Thursday, February 6, 2014

Washington Watch: "Bridging the Internet Gap"

First Lady takes a selfie with Baltimore student at
T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.,  Feb. 5, 2014.
(Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
The Internet Gap, or the more commonly used phrase The Digital Divide, persists despite almost 75% of American homes now having Internet access.

This week, the Census Bureau released its 2012 report: Computer and Internet Access in the United States. The data has been collected since 1984, and tracks computer usage by factors such as region, race, education, gender, job, and income.

Education level remains a key determinant of Internet use in the home. As reported by NBC News:
"Among people 25 and older, only about 30 percent of people who did not graduate high school used the Internet in their homes in 2012. That figure nearly doubles to about 58 percent for high-school grads, and it jumps to almost 90 percent for people who obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher."
The Census figures also show an increasing use of smartphones among all racial groups. However, not surprisingly, the smartphone gap is most apparent when looking at age. Younger people use smartphones at greater rates.

The question is...."How are our young people using smartphones -- for entertainment or homework help? I think we know the answer to this one.

There is no doubt, the Internet is a wonderful tool for learners of all ages. Students have access to gobs of information at their fingertips. Are students using the Internet and smartphones for educational purposes?

I am from the 'dinosaur' generation that used encyclopedias for research on school projects. When I was a kid, the mark of being middle-class was to have a set of encyclopedias in your home.  There were even door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen and payment plans for parents determined to give their children the best educational resources.

We've come a long way from encyclopedias and library trips for research. As the Census figures indicate, most homes now have Internet access. However...not all. In addition, according to the Administration fewer that 1 in 3 of America's classrooms have Internet access that supports digital learning.

This past week the President visited a middle-school to discuss his ConnectED program. The White House describes the initiative as follows:
"The ConnectED initiative will, within five years, connect 99 percent of America’s students to the digital age through next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless in their schools and libraries. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon are already providing their support, collectively pledging to connect more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students by the end of 2015."

Broadband access is a needed step, but perhaps using smartphone mobile apps for education might be the best way to narrow the digital divide and encourage learning?

Here is a video of the President with a student's tablet during his recent visit to Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland. At this school each student has access to a school-supplied iPad:

Currently, many schools do not allow the use of smartphones (on a non-emergency basis) on campus or in classrooms.... nevertheless, this is the technical device most used by our children. Maybe we need to catch up when considering how to educate our kids.

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