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Essays

Conquering Digital Inequalities with Literacy & Readiness


Written by  Krysta Lynn Ryan                                                                        Ashford University

GEN499: General Education Capstone (GSV1723G)


Introduction


Our civilization has been developing communication technologies for over a hundred years and for today’s societies the connectivity available through modern technologies such as computers, smartphones, and the internet has fundamentally changed humanity.  Our civilizations current place in history has been referred to as the Information or Digital Age.  In other words, humanity has seen the transition of how data, ideas, and information, is and will be, stored and transmitted. As well as the changing reasons and purposes humans use the internet and socialize within cyberspace.

The internet developed from a small academic curiosity to a popular institution in the 1990s and like other socioeconomic problems, access to information and computer technologies (ICT) has created a new problematic inequality, the digital divide. To solve this growing problem, this paper suggests adopting new literacy measurements to include; media literacy, computer literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, and technology literacy as part of our countries already established educational systems.

It has become increasingly difficult to identify a “one solution fits all” for solving the issues related to the digital divide because it is a complex problem with many causes.  One way to tackle the growing gaps of digital divide would be to revisit our educational system and evaluate the standards of the current core curriculum. In doing this we begin cultivating a digital world in which future generations are mandated to learn newer, more modern literacies that reflect the changing times. Acquiring the skills associated with digital literacy enables individuals to bridge gaps in engagement and participation (Kady and Vadeboncoeur, 2017).  This would require policy-makers, educators, and communities to engage in the usage of information technologies in ways that allow for digital literacies to naturally become part of the learning agenda.

By adding courses geared towards our computerized society, students will gain a better understanding of the world and hopefully use the information and digital technologies in the most effective ways. In this capacity and when considering the varying demographics that classify internet users, for the most part, training on how to use ICT’s and digital media rarely are taught on an academic level.  Moreover, social media outlets have millions of engaged users who may or may not be equipped with the literacy skills digital navigate the internet. Technology has enabled us to communicate with each other digitally, creating a connectivity that has had wide-reaching effects on all facets of humanity.


Societal Problem: The Digital Divide


Today many Americans feel undoubtedly frustrated with the continued inequalities that still divide humanity and because of globalization societies are no longer isolated. Traditionally, the digital divide was used to describe the gap between people with and people without access to information and computer technologies. The digital divide is a multifaceted issue that is not just limited to previously defined haves and have nots. Besides having ICT’s and accessible internet access, there are other determining factors that define today’s status of the digital divide, which involves cognitive function and socialization skills needed to use cyberspace appropriately.

There is a diverse range of valuable benefits to using computerized technologies, however, for the past decade, the digital divide has become a visible societal issue in many areas of the United States.  This digital phenomenon has cultivated a new cyber-society, with an infinite spectrum of multicultural ideologies and positions.

American life has become dependent on computerized technologies that require a level of skill and readiness that our current population has struggled to learn in the current educational curriculum. Conceptualizations of the digital divide have been described as “who, with which characteristics, connects how to what” (Hilbert, 2011). In other words, research has focused on identifying who is getting on-line and using digital technologies, recognizing characteristics of the users and categorizing people into various groups, how users are connecting to the web and which types of technologies are used to access the internet, and how users interact with the digital world and for what purposes or uses.

Many experts and scholars from specialized fields of thought academic study have recently begun to dissect the digital divide, in hopes to understand better the underlying problems we are facing in relation to technology. The persistent progression of digital innovations requires people to constantly be learning and adapting to the changing computerized systems of the era.

As time progresses the internet and ICT usages, as a type of culture will have variable meanings and uses for different communities, a perspective that makes educational uses of technology a more complex, but ultimately more vibrant, undertaking (Thorne, 2008).The information and technology industries are constantly developing the “next best thing” and for that reason, the technology era allows for an infinite path of learning, as each new device of technology requires us to learn new skills.


Proposed Solution


Finding a solution to the stigmatized causes of the digital divide will be difficult because it is part of a larger socioeconomic problem. Addressing the issue requires a new educational curriculum that includes core competencies and literacies necessary to function in the digital world. Literacy is a traditional concept that was intended to describe a person’s ability to read, write and do arithmetic. Those three main skills have shaped our current educational system for decades and have been the fundamental measurement determining a person’s level of literacy. The original measurements of literacy are outdated include other competencies or knowledge suitable for our computerized world.

