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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Divide: Next Steps for Schools

PBS producer David Bolt explores ways to bridge the technology access gap.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

Digital Divide was produced by Studio Miramar, San Francisco, for the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Funding for educational outreach was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Credit: PBS and Studio Miramar

Editor's Note: Since we published this article in 2000, PBS has retired its Digital Divide website. While much of the information in this article is no longer current, it remains an interesting interview, with ideas about how to address the digital divide that are still pertinent. For more current information, visit our Digital Divide Resource Roundup.

The documentary series Digital Divide (PBS, Spring 2000) explored the role of technology in widening gaps in society, especially among young people. The series dedicated one episode each to the divide as it affects classrooms, gender, race, and work, respectively.

As part of an outreach effort launched in connection with the PBS broadcasts, series executive producer David Bolt convened a succession of town hall meetings with parents, teachers, administrators, legislators, and other interested parties. These discussions convinced him that beyond technology access, other challenges must be surmounted on the way to bridging the digital divide. The challenges facing educators were the subject of a recent interview between Bolt and staff of The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

The term digital divide is often used to describe the disparity in access to technology between the "haves" and the "have nots." But as Digital Divide series executive producer David Bolt stressed during his recent interview, access is only one of the challenges. "The single biggest thing is for people in general to recognize all the aspects of the digital divide beyond simple access," Bolt says.

In the following excerpts, Bolt highlights aspects that are especially relevant to the divide in schools: teacher training, maintenance and support of technology, and curriculum integration. He also discusses plans for his next project.

Digital Divide series executive producer David Bolt

Credit: PBS and Studio Miramar

Teacher Training

"There needs to be a comprehensive, organizational attempt at training -- not just for excited techies, but for everyone in a school," Bolt says. The notion that educators need training in order to successfully use technology to improve student learning, he says, is still not widely accepted. "Relatively few people get it," he says. The effort, he adds, needs to be ongoing and must expand with the needs and interests of the school community.

Maintenance and Technology Support

Since many teachers do not have the technological understanding to use the machines they have, it makes no sense to expect them to maintain them, but this is the case more often than not. Schools and districts that have successfully integrated technology into their teaching and learning processes have learned that hiring trained staff to maintain their computers allows teachers to focus on how computers can be used in teaching and learning, enhancing the existing curriculum, and preparing students for success in the digital age.

Curricular Integration

Least understood of all, according to Bolt, is the importance of integrating technology use into the curriculum. "We can talk all day in the abstract about the digital divide," he says, "but what do you say to the third-grade math teacher or the sixth-grade science teacher, given all the standards and criteria within which they have to operate? How do you find software to support them? Helping teachers move beyond seeing the Internet as a research library towards its dynamic and integrative aspects is critically important, and it's an awesome task."

Next Project

Bolt is planning to film a new set of episodes that explore technology as it relates to adults, including adult education and adult training in digital tools. "Our whole notion of adult education has to change," he says. "In fact, all of us are going to be participating in adult education for the rest of our lives. There's an enormous conceptual shift that is occurring in all of us."

But, Bolt cautions, "digital adult education must go beyond simply teaching about software; we need to give people a perspective on how to survive in the digital economy and not just teach them, for example, Photoshop."

Bolt is also concerned about two other topics: technology availability and use by people with disabilities; and what he calls "digital democracy," which includes the proliferation of political process and content on the Web. "It may be fine to vote online," he says, "but there are huge implications for those without access -- how can there be a democracy where not everyone can vote?"

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Jessie's picture

This article brought up something that I don't think about often related to the issue of digital equity: adults. I completely agree that we need to also focus our efforts on educating adults on how to use technology successfully. He brings up an interesting point about online voting. Sure, everyone has the right to vote, but does everyone have the ability when voting is online? It is just as important to push digital literacy for the adult generations as it is for us to teach and promote it in schools. Parents should be able to help students who may have problems with computer assignments at home. But how do we educate these adults? They are likely no longer in school.

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