Tag Archives: technology access

Education gaps and the Digital Divide: Success comes from desire to learn, taking advantage of tech tools

11 Jul

As I was browsing the New York Times website this morning, an article about studies on low-income families who receive computers to use for educational purposes really stuck out to me.

Growing up, my parents worked hard to make ends meet and we always managed to get by. We were not dirt poor, but there were some luxuries we couldn’t afford like a computer. Yes, people, a computer is a luxury.

As a millenial, I grew up at a time when computers were standard in every classroom at the public schools I attended in Texas and a lot of my friends were getting their own computer at home. The technology at school was not top of the line, but it was certainly good and I knew not every district was as lucky. I think it is also the reason I gravitated toward technology. I may not have had a computer at home, but I could certainly access one on a regular basis and could take advantage of tech classes being taught at my school.

What struck me about the studies mentioned in the article is that researchers found low-income families and students who received a computer and/or Internet access did not achieve much of an educational proficiency compared to those who did not get a computer. They achieved computer skills relative to what students’ economically advantaged peers had, but lower-income students were not making better grades or learning more. In fact, one study found many were using their computer to play games instead of doing homework.


The reality is a child, low-income or not, needs guidance and the desire to learn in order for a computer to be an effective tool. Parents have to encourage the importance of education and unfortunately, economically disadvantaged students may not always get that at home. I love learning and my parents always emphasized how important it was for me to study and get good grades. When I needed to know something for a book report or a project, I would hop on my bike and head to the public library to pick up a book or search the web on one of their computers. I would seek out information because I had a strong desire to do so.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is a computer is yet another information tool for students. It is up to them to determine how to use it to their advantage, but it doesn’t always mean they will. What are your thoughts on this?


SXSW 2010 Interactive: How The Other Half Lives – Touring The Digital Divide

16 Mar

Have you ever wondered what it was like to not own a computer or have daily access to the Internet?

Probably not.

How The Other Half Lives – Touring The Digital Divide, was a great panel discussing how two librarians, Jessamyn West and Jenny Engstrom, handle teaching those who don’t have regular access to computers and the Web. West and Engstrom both discussed the types of hurdles and financial struggles they have to deal with on a daily basis. Though grants have been available in the past to teach technology in libraries, once those grants dry up, they struggle with finding the resources to teach those that want to learn. With the economic downturn, it has become even more difficult.

They also discussed how important usability is for those who don’t have regular access to technology. Though the admitted Internet Explorer is not the best web browser, it is what they have to use in many cases on their library computers. Both also discussed how jargon like cookies and operating systems fall on deaf ears for people that utilize their technology.

“Most people only have 45 minutes on the computer, so make it worth their time,” Engstrom said, citing how most libraries have a forced time limit on computers.

She said things like forced registration and instructional video for a site waste time. She suggested puttting a list of steps people can read, but also making sure not to force users to download a PDF or any other document.

They also said many are worried people will steal their identity and beleive they are at risk already. Part of usability for those on the digital divide means assuring that their information is safe and that the Web site as a whole is easy to access and use.

“We have lots of people who can tell you just how bad your Web site usabillity sucks,” West said.

Check out their slides used in the presentation here if you want to learn more about the digital divide, usability and libraries and technology access.