Who gets left behind as we adapt online?

Cassidy Puckett and I decided to consolidate some our thinking into a couple pieces about schools and digital inequality. First, we wrote a policy brief for Footnotes, the American Sociological Association’s newsletter. Second, we put together a column for the San Francisco Chronicle based on this brief:

How Robust Is the Global Technological Infrastructure?

Access to digital technology is the first level of the digital divide. Without access, you can’t teach. Thus, education reforms must make technology learning for both teachers and students a more central feature of schooling.

How Ready Are Educators and Students For Technology Learning?

But Cassidy, myself, and many other digital inequality researchers argue that digital access is absolutely not enough. There are *two* other digital divides that stand to disadvantage less privileged students of color if not address. The second is referred to as a digital skills gap. This gap applies to both students and teachers, and is most exacerbated at schools serving less affluent students and students of color. Thus, we must make technology learning for both teachers and students a more central feature of schooling.

How Might Students Be Unequally Rewarded?

As if two digital divides weren’t enough – there’s a third. It’s centered on “unequal reward” – and the Bourdieusians in the room will know how this applies to face-to-face learning but we know that it applies online, as well. Teachers tend to reward more affluent students who ask for extensions due to “tech fails,” and digital technologies are more likely to be for surveillance and discipline when users are less affluent students of color. These digital divisions require that we offer support to meet students’ needs without requiring them to ask for help, and recognize and amplify the efforts students make. Further, school districts should monitor outcomes in instructional use of technology and achievement to identify gaps along race, gender, and class.


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