Digital Divide Assignment

This week I was put into a group and were given a problem to analyze, interpret and help solve. In my group’s scenario we were members of a Digital Inequality Task Force hired by our State Superintendent of Public Instruction at a particular State in the US (we chose KS). She was given a special allocation of $50M to address digital inequalities in the state, and she wanted the Task Force to consider options and offer suggestions as to how to address these inequalities throughout the State.

My role in this assignment was to work on the introductory and general information slides. I synthesized definitions and identified the disadvantaged segments of the population, outlined the importance of learning about the issue, and created a “skeleton” with simple slides to help provide some structure to our work.

This assignment has shown me both sides of working collaboratively. To me it started as somewhat of a frustration, but has quickly turned into a product of the power of many minds and bodies. I have learned a lot from this assignment, and will outline my thoughts below.

First, it seems appropriate to cite the definitions of both “collaboration” and “cooperation”:

col·lab·o·rat·ionto work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
co·op·er·a·tion: association of persons for common benefit
 (both definitions are from http://www.merriam-webster.com/) 

As I worked on this assignment it was obvious to me that in order to collaborate efficiently, mere cooperation would be insufficient, because one of the most important aspects of this assignment was complementing each of our group members’ time, strengths, and understanding.

Throughout this course I have been working ahead of schedule in order to ensure I do not fall behind. When arriving at this assignment, I suddenly had to cease progress and wait for the other members to be ready to work collaboratively. Although I did my best to read and research about Digital Inequality and the Digital Divide, I felt I was held back since I was to wait and collaboratively decide on a plan of action and the division of labor. However, once everyone joined and showed interest and proactivity, it was exciting to figure out a way to work together across oceans and time zones.

As we worked together on this assignment we utilized several collaborative tools, which proved to be effective in our endeavors:

  1. Survey Monkey- Upon deciding on the best way to meet online, a group member has created a survey.
  2. Google Drive (Presentation)- We collaborated on our presentation through Google’s equivalent of Powerpoint. The benefit of this tool was twofold- One, we could all have it open and update it as needed; and, two, I used the chat tool to consult and make decisions with the other members.
  3. EdTech’s Moodle (Discussion Forum)- Communicating through a discussion forum has made it possible for us to ensure everyone, including our facilitator, is aware of our communication. We posted questions, answers, new understandings, and informed each other of our progress. This is an excellent assessment tool as well!
  4. E-mail and Phone Call- Sometimes these two “traditional” methods of communication have their place in a collaborative assignment. Debating and making decisions orally, as well as sending long messages for our partner’s consideration took place in our collaborative effort.

Some of the common hinderances of collaboration were the individual members’ different understandings, effort, preferences, and personal circumstances. Although we experienced all four of the above, we were still able to complete the assignment in a professional manner, and have turned in a good quality product. Questions were posed and answered; different members contributed at different stages of the assignment; we agreed to use KS as the State-under-question (which is inapplicable to my situation, but I saw the great picture); and members were compassionate and understanding of others’ personal issues as they arose. The assignment was constructed organically, each of us chose the part we wanted to work on, and with a “late arriver” joining in, putting it all together, and preparing the slides and notes for submission and publication. Seamless.

Digital Inequality is here with us. The Digital Divide is especially noticeable and thought-provoking under my circumstances. I have made it a choice to live and teach in developing countries. Although I started in schools with more local population, I have now been teaching in international schools for a while. The socioeconomic gaps between my students and locals are a clear deterrent for the latter, as access to information, understanding of the importance of “the digital era”, and proper & appropriate use of technology, are clear and apparent. For every new smartphone bought by a local villager, a new way to utilize technology springs up (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Web_2.0_and_Emerging_Learning_Technologies/Digital_Divide). Will they ever “catch up”? I am not sure. Only the future will tell.

Applying my new understandings in my school/classroom is important. First, it is important for students (and adults) to think about this issue, especially in our local context. Secondly, getting others to understand that just because someone has a computer and Internet access it does not mean they utilize it correctly and appropriately. Computer Literacy is extremely important and with the rapidly changing technologies, we all must keep on top of them, but also remember that we can be a resource for others. Lastly, it would be a good idea to begin a discussion at my school about our relationships with local schools, and how we can rectify some of the issues addressed in the research (such as using computers for job preparation or job hunting) with the local population.

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This is my group’s presentation:

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