One of the areas of research that I’ve followed closely has been the digital divide, generally defined as an disparity in the amount of access that students have to technology at school and at home (Dolan, 2016) but sometimes expanded to include in-school versus out-of-school literacies (Nasah, DaCosta, Kinsell, & Seok, 2010) or inequity driven by race and gender (Vie, 2008). As we’ve transitioned to a digital society over the past 40 years, technology literacy is no longer an option. Even in early elementary grades, mandatory assessments are increasingly delivered online, while students applying for college and financial aid will find that applications, supporting documents, work portfolios, and scholarship opportunities are almost entirely digital.
Once in college, many institutions of higher education expect to take a portion of their coursework via the internet. Computer literacy is almost a requirement for basic functions of adulthood – filing taxes, searching for a new car, applying for a student loan, shopping – not to mention the advanced technology skills and experience required for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics-related occupations.
The disparity in access impacts children from an early age, and results in some students being unprepared to fully engage in a technology-integrated learning environment. At the secondary level, the Iowa City Schools are addressing this issue through our secondary 1:1 program, which will provide a Chromebook to each student in our high schools (Fall, 2017) and junior highs (Fall, 2018). Further, we’re pursuing a grant through Spring that would provide a free cellular hotspot to eligible students, providing them with internet access for use with their school-issued Chromebook even when they’re not on campus.
We know, however, that the effects of the digital divide are evident from an early age. While many of our students arrive in preschool or kindergarten with substantial experience with and expertise in using computers, some of our students arrive in class having never used any electronic device beyond a smartphone, if at all. These students need to catch up in terms of ability to control input devices (keyboard/mouse/touchscreen), learn the basics of typing and saving files, and gain exposure to the vast – and ever-expanding – fount of information available via the internet.
While there is no easy solution to this problem, one step towards a solution comes in terms of device access. Beginning in Fall, 2017, ICCSD will be implementing a weighted resource allocation model (WRAM) for student-accessible elementary devices. Centered around an elementary student-to-device average of 2:1, this model will vary the deployment per building +/- 0.4 students per device, such that the highest needs building in the district will receive one device for every 1.6 students, while the lowest-needs building will receive one device for every 2.4 students. It is important to note that all buildings will receive a device allotment that is substantially better than our current 3.44:1 ratio.
The rationale behind this program includes:
- WRAM provides a substantially-increased number of student-accessible devices to all schools, as compared to our current deployment, and is better than state averages.
- WRAM addresses inequity in home access to devices and digital literacy that has been reported in our schools and thoroughly documented through peer-reviewed research.
- WRAM addresses inequity in terms of external funding availability for supplemental device purchases.
- WRAM avoids the punitive element of our previous deployment model.
As previously mentioned, this model only impacts the district’s base technology deployment, and doesn’t impact or take into account technology purchased through other funding mechanisms or with other purposes beyond student-use. In the past, deployments have sometimes been contingent upon the existence of externally-funded hardware. In 2015, for instance, the district allocated Chromebook carts to each elementary school with the exception of those that already had Chromebooks purchased through a parent teacher organization (PTO); the WRAM model will not take externally-purchased devices into account, allowing buildings to apply for grants, raise funds through a PTO, or purchase equipment via special ed funding without fear that those purchases will cut into their district technology deployment. The purpose of this change is to strike a balance between encouraging teachers, principals, and PTOs to seek further technology in their schools, while acknowledging that not all of our schools have the same ability to raise funds for the purchase of technology.
It is critical that all of our students technology, and we believe that this deployment model addresses inequities within our schools while guaranteeing that all students have adequate access to district-provided devices. We’ll be reviewing the progress of this program as it rolls out, and making changes as the need for them becomes evident. In the meantime, I’d like to thank members of the ICCSD Technology Council, ICCSD Technology Cadre, elementary administrators, Superintendent’s cabinet, and the ICEA who provided input regarding the development of this program.
Dolan, Jennifer E. “Splicing the Divide: A Review of Research on the Evolving Digital Divide Among K–12 Students.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 48.1 (2016): 16-37.
Nasah, A., DaCosta, B., Kinsell, C., & Seok, S. (2010). The digital literacy debate: An investigation of digital propensity and information and communication technology. Educational and Technology Research Development, 58, 531–555.
Vie, S. (2008). Digital Divide 2.0: “Generation M” and online social networking sites in the composition classroom. Computers and Composition, 25, 9–23.