Despite efforts to provide technology access to poor and minority students and narrow the “digital divide,” educational tech may not be leveling the playing field after all.
A recent Hechinger Report story focuses on research conducted in two polar-opposite Philadelphia neighborhoods over a 10-year period. Susan B. Neuman of New York University and Donna C. Celano of LaSalle University studied academic and economic inequalities between children from affluent Chestnut Hill and those from struggling Kensington. They explored how kids used computers at public libraries, where they discovered just how differently poor and affluent students took advantage of the tech resources.
Chestnut Hill kids often went to the library with adult family members, who sat with them and answered questions or directed them to educational material. In contrast, the Kensington children tended to lose focus and interest while using the computers, and parents didn’t usually guide their children’s online learning.
Lack of tech savvy wasn’t the only problem for Kensington students in this study, nor is it the only problem for kids from similar neighborhoods:
Poor children also bring less knowledge to their encounters with computers…Not only are affluent kids more likely to know how to Google; they’re more likely to know what to Google for.
Edtech could very well exacerbate economic and achievement gaps that already exist between poor and wealthier students. Unless…we begin to address the “engagement divide.”
Why not attempt to work with the way that less-advantaged students prefer to interact with content: via entertainment or games? Why not try to meet these students on a 1:1 basis, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach? Open educational resources (OER) for “productive gaming” could provide a solution; otherwise, poorer kids will fall further behind.
What if we developed an OER-based “Google Search Game” designed to support game-loving students in becoming more effective explorers in our knowledge economy by using tools that make the most sense to them?
Perhaps we also need to curate materials in OER repositories the way the best instructors do in prosperous classrooms—based on context, learning style, and skill level. This would give less-advantaged students access to higher-quality digital learning resources that narrow that “engagement divide” and the skills and achievement gaps—i.e., that foster and achieve “deeper learning” (expanding what students learn, deepening the experience through which they learn it, and improving the benchmarks for measuring their knowledge).
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation believes that “OER provide a powerful means to grow the impact of Deeper Learning” and supports grantees such as Expeditionary Learning who are developing Deeper Learning OER resources.