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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Digital Divide and Virtual Schooling

To borrow a line from Monty Python... "And now for something completely different!"

Getting off of this theme of how to fix public education for a bit, there was a article by Paul Lamb on CNet News.com on the digital divide (see http://news.com.com/No%20more%20digital%20divide...not/2010-1071_3-5730088.html). As is becoming more usual, I found this article from Darren's Teaching and Developing Online. Lamb's artile discusses how it may be easy to say that we have conqueored the digital divide when we look at statistics like these:
  • 67 percent of American adults and 87 percent of American teenagers now use the Internet (Pew Internet & American Life Project)
  • 96 percent of all children between ages 8 and 18 have been online at least once, and that number varies by only a few percentage points when broken down by ethnicity and family income (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation)

However, Lamb argues that these figures are misleading. "For example, only 29 percent of school-age children in households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 use a home computer to complete school assignments. In comparison, 77 percent of children in households with incomes of $75,000 or more use a home computer to complete assignments. "

What implications does this have for virtual schooling? Many of the these children that live in households with an annual income of less than $15,000 are urban students who's schools don't offer many of the courses that virtual schools are pushing (such as AP), or they are students in rural areas who's schools simply don't offer the courses because of small class enrollment and qualified teacher issues. If only 29% of the students that we are hoping to target have access to a home computer, how does that affect their ability to be successful in the virtual school environment?

Is home computer accss essential? Helpful? Unnecessary? These are questions that teachers in virtual high schools must address when they are designing and delivering their courses. An online course is not like a traditional course where the student can take all of their books and materials home to work on them. If there is no computer in the home or they are without adequate Internet access, they simply can't work at home for the most part.

In Berge's and Clarke's book, Virtual schools: Planning for success, they describe how some virtual school provide free home computer set-ups or laptops on loan programs for their students. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these instances are the virtual charter schools, with virtual schools from the public education system not being able to cover the costs of such programs.

So, what does the reality of the digital divide mean for virtual schools? What does it means for virtual school teachers? What has your virtual school, or you as a teacher, done to account for this reality?

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