There are a lot of assumptions that students have immediate access to the latest and greatest in technology. However, there is a noticeable gap or digital divide, particularly among first-generation college students. Despite our best efforts to offer technology on multiple College of DuPage campuses with computer labs and help desk assistance, it is ineffective if students are unaware of its capabilities or don’t understand how to leverage the information on a website.
Currently I am part of a “COD Conversations” group sponsored by the IDEA Center and we are reading the book, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges. The book touches on the digital divide in flexible online learning:
“Although all types of community college students have a degree of difficulty in adapting to online learning, some face more challenges than others. In particular, males, younger students, black and Hispanic students, and students with lower levels of academic preparation have much more difficulty in online courses than they do in face-to-face courses. These demographic groups are doubly disadvantaged: they already struggle to match their peers’ performance in face-to-face classrooms, and that performance gap widens in online courses” (94).
It’s easy to forget that not all students entering College of DuPage possess the computer skills needed to participate fully in the digital age. Our most vulnerable students do not use the Internet on a regular basis. First-generation college students who do not own a mobile device have to find other ways to connect online, relying on computers in open labs, which can become burdensome depending on their schedules and responsibilities outside of school. Not all labs are open when they want to use them. This limits consistent connectivity and can lead to unpreparedness in an online course.
Many students may not have access to computers in their homes, but do have access at work. Although students tell me they have used a computer at work, it is often for data entry or retail sales, not utilizing an electronic database for performing a topic search related to an assignment in a college-level course. How can we bridge this computer literacy skills gap? How can we begin to close the digital divide?
In “Decreasing the Digital Divide: Technology Use for College Preparation Programs,” the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis offers five recommendations when considering technology for college preparation:
• Technology is expensive and takes time.
• Technology requires access.
• Cultural differences and learning styles are factors.
• Technology must be purposeful.
• Structure and media does matter.