Over the past few years, I have become keenly aware of the “digital divide” that exists with regard to technology and access to the Internet. As Wikipedia (n.d.) outlines, a “digital divide” is “an economic and social inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) (para. 1).” A digital divide encompasses not only a disparity in ownership or accessibility to technology, but also the skills to use the technology. It should be noted that, “Recent studies have measured the digital divide not in terms of technological devices, but in terms of the existing bandwidth per individual (Wikipedia, n.d., para. 3).” (Bandwidth facilitates the development and distribution of multimedia content and other innovations, for which dial-up is limiting.) In northwest BC (where I live and teach), this inequity is particularly noticeable with students from low-income families and/or of First Nations ancestry, many of whom live in outlying areas or on reserves.
As Hengstler (2015) notes, educators often have the challenge of trying to balance helping students master the use of digital tools, or ICT tools, while working on the improvement of literacy skills (and/or other skills). Yet, literacy skills are more successfully learned once one has mastered the use of digital tools. So how do educators address this digital divide?
In Gibson’s (2011) review of the book Digital Diversity (by Looker, E.D., & Naylor, T.D.), Susan Gibson presents the concept of social networks providing “social currency,” and thus the ability for a person to call on social ties for resources and support for accessing and using ICT tools. Gibson states, “It is argued that increased social capital is critical for success in our global, information based economy” (p. 350). This has led me to reflect on the value of social networks for learning, with particular attention to how “social currency” might support First Nations learners. The use of social media for learning could be a powerful tool I have yet to explore. Arcand’s (2011) article, Language Warrior, seems to support this possibility. The article outlines how Dustin Rivers (a “language revitalization activist”) has been actively working to save the Squamish language by blogging, tweeting, and podcasting. Could social media be the tool missing from this educator’s toolkit?
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