Monday, 5 November 2007

The second digital divide....

People still refer to the apparently decreasing digital divide - the increasing numbers of students and adult who have access to computers at home, the haves and have nots. Teachers are becoming increasingly confident in their use of ICT, both personally and in the classroom. In deed teachers interviewed for employment in the Cayman Islands, like increasing numbers of schools around the world, have to practically demonstrate ICT capability as part of the selection process. It will surely be almost impossible to function as a 21st century teacher soon without total ICT capability.

However, those just crossing the first of the digital divides are facing an even bigger and rapidly increasing hurdle that is scaring many to death - what I'm calling the "second digital divide". This refers to the massive growth of programmes such as instant messenger services, of "Face Book", "My Space", "You Tube" and so on. For the teachers just getting confident with email and introducing school based software packages to students learning, many have no idea what students are talking about if they get an email saying that they have been "poked", been "bought a drink" or had "fish added to their aquarium".

Some schools are "blocking" these sites, just as some still ban mobile phones - but none of these things are going to go away. Banning them is rather a futile exercise, destined to add enormous stress to teachers enforcing the policy whilst simply making them even more attractive to determined students. To quote one article I read recently - "get used to it - it's not going away!".

Schools (not just teachers) have to find ways to harness the energy, commitment and massive ability of their students in these communication forms. Why not harness the energy of cameras and web browsers in phones? It is really established practice in the more enlightened schools, who already have students on field trips sending photos and text back to school based students during a combined project. Students already do have homework discussions with their peers on Face Book, but have the added advantage of their other contacts contributing, often improving the quality of the work and discussion. They send work to each other and work collaboratively back and forth. Just recently I watched my daughter hold thirteen simultanous on-line conversations, whilst working - and the ideas about course were bouncing between each other, including giving advice on how to approach the project differently. Students are doing it now - its the staff holding them back!

The challenge is developing the protocols, training and ideas for the development of this technology and create the learning environment for students to use it without abusing it. No one has said it is easy but students will get used to it far quicker than most teachers!

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