Participation gap

Last evening was my final online class session for the semester (and perhaps forever). I end the course I was teaching with a focus on multiple issues that could influence how educators make use of technology – cyberbullying, copyright, equity, online predators. The topics do not necessarily share common underlying issues beyond influencing how parents, administrators, and others would like to see student learning activities focused.

An interesting thing about online classes is that they may contain students from different regions and circumstances than the majority of those in the class. On the topic of equity, readings students were expected to review in preparation for class included an older study by Wenlinsky on different ways technology is used in schools with high and low proportions of students from low-income families and Mimi Ito’s concept of a participation gap when it comes to students personal use of technology outside of school. Ito claims that there are SES differences in the way low and high-income students use technology influenced by cultural differences. The lower income students place a stronger emphasis on social connections.

In response to the examination of cultural differences, one of my students described her teaching situation as involving a high number of gang members. She claimed that these less affluent kids had the resources for nice cell phones and interests and interactions were dominated by the priorities of their gang. This was the way they saw their present and future. This was a new revelation for everyone in the class and I admit that I was somewhat uncertain as to how to integrate this information into the discussion. I decided that this was an extreme example of what Ito was talking about and a challenge to expectations for how adolescent learners might use technology for educational purposes outside of school. I certainly had nothing to say about how an educator in such a situation might encourage technology use outside of the classroom. Reminds me of a Maslow’s hierarchy issue – it is difficult to promote higher level needs when lower level needs are difficult to meet.

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