Digital Inclusion

I’ve got a mental stack of blog posts piling up on a bunch of seemingly random though thinly connected topics on NECC, the environment, note taking with Evernote, my kids’ schooling, the death of RSS and other stuff which I’ll hopefully get to at some point here, but this morning I read a couple of things that seem more interesting, to me at least.

Dean’s reflection post on NECC drew a whole bunch of great comments, but the one that made me really think hard was by Ira Socol who wrote:

So, it is not a question of whether these technologies add value somehow to education, but the reverse, can education add value to the communications and information technologies of our present day world, and its future?

That’s one of those really concise shift statements that makes me bend my own frame a bit. I think too often I fall into looking at these tools and wonder what they can add to our classrooms and our teaching when the real question is how can our classrooms and teaching add capacity to the tools. As he points out, we reframed education with the advent of the book; we need to reframe it once again with the advent of a networked, inter-connected medium that creates incredible new affordances for learning. He writes:

It is the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists.

Amen. Arguably, there is a great deal about the current system which has lost its value as compared to what is possible for those who are passionate learners with a connection. (More about that connection piece in a bit.) I mean grouping by geography and age are becoming less and less relevant, and while I’m not suggesting there isn’t a body of core knowledge all students should learn, the emphasis on what we know rather than how we learn it is becoming more and more frustrating to those who are already networked learners. As Ira Tweeted later:

Educators often think that school is the point, when it needs to be the path.

Part of being that path, however, is providing the access to our students that’s necessary for them to participate. Along those lines, I came across an interesting post from Renee Blodgett (via a Tweet from Howard Rheingold) who is writing about “Redefining Digital Inclusion.” The seminal question was “do those that enjoy the benefits of technology have a moral right over those who do not?” As Renee suggests, this isn’t a new thread, but the shift here is that the attitude of parents and teachers around this are just as important as the financial and logistical issues. Inclusion can no longer just be seen as having a device and a connection.

We need to redefine Digital Inclusion. The definition of digital inclusion today is basic access. It doesn’t include basic skills such as understanding some of the technology and social media schools to network and make friends not just locally for globally. It increases their job and life opportunities significantly. It’s time to move that definition beyond simple access. We need a new definition that policy makers, technology creators, parents, and educators can rally around. There will be a revolution when more and more students get their hands on some of these devices and start using them in the classroom.

While this is not a post on where the lever is, I’ve been arguing for a while now that not much of this is going to change until the stakeholders, in this case parents, take it upon themselves to demand something new. Something more relevant. But the only way that parents are going to DEMAND access is if they see that not simply as a way for kids to get a computer but to see connections online as a way to a better future, a way to help thier kids become more educated, better learners than by books and paper alone. Unfortunately, we’re losing the media war on this one right now. Feeling like a broken record, but we need to do a better job of making this case beyond our own still small, nascent network.

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