Literacy and the act of learning itself have become mediated by technology and is being redefined by the innovative technologies in our everyday lives (Littlejohn, Beetham, Mcgill, and 2012).  Changing the educational system to include modern literacy measurements will help to lessen the digital divide. The five literacies or competencies; media literacy, computer literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, and technology literacy should be adopted by the educational curriculum to combat the digital divide.


Modern Day Literacies-Five Additional Measurements


Media Literacy

Media literacy generally teaches individuals how to critically examine messages, from the perspective of a media consumer. These skills help in providing techniques for identifying what messages mean, who the creators are and for what purposes the media is intended for. Understanding how to interpret messages from media outlets is important because there are often hidden media agendas or rhetoric meant to persuade the consumer.

The consumption of media, as varied as e-mail, television, and the internet is increasing as our society becomes more digitally dependent on the media to function in our world.  In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960 and therefore mediated information is constantly shifting our attention (Richtel, 2010).  Although digital literacy is more about enabling youth to participate in digital media in wise, safe and ethical ways. The role of media in people’s socialization process seems crucial in today’s increasingly heterogeneous American society (Fujioka and Neuendorf, 2015). Constructing a digital identity and communicating via the web has changed the world’s communication practices.

Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is also related to media consumption because it requires an individual to cognitively process information in the digital arena with sound moral judgment. This includes responding and communication ethically and being aware of the appropriate emotional response when using digital communications and having a cultural appreciation of media content as well as the basic functional skills (Buckingham, 2010). This literacy has become even more critical due to the development and heavy influence of social media usage, which has become a gathering place for cyber societies. The debate around digital literacy offers the opportunity to redefine and reassert the ‘academy’s’ special relationship to knowledge in society (Littlejohn, et al., 2012).

Computer Literacy

Computer literacies are skills that focus on procedural computer-related knowledge, familiarity of computer- related applications and the functionalities of various computerized devices.  Van Dyke (1987) writes, presented, however, as a tool of exploration and discovery… computer literacy can develop in a new medium with the analytic aspects that have always been measured in other forms of literacy. Operating computerized technologies to find the users needed information is critical for functioning in our society. The ability for citizens to make informed decisions requires knowledge about the issues and the problems the world faces, which today can be found using digital computerized devices.

Information Literacy

The definition of information literacy suffers in clarity, as it often embodies other terminologies closely related to all fields of information sciences. Information literacy as a broader concept are skills used for information seeking or user information practices, which include the ability search for information effectively, and abilities to critically evaluate the sources of information.  Julien (2016) explains that information practices are socially and culturally situated, mediated, and constructed with the other people in their social and cultural matrix.

 Technology Literacy

Technology at is core meaning represents innovative techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services, with or through automated machines as a way to an accomplishment objective. Warschauer (2003) argues that technology must be considered within a specific context that should include hardware, software, support resources, infrastructure, as well as the people in various roles and relationships with one another will use elements of the system.

We must first consider how technology has drastically altered all aspects of human interaction on earth. The connectivity of vast cultures, each with their own set of societal standards, is in other words colliding on the web. Notably, beyond just operating technological tools, at the root of technology literacy, are the abilities to use those tools to solve unique problems, analyze information, and model complex ideas (Eugene, 2010). Understanding the mechanisms of technology gives us the skills to gain knowledge and do tasks efficiently with precision.


Evidence of Documented Solutions


There has been various research studies and collaborative reports from many academic fields, pinpointing different causes of the digital divide. By investigating patterns Dixon, Correa, Straubhaar, Covarrubias, Garber, Spence and Rojas (2014), collected data over the ten-year period and examines the gender dynamics influencing that digital divide. The statistics show that digital gaps exacerbate existing inequalities between social groups because new technologies provide opportunities to access information, a necessary tool for participating in a democratic society.

The authors write, “perceiving technology as a gendered space illuminates the ways women and men are socialized to develop different relationships with technology from childhood, at home and school.” (Dixon et al., 2014).

