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My Thoughts On Today’s NY Times Article About The “Digital Divide”

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Today’s New York Times has a fairly lengthy article headlined Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era.

It’s thesis is that young people are spending too much time on screens, including television and computers. In addition, with the increased availability and affordability of computers and online access, low-income children are spending more time online for entertainment instead of education than middle and higher income kids.

I wonder if they may be making mountain out of a molehill. The numbers they used that painted alarming statistics about the increase of screentime from 1999 to the present did not seem very reliable. If someone was watching TV and surfing the Web at the same time for the same one hour, they would count that as two hours. I suspect the number of young people who were able to surf the Web at the same time they were watching TV in 1999 was much smaller than the total now, so that could explain a lot of the dramatic increase if they are “double-counting.” And other studies are showing increased television viewing by children.

So I’m not necessarily convinced that the Web in primarily to blame.

There was other interesting info in the article:

the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.

I’m also not entirely convinced that parachuting trainers into schools and libraries to give trainings to students with whom they have no on-going relationship with is going to be particularly effective. I’ve written elsewhere about how educators and schools, with sufficient resources, have done and could do an effective job in helping students and parents develop tech and media literacy skills (see The Best Resources For Learning About Schools Providing Home Computers & Internet Access To Students).

One other piece of news that I found particularly interesting was that The Federal Communications Commission has finally kicked-off plan to get broad band and computers into the homes of low-income families (I’ve previously written about their initial announcement and Comcast’s pilot project).

The national program is called Connect2Compete. It basically looks like a clone of Comcast’s Internet Essentials, which seemed to work pretty well, at least here in Sacramento.

So, what do you think? Is this as big of an issue as The New York Times is making of it, or do you think it’s being overblown and their are bigger fish to fry.

I’m very open to hearing that I’m underestimating the problem….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Ben's Educational Technology Blog - Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era

  2. As a library media specialist, I’ve spent the better part of my career teaching digital literacy. I know the skills and backgrounds of our district’s students, what digital literacy looks like, and how to teach it. The first impediment to doing so is lack of digital access; we simply don’t have the funding to provide the kind of one-to-one experiences our students need. The second impediment is my disappearing job– we no longer have media specialists in elementary schools and I only work in the library half time now. Next year I may not be a media specialist at all. What is the sense of directing thousands of new “trainers” to do what we media specialists have been advocating (to little avail) all along?

    • By the way, see this study for similar findings:
      Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of equity in access, use, and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34, 179-225.

      It seems there is indeed a divide, not only of access, but of rich experience. In other words, the socioeconomic factors that have always created educational inequities continue (and are perhaps even amplified) when access to technology is thrown into the mix.

  3. I actually think that this is an issue of growing importance and something that we have to pay attention to in the future. I work at an independent school with intelligent, highly motivated and disciplined students from families that would mostly fall in the upper echelon on the socio-economic scale. Despite all of this, our students, especially the younger ones, (I teach 9th and 10th grade) struggle to maintain a balance between work and distraction while on their computers. Interestingly enough, most of them are aware that this is a problem, but many are still unable to manage this balance, despite all kinds of available support from teachers, administrators, and parents. One of the most frequent conversations I have with my students is that they come to me for help managing their screen time. On the one hand, I am very pleased that they come to me for help with this issue, but on the other, I am a bit concerned about what this tells me about where we are heading. I am a very firm believer in the value of technology (especially in education) and I consider myself a teacher who attempts to use as much technology as possible. On the other, I cannot help but wonder if we are underestimating the scope of this problem.

    Lastly, thank you for all your work–I am a huge fan of your blog and have benefited immensely from it!

  4. It appears that FCC feels that teachers are not doing enough to train students on digital literacy. Teachers are already overworked and underfunded. If the FCC would direct money directly to schools to let them spend it on needed resources and use the valuable talent already in place I think we would see more progress.
    I agree sending in trainers to work with students probably isn’t the best bang for their buck.
    The article doesn’t seem to address the fact that many families have their children in daycare due to the need for two incomes. This increases the time children are away from parent influence in instruction. This change in social structure along with increased technology use wasn’t addressed. Technology is great, but we all need to unplug for a few hours. That is the instruction we need to hear, unplug.

  5. I’d like to echo what Ms. Johnson wrote – apparently the people who dreamed up the plan for the “digital literacry corps” are obvously unaware of the work school librarians do every day. Since the advent of internet access, our focus has shifted and much of our time is now spent modeling digital citizenship, including critical evaluation and productive use of web resources. Many districts are cutting librarian positions so why not put some of that money towards supporting our role instead of duplicating it?

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