Digital Divide revisited

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This week I am revisiting the very complex and important issue of digital divide. I recall an early assignment in EdTech 501 in which we played the role of a pseudo-task force to determine how to use $50million to reduce statewide digital inequality. I realized through researching that assignment the distinct differences between digital divide (the have’s and the have-not’s of computer access) and digital inequality (the level to which a user can implement and utilize available tools). Both are critically important.

This week’s article “Bridging the Digital Divide” addresses mostly the digital divide and the importance of schools providing sufficient technologies to “close or at least narrow the digital divide.” It states that schools must “provide full access for special student populations – especially those with disabilities – to the Internet, distance learning, and multimedia materials.” I loved that it points out a need to have a technology specialist on staff to “stay informed and up-to-date on technologies” and help train teachers and facilitate student learning. That’s my current role and I feel like it critical to our school accomplishing our technology vision.

While I don’t question the importance of universal access, I do have a slightly different perspective since I currently live in a developing country. Few have computers at home. The Internet is costly and sporadic. Everyone fends for themselves in this regard by going to their local “cyber” to use the Internet when needed. It may not be easy nor convenient, but they make it work. They find a way. Sometimes I wonder in the U.S. if we mistakenly call it a digital divide if a student doesn’t have all the bells and whistles on all the latest gadgets at home with a high-speed Internet connection, when there are many other ways to get online (school being just one of them.)

The digital divide is certainly a complex problem and one that schools need to address – but schools are only one piece of a very large puzzle. Individuals (regardless of their circumstances), communities, and Internet Service Providers are key players as well.

An article called “Can E-learning Break the Digital Divide?” looks at whether the convenience and availability of global e-Learning narrows the digital divide with students from developing countries. The author, who is a virtual education professor from the University of Liverpool, believes that the Divide is only widening. The reasons for this are complicated, but they resonate with me because I live in a developing country and work with students similar to the ones he describes. I see these problems and know they are real.

He claims that while the potential is there, e-Learning doesn’t provide equal education to everyone because of four main reasons: 1) the language barrier, which includes cultural specifics; 2) the lack of prerequisites which leads many students to struggle; 3) technology hurdles such as slow Internet or old equipment; and 4) lack of course translation. E-Learning courses also require a certain level of maturity and self-motivation for students to contribute to discussion boards and assignments, and many students are not familiar with this type of intense learning. He cites statistics about how many students are studying from outside their developing home country due to lack of opportunity and sufficient Internet access.

Ultimately, the author makes a strong claim that “crossing the Digital Divide is equal to crossing an economic barrier.”

The Whole World in my Bag

I returned to Gorkha for my second attempt at offering both ACCESS teachers and students some training on technology. It was good to be back and I felt I was more prepared for the scenario and the students opened up more this time. They treated me like I was an old returning friend, which I am.As I’ve said in previous posts, it is a challenge to teach technology to students who barely have life’s necessities, to make my time and theirs worthwhile. They came on Saturday, their only day off to attend. They go to school 7 days a week and many come from great distance on foot. It’s not easy for me to leave my family for the weekend, to give up family time with them to travel on a bumpy, dusty, windy, cliff-hugging road. But I do it because I care about these students. I want them to know that technology is an important tool — and fun. When I started pulling all of my gadgets out of my bag, one very wise teacher said, “You’ve got the whole world in your small bag.” So, that’s why I do this.This time we watched a movie I made about them and Nepal. They loved it and it got their creative juices flowing. I then told them that the Prime Minister is coming to Gorkha and he wants to meet the ACCESS students. He wants to see if the program is worth continuing. This is their chance to be proud of their town, their school, their academic achievements. I gave them five questions and they wrote the answers. Then they took turns filming each response and taking pictures. Keep in mind these students have been learning English for 5 months. Here are a few of my favorite responses among the 40 students:

I love Nepal because:

