EL7001 Digital Divide

by MrsKaiser
Last updated 6 years ago

Vocational & Technology
Computer & Information

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EL7001 Digital Divide

The digital divide is a complex term that encompasses many facets of inequity of access to and usage of current information technologies. Numerous studies have examined the extent to which the digital divide exists, as well as the impact of humanitarian efforts to bridge identified gaps. “Cognitive dissonance theory leads to a belief that for the current dissonant practices to end, the reality of e-learning and the digital divide must be made public” (Sims, Vidgen, & Powell, 2008, p.440). This series of podcasts affirms the existence of a digital divide and sets out to identify five barriers such a divide poses to successful participation in an e-learning course of study; along with a possible solution for each one.

EL7001Assignment 5

The Digital Divide


Research 5 different potential digital divide issues. Describe the issue and its impact on e-Learning. Develop a strategy to overcome each issue. For example, one potential problem is internet access. A strategy might be to allow learner to submit assignments during a specified period instead of on a specific date. Support your strategies with your research and documentation.

Listen to the Podcasts


"Until recently, most research has tended to focus only on the number of people who have access to or use the Internet and how frequently they use it." (Brandtzaeg, Heim, & Karahasonovic, 2009, p. 123). Research indicates that access to the Internet is perhaps the most critical of the issues surrounding the digital divide (Sims, Vidgen, & Powell, 2008). Students in rural and remote areas tend to have fewer opportunities for connectivity and when connectivity exists, it is often along dial-up lines whose speed or lack thereof inhibits a participants' ability to engage fully with the content. Courses distributed in an e-learning context utilize a variety of multimedia such as, discussion boards, chat rooms, web conferences, video, and a plethora of web 2.0 tools. While some of these tools function well even when the connection speed is minimal, many do not. In cases where speed of connectivity is an issue, it would be beneficial for those students to receive a portable version of the media on CD, DVD, or USB. These can be created and sent to participants prior to beginning a course, much like a textbook. Upon completion of the course, they could be returned to the instructor who could then update them and distribute them to another group of learners. This was a fairly common practice among e-learning courses prior to the introduction of broadband, DSL connections.

A second connectivity issue revolves around shared access. The digital divide has traditionally focused on socioeconomic factors. Low-income, minority families are less likely to have access to technology (Lane, 2009) and the access they do have is often shared access. Sharing access imposes limitations on the duration and frequency with which a person is able to engage with the technology. In these situations, the learner may not have equipment that is dedicated to their use even when sharing. For example, community centers and libraries may offer the use of their computers to community members. When using this technology, there is no guarantee that a user will be assigned to the exact same machine each time and there are usually time limits to ensure other users will get a turn. Additionally, the software that is loaded on these machines and available to users may or may not meet the specifications required to complete a particular e-learning course. Shared access on a college campus may provide a model that could be implemented by community centers and libraries. The most difficult decision will be what software and hardware should be included. Libraries and community centers often have programs that take place on specific days for a specific time period. Community members are able to sign up ahead of time to ensure a spot in the program. Why not allow students’ engaged in e-learning to sign up for a specific time to use a specific computer on a regular basis? This would help to decrease some of the anxiety created when the learner does not know if he/she will get a turn on the computer and whether or not there will be enough time to complete the work.Shared access can make synchronous e-learning difficult or impossible to undertake. The ideal solution to shared access would be supplying the learner with a computer of their own to use throughout the duration of their degree program. The cost of the computer could be added into the cost of the program and the learner would own the computer at the end of the program. Internet connectivity would remain a potential barrier, however learners could be provided some of the course material on CD, DVD, or USB drives as mentioned in the first podcast. Furthermore, students living in urban areas can take advantage of the many wi-fi hotspots at libraries, community centers, and local businesses. Eliminating the sharing of access to technology enables the learner to take full advantage of the e-learning anytime, anywhere concept.

Issue 1 - Internet Access

Issue 2 - Shared Access

Recent studies have shown that the age of the learner can pose as a barrier to e-learning (Lane, 2009). Over time, the digital divide has evolved from identifying "patterns in differential access to patterns of differential usage" (Modarres, p.6). "On a cross-national level age and Internet access are the most salient predicting factors when explaining the variance in the different user types" (Brandtzaeg, Heim, & Karahasonovic, 2009,p. 135). The older the student, the less receptive they are likely to be toward e-learning. One study has shown that frustration from previous experiences with technology produces anxiety over e-learning while experiences resulting in success translated to a feeling of pride (Juutinen & Saariluoma, 2010). To encourage older students to participate in e-learning, opportunities for success must be intentionally front-loaded. Success breeds success. The psychological barriers to e-learning are often reinforced as self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe you can, you will and if you believe you can't, you won't. There is much truth to these familiar sayings. E-learning facilitators can help to overcome this barrier by communicating frequently with the learner. Making initial contact through a more familiar medium such as a phone call can help ease some of the anxiety the learner may be feeling. Offering continued support throughout the duration of the course and initiating contact when the learner appears to be distanced or struggling can also help lessen feelings of anxiety for the learner. As the learner becomes more confident, less support will be needed for continued success.

Issue 3 - Age of Learner

Perhaps the biggest underlying factor influencing these feelings of frustration or success rests in basic technology competency. Bridging this gap in the digital divide requires an approach to ensuring that e-learners have developed some basic technology competencies prior to enrollment. Using word processing programs and e-mail are two of the most basic skills necessary in any e-learning course. Additionally, e-learners participate in discussion boards, conduct web searches, and transfer files across the Internet. Having an opportunity to practice these skills, prior to engaging in e-learning for other purposes, enables the learner to feel more confident in their ability to complete an e-learning course successfully. Training facilities can assess the needs of each individual learner prior to their enrollment through the use of self-assessments, surveys, and programs that simulate the specific technology skills required for successful completion.

Efforts to close the digital divide have traditionally focused on increasing accessibility to hardware and software, as well as connectivity to the Internet. While these are critical first steps, researchers have more recently begun to examine variations in usage as a component of the digital divide. During one case study, 43% of students who had been given a laptop for use at home reported that their use was primarily recreational rather than educational (Morris, 2011). Of these same students, 93% report having connectivity to the Internet and 72% indicated social networking as their primary online activity (Morris, 2011). Merely supplying the tools and connectivity is not a solution to bridging the digital divide.Social constructivists maintain that learning is a social activity and knowledge comes from social interactions. The challenge then, is to create a learning environment that capitalizes on both recreational and social networking. Facilitators of e-learning must recognize the value added to the learning when students are empowered to connect with each other via discussion boards and micro-blogging. Utilizing the growing number of open educational resources, facilitators can engage students in learning that mimics the social networking environment.

Issue 4 - Digital Competency

Issue 5 - Differential Usage

The complex and dynamic concept of the digital divide continues to be redefined as new technologies emerge. Accessibility and usage remain at the heart of the divide with lines of separation typically drawn between socioeconomic status, age, culture, and geographical location. This podcast series identified Internet connectivity, shared access to technology, social norms associated with the learners’ age, digital competency, and patterns of differential usage as barriers commonly associated with the digital divide. Their impact on e-learning was discussed and possible solutions were suggested. Analysts disagree on the point of whether the digital divide is growing or closing, primarily due to the fact that a single definition of the digital divide does not exist. Of critical importance to e-learning, is that facilitators understand the current situation of their students including any barriers that exist, and offer solutions to ensure a positive e-learning experience.




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