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Five Discussion Starters on the Digital Divide

posted: 3.5.13 by Traci Gardner

The digital divide has returned to headlines in recent months. As I wrote last week, the widespread use of technology at home, in the community, and in the classroom has fueled the recognition that noteveryone has access to the tools that they need.

This week, I want to address how we can explore the issue in the classroom. Here are five ways you can kick off discussion of the digital divide:

  1. Consider how people’s typical access relates to how they react when access is limited or unavailable. Use the Inside Higher Ed article The Internet at $0.75 Per Minute as a starting point. Have students consider what they would accept as the bare minimum for acceptable access as well as what is unacceptable. Ask students to think about how these thresholds relate to the way the digital divide is portrayed in articles like USA Today’s Rise of Internet learning creates digital divide.
  2. Watch Moyers & Company Show 205: Who’s Widening America’s Digital Divide? (full-length interview with Susan Crawford) or the shorter commercial of the show. Discuss how Crawford defines technology and the digital divide. What does she include in her definition, and what does she leave out? Compare Crawford’s definition to those from another article like Digital divide closing for textbooks or Look who’s on the other side of the ‘digital divide.’
  3. Return to Moyers & Company Show 205 with an eye toward whom Crawford suggests is responsible for the digital divide. What facts and details does she provide to support her argument? What alternative causes does she consider? Ask students to think about how her answer to the framing question (“Who’s widening America’s digital divide?”) compares to that implied in the YouTube video Group working to fix the ‘digital divide.’
  4. Take a look at the issue from the perspective of someone who frequently relies on nondigital resources. Consider these articles: Bookbinder ponders the digital divide and Comic Books and the Digital Divide. How does their perspective contrast with that of people who use digital resources regularly? Share the article Programming ability is the new digital divide: Berners-Lee and encourage students to explore the differences between points of view.
  5. Have a backpack survey. What digital resources do students have with them? What resources do they own but do not bring to class? Ask students to consider how the digital divide affects them personally—in terms of places that they can or cannot use digital resources. Encourage them to think about when the digital divide is a matter of access to resources and when it relates more to policies and other matters, such as how people choose to use the technology they have. Use the New York Times article Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era to inspire discussion.

How do you discuss the digital divide in the classroom? Do you have an article to share or a related assignment? Please leave me a comment below or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+ and share your thoughts.

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