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Discussion: The Digital Divide on Campus

In a recent meeting of the faculty development team we discussed the article "Mind the Gap: The Digital Dimension of College Access," and considered how we might take into account the digital divide in our work. The digital divide is commonly understood mainly in terms of access to technology. Joanna Goode, Department of Education, University of Oregon, argues that while access is a concern, "the digital divide cannot be measured by tallying hardware, but rather, must be measured by determining access to rich learning experiences in which technology is embedded" (586). A digital divide exists in too many schools that serve low income students or students of color, where the most advantageous conditions for educational technology are absent: qualified teachers and student-centered pedgagogy.

Goode found that opportunities to use of technology in K-12 education differ along lines of race, gender, and socioeconomic status. In California, advanced computer classes are "overwhelmingly concentrated in schools serving middle class Whites and Asians, while vocationally oriented technology courses are more likely to be offered in schools serving large numbers of students of color" (Goode 587). Computing courses attract more young men than young women. Students in wealthier schools use computers for learning less frequently, but are more likely to use them for learning activities with intellectually rigorous objectives. In contrast, students in low-income schools are more likely to use computers for remedial learning activities.

How does the digital divide affect students once they enroll in college? Goode argues that for students who lack fluency with technology, it's not simply a question of catching up. By the time students reach college, they have developed a "technology identity," or beliefs about one's own technology abilities, about the importance of technology, about opportunities to participate, and motivation to learn about technology. Goode investigates what is involved in becoming a "computer person" by drawing on Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital, or the knowledge, education, experiences and material advantages required to maintain or achieve higher social status. Her research indicates that technology identities are shaped by and reflect social structures. In other words, a student who identifies as a "computer person" is more likely to come from a more privileged background.

Within the faculty development team we have begun a conversation about addressing the digital divide, and we would like others to join us in that conversation. How does the digital divide manifest itself at the University of Minnesota? How might we address it?

Goode, Joanna. "Mind the Gap: The Digital Dimension of College Access." The Journal of Higher Education. 81, no. 5 (September/October 2010) 583-618.

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