Digital Deprivation

Posted by Butch Owens on September 12, 2011

President Truman

Today’s problem is not the digital divide, it’s digital deprivation.  It’s difficult to find a student today who does not have access to the Internet, own a smartphone, communicate with friends all over the world and collaborate online with others to plan events—except, of course, when they enter the schoolhouse walls.  Instead of embracing and encouraging the use of the technology students bring with them each day, we forbid its use or even presence on campus.

Last month a colleague and I were asked to do a board workshop highlighting the use of mobile technologies and their value in the classroom.  To demonstrate the power of this technology we designed an activity around the iPad.  We divided the board members and senior staff into two groups.  One group was given the approved district textbook for world history, which was a rather new edition.  The other group was given iPads.  The assignment was to take 15 minutes and come up with a presentation on The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.  (I know many of you are probably scratching your heads right now, knowing you’ve heard the terms but perhaps don’t recall the details?  California’s content standards expect 10th graders to know!)

What we observed

Textbook group:   The group had a very nice looking book with 328 pages of which three quarters of one page was devoted to the Truman Doctrine/Marshall Plan.  Their report consisted of one page of bulleted points on chart paper which highlighted the year it was introduced by guess who, Truman, and who was sent to Europe to help design and carryout the plan, George C. Marshall.

What did it look like for the Textbook Group? Five people sitting around a table with one making the notes on chart paper, one talking and one sitting away from the group not engaged.

iPad Group:  The group with iPads quickly went to work and found thousands of resources including a video of Truman giving the speech outlining his reasons for sending aid and helping to rebuild the countries recently defeated by the Allies.  Another found a UK site that helped give a European perspective of the plan.  The group’s presentation consisted of Truman’s speech, video and pictures of Europe after the war and included a video of George C. Marshall touring war torn areas.

What did it look like with the iPad Group?  All participants actively engaged accessing different information, all related to the topic. Sharing their findings with each other.

I forgot to mention that the textbook group was forward thinking and pulled out their smart phones and began quickly looking for additional information.  We just as quickly had them place them in a box on the front desk per our school policy on cell phones on campus.

Think of your own life

So it’s no longer a digital divide, but digital deprivation.  Even one smartphone, laptop or tablet with access to the Internet would have provided an abundance of additional information above and beyond the limited information in the textbook.

Think of your own life.  When you get lost, do you pull out your old Thomas Brothers guide?  When you need a phone number, do you grab the phone book or the yellow pages?  When you want to know what’s playing at the movie theatre, do you reach for the entertainment section of the newspaper (do you still subscribe to a newspaper)?  My hunch is you use technology to find answers like these.

The next time you become involved in a discussion about whether students need regular access to technology at school, stop and try an activity like the one we did with our board members.  See if anyone really wants to be in the textbook group!


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