At the School Level: Signs and Approaches to Digital Divide in K-12 Education

BOLT Editorial  |  By Emily Wong


Experienced teachers(or teachers that are very observant) recognize that there are a variety of constant needs or gaps between what is required and what is available within schools. In the case of 21st century schools, the “digital divide” ˗ a gap regarding technological access, progress, equipment, tools and programs ˗ are all the more palpable as the demands of technological literacy and employability increase.

It may be easy to slide into apathy or throw up one’s hands in frustration. However, through the focus on Jennifer Dolan’s 2015 article “Splicing the divide: a review of research on the evolving digital divide among K-12 students,” I propose that there are concrete and possibly successful ways to identify and implement approaches to close these gaps. While a teacher cannot mitigate the impacts of political measures, administrative acts(or administrator ex machina), funding, pace of technology, or support of key stakeholders, a teacher does still hold the power to make key changes that may(hopefully!) lead to lessening the gap, and integrating significant changes across their school.

But wait! What is a digital divide?

As a starting point, “a digital divide is an economic and social inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies” (Wikipedia, 2016). In the context of schools, often the assumption is that a digital divide references the difficulty in accessing hardware such as computers. However, as the evolution and definition of digital tools continues, the digital divide has shifted to include an “[extension] into issues of Internet connectivity and bandwidth capabilities; availability of software; students’ and teachers’ knowledge and skills to use the available technology; the influence of mobile technology; and the impacts of limiting factors such as poverty, lack of teacher training, and cultural misunderstandings between students and teachers” (Dolan, 16, 2015).

When addressing the digital divide, it is clear that one must tread carefully and avoid making assumptions that might cloud effective measures to lessen the gap. Make no mistake: digital divide cannot be solved by “[m]assive computer integration…[a]s new technological tools continue to develop, new gaps will arise”(Amiel, 235, 2006); as educators we must have the flexibility to reinvent our tools to meet learner needs, as well as have accessible resources to help mitigate and lessen the gaps over time.

Identifying Digital Divide


Even in the process of writing this piece I’m sure the definition, characteristics, and parameters of the digital divide will have changed and shifted; Dolan highlights the shifting terminology, complexity, and difficulty in narrowing down key components of digital divide, which isn’t necessarily limited to socioeconomic status, digital exclusion, or even binary references of “have” and “have nots.” In fact, as her searches continued, terms such as “digital disconnect” and “digital equity” emerged, thus reinforcing the abstract nature of defining the digital divide(Dolan, 18, 2015). Through the synthesis of a variety of studies, articles, surveys, and reviews, Dolan reveals that the previous definitions of digital divide have evolved beyond the binary definition, and that the key causes of inequality in technology access are more varied than initially anticipated.  Continue reading “At the School Level: Signs and Approaches to Digital Divide in K-12 Education”