Yet Another Digital Divide

Digital divides in educational technology have been recognized for decades. While the details have changed, the reality that not all populations have the same technology tools has been a consistent characteristic of information technology.

We were first aware that some schools did not have access to enough desktop computers. We have become aware that not all schools had high-speed internet access. We became aware that the nature of the technology-based instruction was no of high quality in some schools. Most recently, we became aware that not all students have internet connections away from school.

These differences between access for different populations should be troubling to those who care about education for the public good, and we should be reassured that there have been efforts by the government to mediate those differences.

I have observed a different type of digital divide in the years leading up to and now through the COVIS pandemic. This divide is grounded in the difference between computing practices common to different groups of folks who are found in schools. Specifically, there seems to be a difference in the computing strategies used by faculty and those used by students.

In general, I have found faculty to be users of computing devices with full operating systems and installed productivity suites. I encounter faculty using Windows desktop and laptop computers and I see various versions of Microsoft Office installed. Students, on the other hand, are more likely to be using smartphones and cloud-based productivity.

Twenty years ago, folks who worked in educational technology spent a good deal of time resolving software compatibility issues. Students were unable to open documents they created at home at school. Cloud productivity did resolve much of that, but I still find faculty creating files that students cannot easily use. I see Word and PowerPoint documents being uploaded and students have difficulty opening them I see faculty who do not accept files unless they were created in the productivity suite they use.

Much of my time supporting educators who teach online (or who use the LMS to facilitate in-person teaching) is spent helping them understand the need to close this newest digital divide by creating materials and courses that can be viewed easily no matter the device the students uses.