The New Digital Divide

digital divideFor some decades, I advocated for “technology-rich” schools. My work was supporting IT infrastructure and teaching teachers to use technology. At the time, we were all concerned with the “digital divide,” the fact that schools in affluent communities had plenty of devices and connections compared to the scant digital resources in schools located in poor communities.

Over time, the digital divide was gapped as all schools had high-speed networks installed and devices arrived in all schools and stayed in service for much longer in schools than they do in other organizations. A new digital divide arose, however, as we discovered that teachers in more affluent schools used digital tools for more creative and challenging purposes than teachers in less affluent communities.

The digital divide is back, but this time, we find the more affluent schools are reducing the use of digital tools in schools.

Now, I have always advocated for broad experiences in schools. Libraries full of books that students hold in their hands and read, art classes where students draw and paint, playgrounds where students play… these are all absolutely essential for one to become educated. I have also advocated for schools to include experiences with digital tools. I am also unusual, however, in that I judge the quality of a digital lesson my watching students faces and listening. If I see faces looking only at screens, and I hear only mouse clicks, I know the lesson is not sound. Good technology lessons find students looking at books, each other, models, other screens, papers, teachers, and other things that are not the screen where they are working. They are also talking, asking, drawing, flipping pages, and otherwise interacting with ideas and humans.

What has happened with educational technology is a shame. We never took the time to actually figure out how it should be used in schools. We are abandoning it. We are giving it to students with little more support for teachers and other on how to structure lessons.

I used to write about how “word processing” was the fundamental use of technology in schools. Our $1000 devices were little more than digital notepads. Now, the technology tools in schools are largely a distraction. I rarely see students using computers without a tab open that has a game active. When I walk away from looking at their screen with them, I see the color in the eyes change… they have closed our work and returned to the game.

This has little promise of changing. Professionals with teaching degrees and expertise creating technology-rich lessons are being replaced with technicians who can provide technology support (fix the computers) and “teach teachers.” I expect the “teaching teachers” is simply training them how to use the software. The craft of teaching with technology– a craft that is a beautiful thing when done well– is not valued in our schools any longer.