Buckle Up, America: Digital Divides Ahead
Jul 25, 2012 Comment
In the two months since The Atlantic's 2012 Technologies in Education Forum, this blog has explored some of the ways technology is transforming higher education and the workplace.
We've looked at technology-driven trends that are redefining what it means to go to school, including MOOCs, flipped classrooms and game-based learning. We've also touched on some of the issues the U.S. must grapple with if we hope to compete in the digital age, from college completion, to STEM workforce development, to data dilemmas that leave us in the dark.
One theme that was front and center at the Forum and that runs through all the topics explored on this blog is the prevalence of digital divides.
To start with, there is the troubling divide between digital literates and digital outsiders; and then there's another difficult-to-bridge divide between digital literacy and digital fluency. In many instances, there are huge gaps between the digital skills students are acquiring in school and what today's employers need and expect. We are a nation plagued by app gaps, device gaps and broadband gaps -- oh my!
Furthermore, digital divides very often reflect and reinforce cultural and socioeconomic divides. Achievement gaps related to race, gender and class are now inextricably tied up with educational technology (or lack thereof), which brings us right back to the digital literacy divide.
There is often complicated interplay between the various divides. Sometimes bridging one gap causes another gap to widen, like a high-tech, high-stakes games of whack-a-mole. And while we're busy trying to close the gaps we've already identified, new divides threaten to open up wherever the tectonic plates of technology, education, economics and politics come up against each other.
It's enough to bring out your inner Luddite, especially if you're on the pre-digital side of the generational divide. Who needs all this new-fangled technology? What's wrong with classroom lectures and traditional homework? Chalk on a blackboard, that's what school's about! If you're bored, that's your own problem. And just because kids like games doesn't mean they're a good way to learn. As for the workplace, people don't need all these gadgets to get their work done. BYOD, are you kidding me? (For dramatic effect, one might deliver this curmudgeonly rant as a voice-over while pounding away at an Underwood typewriter).
But we all know that technology is here to stay. And the truth is, technology is not the enemy. Yes, technology can create and exacerbate divides, but it can also be used to close them. We're in charge here, and if we use technology poorly, or fail to tap into its potential to connect people with opportunities, that's our failure.
Given the pace of change and the technological complexity of the world we now live in, we may never be done grappling with gaps. But we can get better at recognizing divides and finding solutions.
At the very least, let's not tolerate a "digital-divide divide" where those on the winning side of the divide pretend the gaps aren't there, or aren't consequential. Learning to identify and rectify digital divides is part of the collective wisdom our nation must cultivate in order to survive and thrive in the digital age.
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