How schools can bridge the ‘digital divide’

by Brett Henebery08 Oct 2015

An OECD report released last month found that while Australian students are very frequent users of computer technology at school and at home, this has not translated into learning improvements.

While some schools such as Ormiston College in Brisbane and Melbourne Girls Grammar have seen improved grades since introducing computer-based technology in their classrooms, many others have seen little or no improvements at all.

As the report points out, there are significant differences in access to and use of ICT – collectively known as the "digital divide" – that are related to students’ socio-economic status, gender, geographic location, and the school a child attends.

Simon Webber, financial manager of Brighter Image – an Australian owned audio-visual products company – told The Educator that a big part of the problem for schools that target technology to learning outcomes is having “the right technology for the right age group”.

“This can be a very difficult area for schools to get right because there are so many options and educators are not ICT experts,” Webber told The Educator.

“Technology moves so quickly that what was standard a year ago might well be superseded tomorrow. Educators have to try and future-proof it where it can, but that’s not always possible in the world of technology.”

Webber said teachers should educate themselves “on a broader level” to see what is available and then implement what is working in other schools. This, he said, can address the knowledge gap and ensure they know about the latest in research and innovation.

“Websites like classthink.com are a good place to start. Ask yourself what it is you want, talk to an ICT expert and find out what the costs are and what is involved,” Webber said.

“What kind of set up you use will depend on the size of your school and what kind of budget you have. There isn’t usually a single solution, but sometimes a hybrid approach might be the best way to go.”

As for targeting the right device to the right age group, Webber said tablets tended to be better for younger students as they were “simpler” and provide a direct interface. He said older students tend to migrate to laptops or PCs because their assignments and interactions tend to be more text-based for the input.

“Other key factors are reliability, simplicity and speed, because equipment failure leads to downtime, and downtime means less learning time. You don’t want to have students waiting for downloads, or teachers busy trying to fix technology when they should be teaching,” Webber explained.

This is a point the OECD report outlined, cautioning that “technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching”.

Webber agreed.

“We live in the information age, and computer-based technology is the medium for that age. But just giving a student a computer won’t necessarily improve learning outcomes. You still need good teacher methodology working through that medium,” he said.

“It’s a matter of learning how to apply good education methods with the technology to get the best use out of it. It’s a case of not shooting the messenger, but like everything it is an evolutionary process and will come in time.”

Looking ahead, Webber envisions the formation of a more cohesive role for technology in schools as it continues to evolve. 

“The big players like Apple, Google and Microsoft want a stake in this market, and they are trying to write the standard as we’re already seeing with platforms like Chromebooks.

“These [platforms] have some inherent shortcomings at present, but eventually they will progress to become more of a complete solution, or if not, at least come part of an overall school strategy.”