The Digital Divide and Its Implications for the
Language Arts. ERIC Digest.
by Stoicheva, Mila
The term Digital Divide came to public attention after a 1995 study
by the Markle Foundation revealed that the "same divergence found in society
along cultural and racial lines is found online and offline". Lloyd Morrisett,
the former president of the Markle Foundation, called it a "digital divide"
between the information "haves" and "have-nots." The major obstacles to
using the Internet were found to be cost and knowledge. (CNET News.com,
March 14, 1997) These findings have been supported by Novak and Hoffman,
1998, the first study to collect data on race and ethnicity, and by three
U.S. Commerce Department and the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration reports (1995, 1998, 1999). The Digital Divide has been
called the Civil Rights issue of the new millennium. (Carvin, 2000)
These findings fostered a wave of initiatives by the U.S. President
and by corporations and non-profit organizations. On April 4, 2000 President
Clinton announced that over 400 companies and non-profit organizations
have signed a "National Call To Action" plan to meet two critical goals:
1. Provide 21st century learning tools for every child in every school.
2. Create digital opportunity for every American family and community.
While these initiatives address a basic problem - that of the cost of
computer ownership and Internet access - this is only one aspect of a set
of related issues. Local and community information, content for limited
literacy users, and multilingual and multicultural content have, thus far,
not been prominent online. Thus, content-related barriers may turn out
to be more difficult to overcome than those of computer access. (Lazarus
and Mora, 2000)
In addition, knowledge of how to use the Internet was found to be a
second major factor contributing to the digital divide. And this is where
the education community has a crucial responsibility. Even when access
to rich Internet content is technically available, teachers must have a
high degree of commitment and skill to actually take advantage of the opportunity
which the resource provides.
INTERNET ACCESS AT SCHOOLS
In 1997, 78% of public schools had Internet access but only 27% of instructional
rooms had access. (NCES, 1998) Public schools with a high-percentage of
low-income and minority students were less likely to have Internet access
than those with a low percentage of low-income students and minority students.
WHAT DO CHILDREN GAIN FROM USING THE INTERNET IN THE
LANGUAGE ARTS CLASSROOM?
A large number of the available publications exploring Internet use
consist of classroom resources for teachers -- Web guides, lesson plans,
recommended strategies, instructions for searching. Due to the short time
that the Internet has been available in schools, there are no comprehensive
studies on the relationship between its use and language arts achievement.
A major source of information about the advantages of Internet use in
the classroom are enthusiastic teachers who relate their experiences. As
one first grade teacher concludes having used online projects throughout
the academic year, "the only limitations to using telecommunications (with
young) students are those we impose ourselves by failing to empower them."
Among the educational benefits language arts teachers describe are those
involving the development of research skills, integrated learning, interactivity,
writing for real purposes and authentic audiences, handling difficult topics
in new ways, multicultural learning, collaborative problem solving, etc.
(Sosenke, 2000; Taverna, 2000, etc.)
They perceive that using the Internet leads to student empowerment,
and increased motivation and interest. It helps at-risk and multilingual
students develop literacy skills, and fosters family involvement. Teachers
also report enriched self-esteem and sense of accomplishment in their students.
(Medrinos, 1997; Clovis, 1998, etc.) Moreover, through use of the Internet
students acquire skills needed for our age. Welter, 1999, warns that if
students are left without the necessary skills to use advanced technology,
it may render them incapable of participating effectively in a modern socioeconomic
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AS A PEDAGOGICAL ISSUE
Despite the rapid growth of wired schools in recent years, surveys suggest
that use of technology to affect classroom practice tends to be limited
to small groups of teachers who are excited by the potential they believe
technology has to motivate their students or to access new resources. (Glennan,
1996) Studies indicate that teachers' use of the Internet varies greatly
according to their perception of the value of the Internet for instructional
purposes. Many educational institutions and individual teachers simply
may not be ready for the transformation of teachers' roles and teaching
in general which are necessary to the effective use of the Internet. Nellen,
1998, for example, offers three pieces of advice that may not be equally
appealing to all teachers: (1) Become a student, (2) Morph into a cybrarian,
and (3) Empower students.
Becker makes the following observation regarding the adoption of technology:
"It may be, then, that diffusion of Internet use to larger numbers of teachers
will reach a barrier when most of the remaining non-participants hold beliefs
that are not as compatible with Internet use as constructivism seems to
be-in other words, teachers who believe in a skills-based curriculum, organized
in a fixed, externally-determined sequence, and who teach a uniform aggregation
of content which all students should master." (Becker, 1999)
In his study of teacher use of the Internet, Becker found that teachers
assigned to "high-achieving" classes were more likely to use the Internet
and to find it essential in their teaching than teachers with "average"
classes. Teachers of "average" classes were more likely than were teachers
with "low" classes to use it.
On the other hand, Becker and Ravitz, 1999, find that using the Internet
can change teachers pedagogical beliefs and lead to more constructivist
practices. They point out three facilitating factors: (1) Positive attitude
among peers, (2) Information and social support resources, and (3) Appropriate
In the early years of the Internet there was an expectation that the
availability and easy access to online resources of unparalleled abundance
would increase educational equity throughout the socioeconomic spectrum.
In fact, research suggests that patterns of technology access often mirror
existing inequalities rather than mitigate them (Schofield, 1998) and if
corrective steps are not taken, technology may worsen rather than solve
equity disparities. (Serim, 1999)
Becker H. (1999). Internet use by teachers. Center for Research on Information
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use on teachers' pedagogical practices and perceptions. Journal of Research
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Carvin, A. (2000). Mind the gap: The digital divide as the civil rights
issue of the new millennium. Multimedia Schools, 7(1), 56-8.
Clovis, D. (1998). Use technology to help multilingual students meet
national standards. Multimedia Schools, 5(5), 52-4.
The Clinton-Gore administration: A national call to action to close
the digital divide.The White House. Office of the Press Secretary, April
CNET News.com, March 14, 1997
Falling through the Net, NTIA. July 1995; July, 1998; July 1999.
Glennan, T. and Mehmed A. (1996). Fostering the Use of Educational Technology:
Elements of a National Strategy. RAND report.
Internet access in public and private schools. Indicator of the month.
The Condition of Education, 1998. NCES, Washington, DC. [ED 426 694]
Lazarus, W. and Mora F. (March 2000). Online content for low-income
and underserved Americans: The digital divide's new frontier. The Children's
Medrinos, R. (1997). Using educational technology with at-risk students:
A guide for library media specialists and teachers. Greenwood Professional
Guides in School Librarianship, Greenwood Press, 1997.
Novak T. and Hoffman, (1998). Bridging the digital divide: The impact
of race on computer access and Internet use. Project 2000, Vanderbilt University.
Nellen, T. (1998). Surfing the Internet: Sink or swim! English Journal,
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Schofield, J. and Davidson, A. (1998). The Internet and Equality of
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Taverna, P. and Hongell, T. (2000). Meet Harriet Tubman. The story of
a Web site. Learning and Leading with Technology, 27(6), 42-5.
Welter, C. (1997). Technological segregation: A peek through the looking
glass at the rich and poor in an information age. Arts Education Policy
Review, 99, 2-7.