Facing the Digital Divide

1024px-The_break_water_divide_in_Freshwater_BayI was recently surprised when watching television at home I saw a commercial that uses the idea of “digital divide” as a means to attract new costumers. As I recall, a student, clearly from an underprivileged environment, walks back home talking about the concept of “digital divide”. He mentions that hiring a particular company will bridge this gap since it offers a really good deal that makes the internet affordable for everybody. It is very interesting to see how capitalism is able to use the problems that it created and revert them in a way to gain more money. Anyway, I am not here to talk about capitalism but how we, as an educational community, should consider avoid the digital divide at our institution.

Maybe we think that here at Connecticut College we are alien to this situation and that in our community we won’t find anybody feeling left behind as the protagonist of the commercial, but this is not true. Recently, in one of my classes, a student suggested that we created a group account through WhatsApp. More popular overseas than here, this app allows you to send WhatsApp_logo-color-vertical.svgmessages by phone in a similar way as instant message. The idea was to use this system to get in touch with each other and, from the very beginning; it worked very, very well. I was thinking that we could use this resource not just to socialize but for the students to talk about the class and for me to answer questions promptly outside of class time. I was very pleased with the results, and the students seemed to be happy as well. However, in the second week of classes, another student signed up for the class and, when I suggested that s/he signed up for WhatsApp, s/he told me that s/he didn´t have a smartphone. At that moment, I realized that we need to be very careful with the use of technology and not assume that all students have access to the same gadgets. From that day on, I limited my participation in that group and I conducted all the formal communications with the students by regular email to include all the students in the conversation. I immediately realized that, without that resource, my ability to deal with issues on the spur of the moment was undermined. Even today, when we don’t meet as a class anymore, the WhatsApp group is very active and I sporadically participate sending invitations to have lunch together or participate in cultural activities. But each time I see a message from this group on my iPhone, I can’t help thinking that not all my students are there, and that one of them is always missing from the conversation.

From my point of view, there are some lessons we must learn from these two stories. First, as a community, we shouldn’t assume that every student has the same access to technology, and we need to make sure that, as an institution, we provide everybody with the same tools to succeed in a world that is more and more dependent on technology each day. If we fail in this task, as I mentioned above, we will always have somebody missing from the conversation.

— Luis Gonzalez, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies

A Note from Instructional Technology:

If you are considering using apps in the classroom, contact your Instructional Technology Liaison. We can discuss possible alternatives that will allow you to achieve the same pedagogical goals, share information about technologies available to students through the library (iPad minis can be checked out, for example), or encourage you to participate in the DELI program which provides devices to all your students. We can also teach students to use the devices so they can fully participate in all course activities.

Image credit: By BihnX (The break water divide in Freshwater Bay) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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