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Bridging the Digital Divide

Unconnected bridge above the Colorado River

A funny thing happened on my way to the Learn and Get Smarter Community meeting last Saturday: the electricity in my neighborhood went out.

Suddenly, instead of logging into the Zoom meeting ahead of time to to be graciously ready to greet the group, I found myself frantically scrambling to log in on my phone.

Logging in on the phone did not provide the same level of access and control that I’m used to having in Zoom meetings. I made another community member the co-host in case I got kicked out of the meeting again, and guess what, I did.

And this time I couldn’t get back on, because now I had no cached internet to show me the meeting ID and password.

(Lesson learned: write down the meeting ID and password of any meeting you’re in, on a piece of paper, in case this happens to you. Have redundant systems in place).

I was able to text a community member on the phone, and she sent me the credentials I needed to get back in to my own meeting.

After a while, the power whirred back on, and I was able to rejoin the meeting in the usual way. But this brief time of not having full access to the tools and resources that make our digital lives run smoothly, yielded many insights.

  • Keep everything charged up. I am thinking that phone and device chargers, including some solar powered ones, would make great holiday gifts for everyone this year.
  • Have redundant systems in place. Especially for those of us who are running online meetings as part of our businesses, think about how you would manage a Zoom class or client meeting if your power went out. Have more than one way to reach people. What’s your backup plan?
  • Create a strong community, and discuss how to handle this type of situation before it happens (and hopefully it never will).


Beyond the immediate practical lessons learned, though, is a much more sobering one. 

In a world where we are living, working, and learning increasingly online, what happens when people don’t have equal access to technology—not just for a few minutes on one day, but all day every day?


The term for unequal and inconsistent access to technology resources is
the 
“Digital Divide”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide:

“The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a US-based nonprofit organization, has found the term "digital divide" to be problematic, since there are a multiplicity of divides.

Instead, they chose to use the term "digital inclusion," providing a definition: Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

This includes 5 elements:

1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 

2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;

3) access to digital literacy training;

4) quality technical support;

5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration”.

What’s the solution? Digital inclusion and digital literacy:
https://www.digitalinclusion.org/definitions/

Learn more about digital inclusion here:

https://www.marconisociety.org/digital-inclusion

and digital literacy:
https://digitalcharlotte.org/digital-inclusion-and-digital-equity/

What can you and I, personally, do about this right now?


The first step is awareness of the issue.

Until I got thrown out of my own meeting due to a power failure, I had not experienced the profound difference in how it FEELS, to lack access to the digital platforms that are everyone’s main means of connection and interaction at this time. 

It was not a good feeling.

  • I felt helpless, frustrated, and powerless.
  • I couldn’t be the gracious hostess I expect to be, in my own community.
  • I couldn’t be a community leader, and if it hadn’t been for the prompt and kind response of my community members, I couldn’t have participated in the community at all.

I am a digitally literate, digitally included, digitally privileged person. The power outage only lasted a short time. I’m glad it happened though, because it showed me what it must be like for those with little to no digital access and/or skills, who are being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital space often against their wills.

Those of us who have been here on our own volition for a long time, and see living online as a good thing, have a role to play in helping those on the other side of this divide get online and gain greater levels of comfort and enjoyment in being there.

Sometimes the difference between a good and a bad online experience, comes down to having the right tools.

Accessing a Zoom meeting on an iphone is possible, but it’s not the full experience one has accessing the same meeting on a laptop. An old ipad may work, but can lead to poor user experience if it’s not up to speed accessing websites and apps.

We need to keep this in mind as we design our own courses.

How can we make our material as available and accessible as possible, for all our learners, regardless of the devices they are using and their levels of access to technology?

(Sometimes the only way to find out that learners are struggling with digital access issues, is to hear it from them when something doesn’t work…. which is why it’s critical to build continual feedback mechanisms into your course).

computer repair toolbox

From our perspective as online course designers,

 the call for “online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration” speaks volumes. 

Creating effective and engaging online learning material is not just a learning design issue.

 It’s a social equality issue.

I’ll explore this topic in more depth in future blog posts. 

In the meantime, is there someone in your sphere of influence

 who would benefit from greater levels of digital inclusion? 

And if so, what can you do to reach out and help them?


You are invited to continue the conversation in the Facebook group,

 and at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting next Saturday.

I hope you can join in and share your thoughts.


Come to the community meeting

Saturday, November 14th, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call