The concept that struck me most this week was the difference between how low-SES and high-SES students engage in interest-driven activities using technology, and how that correlates with the concept of consumption vs creation that we learned about in the video last week, as well the effect that may have on the ability of the high- and low-SES students to master 21st century skills.
Beginning on page 192, Warschauer (2010) discusses the two stages of interest-driven online participation, messing around and geeking out, and the differences between what that type of participation looks like for low-SES youths vs high-SES youths. In his example, the high-SES student, Zeke, was engaged in a very creative and interactive activity, using technology in innovative ways to develop his own online voting system, and holding his own class president election, even though it wasn’t officially sanctioned by the administration at the school. In contrast, the low-SES student, Kadesha, acted more as a consumer of the media, downloading photos of celebrities, and “cyber-window shopping” with friends, and she specifically avoids engaging in activities online that require reading. This stark difference in how two students who are similar in age are using the technology available to them is very jarring, and is a reflection on how that technology is scaffolded for those students.
Yardi (2012, p3047) discusses the issue of parental technology literacy, and found in their study that high-SES families generally had at least one parent who was technologically literate, and were generally better equipped than the low-SES parents to make informed decisions about how their children interact with technology. Additionally, Warschauer (2010) cites a study conducted by Becker (2000), in which he found that teachers in low-SES schools were more likely to use technology in less innovative ways, such as for skill remediation and drill-and-practice exercises (consuming), whereas high-SES teachers were more likely to develop lessons using constructivist teaching methods, and focus on higher-level thinking activities like information analysis and writing assignments (creating). This lack of appropriate scaffolding around technology use in the low-SES schools, the environment where the least discrepancy in access occurs between low- and high-SES students, extends into how these low-SES students engage with technology outside of the classroom, manifesting itself as something Warschauer refers to on page 203 as the “social envelope”: high-SES students do better (have higher test scores) when they have computers, because they are able to use them in constructive ways, whereas low-SES students do worse (have lower test scores) when using computers, because they’re not taught how to use them constructively, and computer use at home becomes a time for gaming and social conversation, infringing on study time rather than enhancing it.
This discrepancy between consumption activities and creation activities also relates directly to the 21st century skills that Warschauer (2010) references on page 206. Many of the skills that he mentions, including things like creativity, critical thinking, self-direction, and leadership, require the ability to create rather than just regurgitate facts. His description of the digital divide today I think summarizes this issue perfectly. On page 213, he says, “Today the digital divide resides in differential ability to use new media to critically evaluate information, analyze, and interpret data, attack complex problems, test innovative solutions, manage multifaceted projects, collaborate with others in knowledge production, and communicate effectively to diverse audiences–in essence, to carry out the kind of expert thinking and complex communication that are at the heart of the new economy.” We’ve moved from a digital divide centered on access to a divide centered on support. Many low-SES students now have access to the internet and other new media, but they don’t have the support system in place to learn how to interact with it properly. Moving forward, if we don’t find ways to provide that support, either in the classroom, at home, or in the community, the gap will continue to widen.