The Digital Divide and the Teacher-librarian

February 8, 2009

  • the belief that people, communities and organizations need universal and equitable access to information, ideas and works of imagination for their social, educational, cultural, democratic and economic well-being
  • the conviction that delivery of high quality library and information services helps guarantee that access
    (2 of 4 core values – International Federation of Library Association)

The differential between groups’ effective access to digital information is a concern on global, national, provincial and community levels.

Globally the digital divide is evident between developing and developed countries. Strategies to bridge that divide include the “One Laptop per Child” initiative .

In North America the digital divide has been shown to exist between groups based on gender, income and race and includes access to ICTs AND the acquisition of skills required to use them effectively.

In Canada, data collected in 2000 indicates that the lowest income groups “continue to lose ground” for equal access to internet-connected computers. (The Digital Divide in Canada p.5)

In Manitoba the digital divide is most evident between urban and rural areas, and especially remote areas. The situation is so dire on some northern Aboriginal reserves that Winnipeg FreePress columnist Colleen Simard challenged readers in December 2007 to donate through the “Get One Give One” program of the “One Laptop per Child” initiative to put one laptop into the hands of a child in a developing country, and the other to an Aboriginal child in Northern Manitoba.

Our education system strives to promote equity and equality of opportunity. Senior administrators of the division in which I work are committed to providing equal access and equal opportunity for their students, as evidenced by the following policy.

INTEGRATION OF TECHNOLOGY GOALS Within the resources available, The Winnipeg School Division No.1 will strive towards the following goal:  Students will have equitable access to a variety of technologies to enhance learning and productivity across the curricula.

So what is it a Teacher-librarian can do in his/her little corner of the world?

I think a starting point is by learning as much as possible about your students, staff and community. Access to technology in homogenous affluent neighborhoods may not be as great a concern as in schools in mixed or lower income neighborhoods. Skill levels of teachers to teach the necessary information and communication technology skills may be more lacking in some schools than others, and barriers like internet filtering differ greatly between school divisions.

To further examine what role I could take to even the digital playing field, I’m going to refer to the four levels of influence as shown in this model developed by mmardis and posted on the AASLBlog .

digital-divide

Access – I conducted a survey with staff and students in the spring of 2007  shortly after I arrived at my adult high school. When I looked at the data to compare percentage of staff and students in our different programs with internet access outside of school – the evidence of a digital divide is shocking:

• Staff – 84%

• Grade 12 Students – 70%

• Grade 9-11 /EAL Students – 57%

• Adolescent Parent Centre – 56%

• Basic Ed. Program (Gr.2 to 9) – 28%

Our staff prides itself on providing equality of opportunity for our students. Looking at these results will no doubt help our technology committee make decisions to provide even more opportunities to interact with technology to those groups with the least amount of access outside of school. They need  easily accessed, inviting and user-friendly computers that work even more than our grade 12 students, yet have less and older technology available to them. These figures also indicate a need for a laptop lending program.

Teacher-librarians may also be able to help access grant money that is available to increase and address disparities in student access to technology.

Skills –As Heather Eby states in the digitalarithmetic wiki “Many schools have some of the best technology equipment and computer access available, yet if they don’t have the staff, who are willing to make the effort to learn about it and understand the needs of the 21st century learner, than a digital divide exists for our students’ access to the education they require for their future.” Not all teachers in my school have the literacy skills to enable them to teach students to use technology proficiently. mmardis asserts that  Web 2.0 tools are gaining in popularity in education, but not all teachers have the skills, motivation or confidence to integrate them into their teaching.

I know from the survey I conducted in 2007 that teachers have expertise in critically analyzing the information available on the internet (p.3) yet only a few staff have started to look at taking full advantage of the potential of integrating blogging, wikis, podcasts and other web 2.0 into their teaching practices. Teacher-librarians can work collaboratively with teachers to continue to strengthen students’ critical web literacy skills, and also include learning experiences that include social bookmarking, blogging, wikis, and other web 2.0 tools as part of inquiry based learning projects. This helps eliminate some of the “technology anxiety” experienced by some teachers and students.

Teacher-librarians can also advocate that technology integration/infusion remain a priority in school professional development planning and take a lead in planning PD opportunities.

Policy – In my last post I made a plea for least restrictive filtering in schools to allow inquiry learning projects and web 2.0 applications. Teacher-librarians will need to continually monitor and advocate for access to the learning resources their students need. They must also advocate for equipment that works well.

Motivation – Given the multitude of concerns pressing overwhelmed teachers today, it’s important to bring issues of equal access to digital resources to the forefront in an efficient, non-threatening manner. All educators want what’s best for their students so it’s important to outline what students need to succeed in today’s society. Student employment and future prospects can be enhanced by careful instruction, integration and infusion of information and communication technology into our programs. This is where a Teacher-librarian can help!

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