  • It is my motherland
  • It is beautiful country and has many resource of water and wonders. It is just like a heaven. It has Mount Everest which is highest mountain in the world. So I love Nepal and I proud of my Nepal.
  • I love Nepal because I born in Nepal and all my family live in Nepal.
  • It is smaller than America but it is so simple and beautiful. I like my country very much.
  • It is a country full of natural beauty and greenery. It is the place where Lord Buddha was born. It lies in the lap of the Himalayas.
  • There is many kinds of temple. In Nepal is many forests and rivers. In Nepal is very lovely place. They love each other. Nepal is my born place.
  • Nepal’s people have Nepal’s aim.
  • In Nepal every person lives together and helps each other.
  • There are many kinds of festival.
  • I love Nepal because Nepal is one of the most beautiful country in the world. All love their birthplace and I also love my birthplace Nepal by heart. The culture of Nepal is many and different, but by being different culture, the pople of Nepal never fight in name of culture but all the people share their culture to each other. Nepal is an example of peace and friendship. So, I love and never forget my beautiful country Nepal.

One thing I like about living in Gorkha is:

  • It’s my birthplace, where I get birth and enjoy every moment of my life. As well as many love of my parents it is one of the historical and important places of Nepal.
  • It is a district of Nepal and here are many religions and temples
  • It is not so big but naturally beautiful
  • It is historically important and here are many architecture, wood, and art from ancient time
  • It is so beautiful and unity
  • People follow heir traditional culture. The are cooperative and it’s full of natural heritage. It’s so peaceful. There is unity.
  • Clean environment and full of opportunities
  • Our forefathers Gorkhali are very brave, clever, and they became success to save their life and nation
  • All the Nepali people came to Gorkha and pray for their long life.
  • There is no crime and people help other people

When I found out I was accepted into the ACCESS program, I felt:

  • Very happy
  • Very glad and excited
  • I think I can learn many new things
  • Very proud of me
  • I think that I learn something from here to make my future bright
  • There was no boundary of my happiness
  • I’m very lucky because I got opportunity to learn about English language and American’s culture. I like American’s country very much.
  • I became so excited and I felt that I am the lucky student

Learning English has been:

  • Very useful and so important
  • International language speaking all over the world
  • Very important in university and college
  • Backbone of human being
  • We don’t know the English then we don’t do anything
  • I can express my view and expression with many people from different country. I feel more comfortable speaking English

To me America is:

  • The future career
  • Very beautiful. If I got the chance to go to America I feel I’m very lucky in the world. America has different culture. There’s language, style of sit, style of eat, style of clothes. I love it. I’m fan of America. So I love America.
  • Very developed country, rich in scientific area, powerful country
  • There are many facilities. We can spend better life there.
  • It’s ahead in every sector
  • To get entertainment
  • Richest and big country
  • One of the importance country
  • America is one of the gifted country for technology. For me America is one of the helping and loving country who help us like student for giving scholarship and help for making good in English
  • Is like a god because America helps to read at any cost. No any countries has been helping this way. America is my future.

As always, I am the one who gained. I am the one enriched. Several of the students drew me pictures, but the words of one beautiful girl will remain with me:

Gretel,
Thanks for your group and thank you for you
Great people like you is few
Thanks for being our friend
And trusting us like student
All the beautiful things is for you
I want to give many more thanks for you
And many many love for you.

So, maybe the whole world is in my bag after all.

[I went with 3 educators who did teacher training all weekend and distributed books donated by the U.S. Embassy to regional school teachers. I also donated a printer so that the students will be able to print, scan, copy, and fax. It was a successful weekend for everyone. Part of teacher training involves teaching American culture and traditions, so the ACCESS teachers learned about Thanksgiving and Christmas. Students (and teachers) don’t get enough opportunity to do arts and crafts as the supplies are too expensive, so it was fun to cut/glue/tape/color with them. I was the ‘puzzle expert’ and helped each teacher assemble their puzzle. All these years on the floor with my children paid off.]

Web 2.0 at the top of the mountain

I had the opportunity this past weekend to visit a small town called Gorkha, about 6 bumpy, dusty, cliff-clinging hours outside of Kathmandu. It was my first time out of the Valley, and I was thrilled to breathe again and be in the mountains.

