Digital Divide Essay

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The term digital divide refers to the distance between those people with access to computers and digital sources of information, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web, and those who lack such resources. This division includes not only hardware and software, but also access to training and technology based on geographic location. What Eugene Provenzo refers to as “posttypographic textuality” and George Landow calls “hypertextuality” relies on digital technology; thus, it is prudent to explore how computers are used to instill a sense of cultural inferiority.

In this context, Tamara Pearson notes that in many educational settings, computers are used primarily for drill and practice exercises, preparing students for standardized tests. This poses a problem for economically and ethnically marginalized groups, as their opportunities for high-order thinking exercises, such as problem solving and creative movie making and narration, are fewer when compared to computer practices in more affluent schools with socially dominant demographics. Pearson also notes that marginalized groups are much less likely to have home computers and home Internet access than privileged groups. According to research by Craig Peck, Larry Cuban, and Heather Kirkpatrick, this aspect of the digital divide is telling because much of the active computer experimentation occurs in the home.

Roy Bohlin and Carol Bohlin concur that among Latino and African American student populations, computers are used much more often for drill and practice applications than for higher order learning, such as simulations and applications. Latino students they interviewed recognized that knowing how to use computers was important to get a job in the digital age workplace, but they didn’t understand how they would use computer technology in their intended work.

Michael Mazyck notes that computer-based instructional models such as Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) have been instituted predominantly in schools within economically disadvantaged areas. In this context, what is significant to many is that ILS grew out of social efficiency’s wunderkind, the teaching machine, and the instrumental conditioning models of figures such as the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner. The utopian logic underlying teaching machines proposes to replace haphazard teaching by substandard teachers for chronically underachieving school populations. The ideal for teaching machines is a perfected curriculum that substandard teachers can- not misappropriate as they become little more than    technicians within the teaching process. However, after four decades of ILS integration into economically disadvantaged schools, no independent research can confirm the rosy picture painted by ILS advocates and the research conducted by the ILS providers.

The results of this research, then, suggest that computers used for traditional curricular designs do not improve education, particularly for those learners who have been historically marginalized by such positivist pedagogies. It’s not computers that are to blame, but how they are used. Simply providing minority or economically needy students with access to computers is an inadequate solution to meeting their educational needs. Instead, a much deeper understanding of how people have access to computing, and the type of training provided them, is essential if the digital divide that clearly exists is to be closed.


  1. Bohlin, R. M., & Bohlin, C. F. (2002). Computer-related effects among Latino students—educational implications. TechTrends: For leaders in education & training, 46(2), 2.
  2. Landow, G. P. (1992). Hypertext: The convergence of contemporary critical theory and technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  3. Landow, G. P. (1994). Hyper/text/theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  4. Landow, G. P. (1997). Hypertext 2.0 (Rev., amplified ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  5. Landow, G. P., & Delany, P. (1993). The digital word: Textbased computing in the humanities. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  6. Mazyck, M. (2002). Integrated learning systems and students of color: Two decades of use in K–12 education. TechTrends, 46(2), 33–39.
  7. Pearson, T. (2002). Falling behind—a technology crisis facing minority students. TechTrends: For leaders in education & training, 46(2), 6.
  8. Peck, C., Cuban, L., & Kirkpatrick, H. (2002). Technopromoter dreams, student realities. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(6), 472–480.
  9. Provenzo, E. F., Jr. (2002). Teaching, learning, and schooling: A 21st-century perspective. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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