By identifying the structural influences built into our current socialization processes, it helps to understand how specific genders use specific ICTs and other digital innovations which can help in developing a modernized curriculum. Using Austin, Texas as a case study and by examined efficacy of implemented government programs meant to bring internet access to public places.

By identifying the structural influences built into our current socialization processes, it helps to understand how specific genders use specific ICTs and other digital innovations which can help in developing a modernized curriculum. Using Austin, Texas as a case study and by examined efficacy of implemented government programs meant to bring internet access to public places.

Designed to be a comparison, both in 1999 and 2009 Consistent to both time frames of analysis, for every two female users, there were three male users—60 percent male to 40 percent female in 1999 and 61 percent male to 39 percent female in 2009. Access issues have been addressed by governmental agencies in hopes of bringing reliable internet service to those facing digital poverty.

figure 1

 

Figure 1

 

In Figure 1, the report showed how the specific location a person lives, largely affects those populations who are already plagued with socioeconomic misfortune. For example, 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas do not have high-speed Internet and 66 percent of all Americans living within U.S. territories still do not have reliable access to information made available online.  In response to the growing gaps of digital inequality, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is waving a white flag in the long-running struggle over who controls, and who profits from, the movement of information on the internet. The attempted solution proposed by the FCC was to focus on core principles of net neutrality, which are; consumers are entitled to access the lawful

Internet content of their choice; consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

 

Put simply, governmental agencies are realizing the profound effect of not implementing rules and guidelines for accessing the world’s internet streams.  Trager, Russomanno, Ross, and Reynolds (2013) describes the FCC’s so-called net neutrality proposal is anything but neutral. This proposed idea will ultimately aid in digital inequality because it would allow private internet providers to create fast lanes for the privileged few and leave everyone else with extremely slow internet access.  The digital age has enabled a global connectivity that allows humans to communicate around the world, in ways like never.

Indeed, many governments in industrialized countries have been shifting focus on ways to solve the problems caused by the digital divide. The inevitability of increased computing societies places pressure on the government and federal agencies to adopt changes to how to manage the worldwide web and the skills needed to thrive. The Central Office of Information (1998) reported that many agencies have initiated ICT based programs which aim to ensure that their citizens do not get ‘left behind’ and can ‘win’ in the new global era.  Moving alongside telecommunications technologies our society has been introduced to a flood of new types of people and cultures, allowing a diversified user group to form, each entering cyberspace with varying levels of literacy skills. There are many components to the digital divide and new literacy programs must include emerging technologies and infrastructure systems (Warschauer, 2003). In other words, for the educational system to thrive and prepare the next generation of citizens, access to the internet is necessary to build on the five core literacies previously discussed.

Moving alongside telecommunications technologies our society has been introduced to a flood of new types of people and cultures, allowing a diversified user group to form, each entering cyberspace with varying levels of literacy skills. There are many components to the digital divide and new literacy programs must include emerging technologies and infrastructure systems (Warschauer, 2003). In other words, for the educational system to thrive and prepare the next generation of citizens, access to the internet is necessary to build on the five core literacies previously discussed.

The divide is driving action at the Federal level and members of the Federal Communications Commission are expected to vote on repurposing a two billion dollar a year phone subsidy program, known as Lifeline, which will include broadband services for low-income families (Kang, 2016). Affordable internet service is one way to help alleviate the growing gaps of digitally inequality among the lower income families it still does not address the issues related to digital readiness or the skills listed in the five above mentioned literacies. With lower for the lower income families across America with reliable connections by addressing the access issue, the government is opening the doors for more users, who are less likely to understand ICT’s and therefore will be entering cyberspace unprepared to effectively use and engage on the internet.

With lower for the lower income families across America with reliable connections by addressing the access issue, the government is opening the doors for more users, who are less likely to understand ICT’s and therefore will be entering cyberspace unprepared to effectively use and engage on the internet.

Many scholars, educators, and experts agree that academic structures that foster ICT literacies will indeed prepare future generations, which will help to eliminate the growing digital divide.  Servon (2002) writes, there is a connection between skills and education, that is educational training leads to the development of skills. The notion that today a person can learn all the benefits of ICT’s and digitalized media on their own, with proper equipment and internet capabilities is farfetched considering the built-in inequalities of the world.


