahoot!), I have them create the questions. We make music videos for songs we write about Ancient Civilizations. When research needs to be done, I often create text sets for them, as it can be difficult to get time in the computer lab. I never require typed essays. I am beyond confused as to how their view of technology could be so different from what I practice in my classroom. Clearly I need to be doing more, or doing something differently after reading so many quotes like this one:
"Technology is for searching up stuff and printing stuff out. It is also for having fun."       -anonymous 6th grader from my class
   They predominantly use tech for social media, to play games, and to watch videos when they are bored. According to their responses, they use social media a lot, but I have seen some examples of their social media use-it's mostly attention seeking posts. They obsess over how many likes they got on their "I'm bored" selfie on Instagram.  I've heard several people refer to devices in the hands of young children as "digital pacifiers" and I don't think it is very far from the mark. Unfortunately, a lot of the social media and game play is not monitored by a responsible adult which can lead to cyberbullying, inappropriate friendships with strangers, and general overuse of technology.

   I know that social media is a big part of their lives, so I created an Instagram account for our class and I attempt to engage them in thoughtful dialog through that medium. I rarely get more than a double tap, even though I have explained to them that I want them to comment and interact.

  How would kids of the same age group from a school that has 1:1 tech, coding, Minecraft Edu, 3D printing and all kinds of techie awesomeness answer those questions I asked my class? If you're reading this and you want to compare notes, I would love to hear from you.

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