My mission was to teach a group of ACCESS teachers and students about technology. This was no easy task, considering most of the students have never used a computer and Internet access is extremely limited. In addition, these students are learning English, so their skills are emerging. It was a challenge, but a fun one, and in the end was enriching for all of us.

The teachers were amazing. They teach English classes to these students, college courses to other students, volunteer large amounts of time, and juggle various professional pursuits. They were well-equipped with computer skills and were willing and gracious learners. I helped them explore Google docs and they were sold immediately on its practical application. We exchanged ideas and I felt an immediate connection with them and an appreciation for all of their efforts. It is a real challenge to incorporate technology into learning when 1) you don’t have the technology and 2) you don’t have the Internet. Yet, they are trying and hoping to head in that direction soon.I took my aunt and uncle, who happened to be in town and who are retired professors. They were great sports to make the journey. Word spread fast, and before we knew what we had gotten ourselves into, we were the “distinguished guests” of a panel in front of a room full of teachers that had come from all over to hear them speak. Though we were slightly unprepared, a lively discussion ensued and participants asked great questions about the differences of Nepali and American education systems, curriculum, outreach, and teacher training. We were even presented with a “Token of Love.”I led a few sessions with the students, and I immediately realized I wasn’t prepared. Their English skills were more limited than I anticipated and few have ever used a computer. The quiz I prepared on Internet 101 was too hard. So, I went to plan B. I pulled out my iPhone-sized projector, pop-up speakers, and iPad, and showed them some multimedia on the wall. I introduced myself and hometown of St. George, Utah, through a Keynote presentation, and showed them an iMovie trailer of their counterparts in Kathmandu. We talked about the usefulness of technology, a little about netiquette, and I challenged them to learn all they could.

They are great students: eager, willing, and polite.

We gave them some practice with a camera and printed out some photos for them. They enjoyed that. The first class I observed was about neighborhoods, and I enjoyed their list of their neighbors on the board.

While it was all a wonderful experience and I made some great contacts and connections, I came home a bit troubled. I truly believe in using technology and its power to enhance and further educational experiences. Computers and the Internet are valuable tools, nearly indispensable. But for these students, it just seems so unattainable, so unreachable, so far away. I have to ask myself, will it even help them? Do they really need all of the fancy tools and applications that most of us rely on? I’m torn, knowing that the answer is both a resounding YES and a cautionary no. I’m content knowing that they are learning English, receiving an education, and are empowering themselves to really make a difference in their lives. In the end, that’s what really matters. The rest will come, in its own time.

Digital Inequality

Here is our finished VoiceThread presentation: http://voicethread.com/share/2220807/

The collaboration required for this week’s EdTech 501 assignment on digital inequality pushed us all to a new level. We were a pseudo-Task Force, assigned to help our state’s superintendent make decisions on how to use $50M to reduce statewide digital inequality.

I learned a great deal through online research about the differences between digital divide (the have’s and the have-not’s of computer access) and digital inequality (the level to which a user can implement and utilize available tools). It was a complex issue, one I initially knew very little about, and I have realized that support and resources must help provide education as well as access.

Our assignment was to create a VoiceThread, an online slide sharing program that enables various users to insert and comment. This presentation took a great deal of distance collaboration among our five team members. We shared Google docs that allowed each of use to edit and note our research.

I am proud of our finished product and feel it represents a three-fold success: 1) acquired knowledge of a complex issue; 2) exposure to a new technology; and 3) strengthened collaborative skills for team building.

Three AECT standards on this project were also applied. Standard 3.2 (Diffusion of Innovations) was met through strategic planning for the purpose of forming a consensus and presenting information. Standard 3.4 (Policies and Regulations) was met through learning the rules of society and how technology is (or isn’t) effectively utilized. Standard 4.2 (Resource Management) was met by our Task Force planning strategies to use state resources.

Good work, team!