Ethical Outcomes of Solution


Cultivating an ethical group of digital citizens is incredibly important because of the increased ambiguous communication via digital technologies. At the surface, ethical behaviors are determined to be right or wrong by other members of society and the actions made by individuals ultimately help them integrate into the social environments with like-minded people.   The digital divide is another issue that manifested alongside already established inequalities and for the people affected, it limits access to trade opportunities, the ability to further their education, tools to locate advanced job offers, access to speedy healthcare information, and the resources for finding public aid and other social service programs.  A person’s own interpretation of social standards such as what constitutes good or bad, right or wrong, is often assessed using measures of moral and ethical reasoning.

The digital divide is another issue that manifested alongside already established inequalities and for the people affected, it limits access to trade opportunities, the ability to further their education, tools to locate advanced job offers, access to speedy healthcare information, and the resources for finding public aid and other social service programs.  A person’s own interpretation of social standards such as what constitutes good or bad, right or wrong, is often assessed using measures of moral and ethical reasoning.

Without the necessary technical skills, income to purchase computerized technologies and reliable internet access, many of the people excluded from the internet and cyberspace will fail to benefit from the advantages of innovation. There are large numbers of people – in socioeconomic distress, typically the poor, the elderly, the undereducated, and other minorities where cyberspace and access to digital technologies are often out of reach and in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar social environment.

The internet has allowed for rapid growth in the communication technologies that expose users to diversified groups of people, which means messages online must be understood from the perspective of culturalism. Culturalism is an ideology which emphasizes the role of culture, by examining people’s social behaviors, cultural traditions, beliefs and other practices of the civilization.  In other words, users from different cultures must be aware of the sensitives and differences of others while engaging with each in the digital world.

The progression of globalization has made the world seem smaller, in the sense that, the citizens of the globe are engaging so rapidly, and because of cultural differences messages can be misinterpreted or read in the wrong context.

Rogers (2016) explains that we live in an age where information and computing technologies (ICT) are a primary means of production. Adopting skills in ICT’s to produce, consume and share digital remains instrumental in boosting an individual’s social position and personal capital.  In other words, the engagement on the internet and use of computers and digital technologies has become a required skill to succeed in the increasingly connected world.

Warf (2013) suggests that the role of the public-school systems and libraries are mechanisms to alleviate the divide.  Preparing users at an early age how to navigate the world-wide-web and utilize various computerized technologies is important to ensure we are cultivating a society prepared for the next digital innovation.

The Pew Research Center has been a leader in the research industry with an ongoing and extensive collection of data on a wide variety of topics. As aforementioned, building a curriculum with a focus on the five literacies previously discussed would mandate school children to master skills needed to bridge the gaps in the digital divide. Once implemented, as time progresses each generation learning ICT readiness, will fill in gaps where many digital inequalities exist.

figure 2
Figure 2

In Figure 2, released by The Pew Research Center (2012) as part of the American Life Project Online Survey of Teachers, 54 percent of students have access to sufficient digital tools while in school, whereas only 18 percent of students have access to digital technologies at home.  This reinforces the idea that information and computer technologies, and digital media would be best taught in a school environment, where the needed tools and devices are readily available.

Literacy concepts have never been a context-free or neutral skill, but rather the mastery of many processes that culture and society have considered necessary to function in the world. Several theorists have argued that learners are responding to the new technical and social opportunities with little help from the formal education system and because of this restructuring the academic curriculum at a national level is unnecessary, costly and a waste of time.

Conclusion

Although efforts have been made in eliminating some digital inequalities, understanding the underlying complexities that cause the digital divide will require years of research, and therefore remains a highly debatable topic. For now, information, which is true, correct, and accurate remains the lifeblood of our democratic society (Jacquette, 2007). Our world has developed technologies and innovation with rapid momentum and if ICT’s continue to progress, without a proper literacy curriculum to prepare future users, there will always be a digital divide.

The realization that our nation’s socialization processes are traditionally conducted in an academic environment, with groups of our peers, at a critical stage in our cognitive development is important for validating my argument for an academic curriculum that includes advanced digital literacies involving the technological aspects causing the digital divide. Modern technologies are necessary for functioning in today’s computerized world and requires new literacies, with a curriculum that has built-in measurements to gauge the readiness of students and to bridge the gaps of the digital divide.


References


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