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Children s Learning in a Digital World
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Eileen Wood and Teena Willoughby
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The array of possibilities and challenges presented throughout this text points to the diversity in use, resources, and insights with respect to understanding and applying technologies in formal and informal learning contexts. The various authors have presented a vision of what can be achieved, what has been achieved, and what promotes or detracts from our ability to understand and employ technologies effectively. One obvious issue that needs to be considered in any of these discussions is the impact of the digital divide.
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What Is the Digital Divide
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The term digital divide is likely a very familiar one to all of us. Within the research literature, however, consensus in precisely defining what constitutes the divide, as well as how to define its structure, continues to be debated (e.g., Jung, Qiu, & Kim, 2001; Rodino-Colocino, 2006). When the construct of a digital divide was initially introduced, it provided a means to identify those who had access to digital technologies from those who did not (Rodino-Colocino). The term access typically coincided with a quantification of the number of computers available, or number of connections (for the Internet). Hence, there is much available evidence to quantify who has a computer and is connected and who doesn t or isn t. Contrasts have been made at numerous levels ranging from individuals to groups (gender, race) to societies, in order to reveal the gap between the haves and the have nots. Initially, the importance of identifying a divide was measured primarily in economic terms, with those who had access being the ones who had the potential to reap economic gains (e.g., job opportunities, greater skills, higher incomes, etc.). Those without the technology were perceived to be at a disadvantage or at risk economically (Crews & Feinberg, 2002).
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Eileen Wood and Teena Willoughby Over time, the impact of the divide expanded to include disadvantages or risks related to social, cultural, and educational issues in addition to traditional economic impacts. The continuous advancements of computer technology and, most notably, the introduction of the Internet, have changed the nature of children s communication and social interaction (Wilson, Wallin, & Reiser, 2003). The second wave of research (RodinoColocino, 2006) examining the digital divide is charged with exploring its specific opportunities and challenges in the broader social, educational, and cultural contexts (e.g., Ching, Basham, & Jang, 2005; Dutta-Bergman, 2005). The digital divide can be described in terms of three structures which form a chasm or gap: the width, slope, and depth (e.g., Riel, Schwarz, & Hitt, 2002). In this model, the width refers to the traditional notion of access. That is, what does one individual, group, or society have that another individual, group, or society does not have access to The greater the difference in access, the wider the gap, or digital divide. The slope of the divide refers to the culture or beliefs surrounding the use of technology. For example, among educators, there are those who see technology as an integrated part of the curriculum, important for allowing students to experience events and initiate contacts with people that would otherwise be unavailable to them. On the other hand, there are educators who see little value in using technology at all and see it as a limiting agent because it might prevent students from experiencing other more relevant life or educational events. Similarly, some educators feel that there is limited support for their efforts to use technology in the classroom. These two dichotomous cultures regarding the use of technologies provide examples of flat and steep slopes. Flat slopes occur when the culture of thinking about technologies allows for its inclusion, steep slopes occur when the culture is prohibitive to the inclusion or integration of technologies. Finally, the depth of the digital divide is best understood as how the technology is being used, or whether youth and educators are familiar enough with it to take advantage of the technology and its multitude of available uses. In other words, the centrality of technology in a child s life defines the depth. The deepest divide occurs between children for whom integration of technology is an important part of their interaction with society and culture, and those for whom technology is not. While the width of the divide has received a lot of attention, awareness of the slope and depth of the digital divide is just now becoming prominent (e.g., Akhter, 2003; Driori & Jang, 2003; Jung, Qui, &Kim, 2001). As the authors in this book make clear, we need to pay more attention to how youth use technologies, both in formal and informal settings, particularly through well-designed research studies that cross the many available 300
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Children s Learning in a Digital World technologies. This includes computers, games, and the Internet, as discussed in this text, as well as other technologies such as iPods, digital television, and digital cameras. It is also clear that media literacy principles need to be taught explicitly to ensure that there is no divide. Children cannot be left to discover these principles themselves. And that task involves more than schools and educators. As Henry Jenkins argues in chapter 1, these media principles should be part of every educational context, from schools, daycare centers, libraries, museums, churches, community organizations, to the media itself. References
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Akhter, S. (2003). Digital divide and purchase intention: Why demographic psychology matters. Journal of Economic Psychology, 24, 231 327. Ching, C., Basham, J., & Jang, E. (2005). The legacy of the digital divide: Gender, socioeconomic status, and early exposure as predictors of full-spectrum technology use among young adults. Urban Education, 40(4), 393 411. Crews, M., & Feinberg, M. (2002). Perceptions of university students regarding the digital divide. Social Science Computer Review, 20(2), 116 123. Drori, G., & Jang, Y. S. (2003). The global digital divide: A sociological assessment of trends and causes. Social Sciences Computer Review, 21(2), 144 161. Dutta-Bergman, M. (2005). Access to the Internet in the context of community participation and community satisfaction. New Media and Society, 17(1), 89 109. Jung, J. Y., Qui, J. L., & Kim, Y. C. (2001). Internet connectedness and inequality: Beyond the divide. Communication Research, 28(4), 507 535. Riel, M., Schwarz, J., & Hitt, A. (2002). School change with technology: Crossing the digital divide. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 147 179. Rodino-Colocino, M. (2006). Laboring under the digital divide. New Media and Society, 8(3), 487 511. Wilson, K., Wallin, J., & Reiser, C. (2003). Social stratification and the digital divide. Social Science Computer Review, 21(2), 133 143.
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