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Bridging the digital divide

Last evening my colleague from K-12, Chris Dawson, wrote a piece about a new product called Twitter (see Anyone out there using Twitter in the classroom?) and frankly I am all for introducing tools into the classroom which engage students.

Marc Wagner

Last evening my colleague from K-12, Chris Dawson, wrote a piece about a new product called Twitter (see Anyone out there using Twitter in the classroom?) and frankly I am all for introducing tools into the classroom which engage students. After all, whether in K-12 or in higher education, if they aren't listening, they aren't learning. If we disseminate information using the same tools that they use, isn't it more likely that they will actually seek out that information? Well, we can hope they will!

But how do such tools impact the Digital Divide?

There has been lots of discussion in this forum and others about the merits of projects like OLPC and the tools that result from those efforts to bridge the so-called "Digital Divide" between the industrialized world and the developing nations of the third world. Much of this discussion has been about providing those same tools to schoolchildren in the United States (and elsewhere in the industrialized world) in order to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots on our own shores.

If we use the latest tools, such as Twitter, to engage the students of middle America, are we short-changing those kids who do not have text-messaging, or access to the web? Sure, many kids have a cell phone today but certainly not all (and text-messaging is an extra-cost service on most cell phones). What about podcasting? Do we not use podcasting because not all students have mp3 players? The same argument could be used to justify not using the latest textbook because they are more expensive. Do we really want that?

Do we in Education IT continue to play to the lowest common denominator which everyone can afford to own or do we provide all of our students with shared access to resources which our schools own.

Are our students better off if we spend our limited resources giving away to all tools that are merely "adequate" or is it better to provide limited numbers of the best tools that we can and guaranteeing that all of our students have access to these tools and that our educators have the training to leverage those tools to their fullest?

What do you think?