Digital Divide


A news release came out from the Justice Department  on January the 13th regarding e-readers and their use in university classrooms.

This is an excerpt: “Under the agreements reached today, the universities generally will not purchase, recommend or promote use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless the devices are fully accessible to students who are blind and have low vision. The universities agree that if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. The agreements that the Justice Department reached with these universities extend beyond the Kindle DX to any dedicated electronic reading device.”

I think this is a good thing. Like all electronic items (e.g. e-books, screencasts) provided by educational institutions we must remember those who are not fully “abled” so they can have a fair chance at the same educational opportunities being provided to the rest of the students. But it does give me pause. An e-reader is an electronic way to read a book, how good have we really been at providing physical books to those who have poor vision. Large print library books are rarely, if ever, found at the K-16 levels. I vividly remember the hoops I had to jump through to get large print textbooks for students in the K-12 system for the few that needed them.

Perhaps the switch to e-readers, slow as it will be, brings some of the best opportunities yet for access to those who have visual difficulties.

Picture Credit

Advertisements

Popular Library

I have written previously about the studies that have been done regarding a well-staffed and funded school library raising achievement . That was in my response to Governor Schwarzennegar’s call to change all textbooks to an electronic format. Now an administrator at a school in Boston has decided that paper books are absolutely unnecessary.

This reminds of the “heated debates” I used to have with a technology teacher in the mid 90’s who fought against teaching students keyboarding because we would all be using speech-to-text technology within the next few years. We see how well that prediction panned out.

As an academic librarian I see students all day who can not write and have no clue how to start a research paper. We know that the more you read the better writer you become. We know that the more you read in sustained periods the easier it is to work for sustained periods. And we know that when reading is electronic, particularly off of our laptops, that have constant visual updates and reminders we do not read for sustained periods of time, we attempt to multitask. We know there is still a digital divide.  We know that students and schools (including the one in this article) can not afford enough e-readers to supply their students. We know that e-readers are relatively fragile (the polar opposite of anything you want to give a child). We know that strong school libraries have high book check-out numbers and higher test scores than the norm. But who needs facts, right? Out with the proven and in with the shiny shiny.

They will be sorry. In the meantime I am sorry for them and mourn the loss of learning for their students.

digital divide eyeTimes are tough all over and it seems difficult decisions are being made wherever people are employed. Our colleges are no different. The Orlando Sentinel recently wrote a column regarding an all too common problem these days   Valencia Community College expects to turn away between 3,000 – 5,000 students in the Fall due to lack of funding. So let us look at the students who are fortunate enough to score a spot in college. Chances are they have less means than they have had in the past, chances are they are cutting back like the rest of us.

What is the University of Virginia’s answer? Closing their computer labs within two years they plan to have closed down the majority of their public computer labs. They state that 99% of their incoming students come to the campus with laptops and therefore have no need for the lab. Surely this will be a cost saving measure. True, their mission statement says nothing about equal access to necessary resources but I wonder how this will effect the students who cannot afford the software necessary for some classes or need better connectivity on campus than the wireless system or whatever if they would simply like to print a Word document? And what do the poor kids do? I’d like to know if the 99% of incoming freshman are all full time or if they took into account the part time students who traditionally have even less resources. Suffice it to say I am irked by the University of Virginia’s decision and hope that this trend does not catch fire. I can see pairing down ones labs if the numbers show that less people are coming in (which is not the case at University of Virginia ) but to get rid of them! I can get behind a requirement for every student in college having to own a laptop, it is much like a textbook these days. However students can only afford so much laptop and they can’t always keep up.

Perhaps it’s my community college view that has me so saddened by this news. We try so hard here to make available to our students the tools they need to succeed. We would like to think that if a student fails here it is not due to a lack of assistance whether it be technological or tutorial. Am I so out of touch?

Picture Credit