PLAYBACK: Access, Literacy, The New and The Old Digital Divide
1.27.12 | Tutoring via technology; the old digital divide persists while the drive toward mobile creates a new one; and Youth Radio’s Lissa Soep and HASTAC’s Cathy Davidson on what we know about teaching digital literacy … All in this week’s PLAYBACK
Virtual Tutors: Literacy progress has long been linked to more time spent reading and being read to, and programs are working to bring more adults into schools where students are struggling. The New York Times reported this week on a school in the South Bronx where the tutors arrive via technology. Adult volunteers talk with students by phone and can view the same story students are reading via screen-sharing software on their desktop computers, all while never having to leave their office.
P.S. 55, the school profiled, is testing the program with students in four first-grade classes. The Times reports the program is also being tried by volunteers in 60 other low-performing classrooms in Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Washington. P.S. 55, “a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway stop in a crime-plagued neighborhood, has long had trouble finding tutors willing to visit,” writes the Times’ Kyle Spencer. The school’s principal, Luis Torres, tells Spencer: “It is hard to get anyone to volunteer.”
But as we’ve reported in the past, skeptics are concerned that virtual interactions in online learning environments are a poor substitute for the adult relationships and face-to-face attention all students, students in low-income neighborhoods especially, desperately need to succeed.
Read the whole story here.
Savage Inequality: We’ve previously reported on how researchers looking at the digital divide are turning attention to the “participation gap” to help understand how low-income students engage with digital technologies, such as mobile phones, compared to more privileged students. But this story on the gigantic disparities in access to hardware among public schools in Illinois provided me with a helpful reminder that the access gap is still a major concern.
Nick Pandolfo of The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit education-news outlet that shares stories with the Chicago Tribune, visited Chicago’s Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, where students are expected to share 24 computers with a thousand students from the three schools on the DuSable High School campus.
“The ratio of computers to students is absurd,” said English teacher Andrew Flaherty, a veteran educator who reports that many of his students cannot afford computers at home and don’t get enough time to use them at school. As a result, Bronzeville Scholastic students born into a digital era struggle with basic skills, such as saving work to a flash drive and setting margins in Microsoft Word.
By comparison, nearby suburban Deerfield Public Schools District 109 offers about 2,000 computer workstations for 3,100 students who can also login to the district’s network from home.
Pandolfo reports that technology spending varies widely across the state and even within the Chicago public school district. As we’ve reported, Chicago was recently tapped by the Consortium on School Networking as one of 13 districts to help develop best practices in district-level digital media policy. And we’ve covered innovations like the new ChicagoQuest school that opened in the fall. But this story provides an important reminder that in many neighborhoods, Chicago, like many school districts, still has a long way to go.
Digital Libraries: Many public libraries and librarians have been leaders in working to help close the digital divide, offering innovative programming for young people, technology training programs for adults, and free access to computers and other technologies..
Writing at the Gates’ Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog, Deborah Jacobs reports on the strong demand for e-books many libraries are seeing, and she points to new data from Pew showing that at least one-third of adults in the United States own at least one mobile reading device. Jacobs says this growth in mobile devices presents a challenge that threatens to widen the access divide.
While 36 percent of people from families with household incomes greater than $75,000 have a mobile reading device, this figure drops to only 8 percent of those from low-income households.
Jacobs calls on libraries to “keep up with the staggering pace of change in the way people are consuming information,” by continuing to invest in e-content.
Read more here.
New Models: Earlier this week, I posted about President Obama’s new effort to partner with STEM learning programs to help close the youth unemployment gap. Youth Radio’s Mobile Action Lab was one of the models I thought these efforts should look to for guidance in how to encourage skill development and the pursuit of STEM careers.
Youth Radio’s Lissa Soep, writing at HASTAC earlier this month, reflects on what her work has taught her about digital literacy. She has some interesting observations about the importance of developing partnerships and how to maximize impact and utility. And I found her discussion of “performance programming,” likening programming to theater, to be fascinating:
Young people constantly rehearse pitches and presentations to potential partners, investors, and users; they role-play various stakeholders and act out “use-cases” for the apps being developed; the sequences of code are like scripts that composers continually try, tweak, and re-work; we anxiously await high-stakes public reviews; we cast, shoot, and edit narratives in the form of promo videos and online posts designed to drive downloads; we appropriate pre-existing code bases much like theater companies adapt plays; and we improvise our way through inevitable crises in the development process. As educators sometimes struggle to find ways to hook young people into STEM fields, grounding the work in metaphors of theater can engage young people who are inspired to dramatize and perform what they know.
Read the full post at HASTAC.
The 4th R? Finally, in a post at DMLcentral, HASTAC’s Cathy Davidson joins the growing number of advocates arguing that learning programming is a vital part of being literate in today’s digital culture.
In “Why We Need a 4th R: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, algoRithms,” Davidson makes the case that “algorithmic thinking is foundational … It provides an alternative to fact-based mastery and proposes, instead, iterative, process-oriented, constructive, innovative thinking.”
Davidson points to the Scratch programming language developed at MIT’s Media Lab and Mozilla’s Hackasaurus as examples of where this is already happening. (We’ll have more on Scratch Jr next week). Davidson calls for a radical transformation in all of our educational settings—from preschool to graduate school and beyond, to embed the 4th R in our pedagogical approach.
Imagine if all teachers had three or four hours each week outside the classroom, to work together toward rethinking how to redesign schools for the actual Web-engaged kids they see in their classrooms, not the standardized model current testing norms address. Algorithmic thinking would be part of the process, as would increasing attention to peer-to-peer co-learning and team learning.
Davidson will discuss this vision at a Virtual Fireside Chat on Feb. 1 at noon EST, hosted by Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation. More info is available here.
Plus, In case you missed it, Christine has an excellent post this week about the future of writing and Davidson’s response to “Blogs vs. Term Papers” in The New York Times. And for even more, you can read our Q&A with Davidson here.
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