Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Future of Educational Technology 1: The Digital Divide

This will be the first in a series of articles I’m planning to post over the next few weeks on the topic of the future of learning technologies.

In this series I’m going to look at some trends and developments in a range of technologies and try to see how they relate to each other and how they might impact on education over the the next few years.


One of the first things I would like to focus on is the digital divide and what I believe is the ‘myth’ that technology is expensive.

Firstly, I would like to state that the digital divide hasn’t been created by technology, but by economics. It’s a financial divide that has been around for thousands of years and one that thousands of years of paper education hasn’t been able to bridge.

Here is some thing that I feel puts this in perspective though.

Past
I first bought a computer in 1997. It cost almost £2,500. It was one of the first computers with an MMX chip which meant that, as well as connecting to the Internet (by unplugging my phone and connecting the cable to my computer) at a staggering 32k, if I waited long enough I could actually download and play extremely tiny and blurry video clips. When I paid extra (quite a lot extra) for some software I was able to create text and spread sheets and if I bought some more software I could edit images and make some pictures. This computer had the same storage capacity on the hard drive as that of all the computers in the UK in 1975 put together.

Present
Ten years later in 2007 I bought an iPod Touch. It had ten times the capacity of the computer I had paid £2,500 for so that’s ten times the capacity of all the computers in the UK in 1975 combined. It fits in my pocket, connects to the Internet through wireless broadband, I can stream and watch high quality video, audio, read and create text, download literally thousands of small applications to modify the tasks it can do for me from using it as a recording studio to drum machine to games console and it cost me well below 10% of what I paid for the computer ten years earlier.


Future
If this rate of development remains consistent that means that by 2017 for around £20 I will be able to by some form of portable device that will have 100 times the capacity of all the computers in the UK in 1975 put together, carry it in my pocket, if I need to carry it at all, be able to access the biggest library of books, audio and video ever assembled in the history of humankind and create who knows what on it.
Photo credit: Scott Beale - Laughing Squid
The educational potential of such a device at that price is truly astounding, especially when you put that in perspective against the price of books. That’s approximately the same price as just one students’ text book at today’s prices.

Often when I do talks or training on technology I get at least one teacher saying something about the digital divide, as if that were a good reason for not using technology in education (We’ll be making the digital divide bigger if we do!).

This has the same logic as refusing to give your students food because some people in the world are starving! Surely what we really want is to feed everyone and to educate everyone and perhaps for the first time technology is taking us to a place where that might just be possible. Personally, I’m looking forward to 2017.

In the next post in this series I'll be looking at the humble web cam and its possible role in the future of technology.

Related links
Best

Nik Peachey

11 comments:

Teacher Greg said...

Nik, I agree, the costs have been coming down, though your 2017 prediction may turn out to be somewhat bold.
From my observations there are still two major hurdles to make this a world-wide reality.

The first, is the reluctance of education authorities to take up applications beyond the mainstream in computer courses. Certainly, social media is censored in many schools, let alone considered a useful educational tool.

The second, and most difficult, is the ongoing economic divide between peoples. For example, in China alone, there is the equivalent of the population of the USA that live on less than $1 a day. Even the seemingly (to us) predicted price of a computer in 2017 at $20 would still be beyond their grasp. When you multiply this by the poor in every country around the world, there are huge numbers that will be left out in the cold.

Of course, this is further exacerbated by lack of access to reliable, high-speed Internet in many countries to fuel such applications.

So, without better informed educational institutions and without finding solutions to endemic poverty, the dreams of 2017 will remain just that.
Greg Quinlivan.

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Greg

It's a kind of catch 22 situation i know, that poor nations and people need education to lift themselves from poverty, but the need money to get that education.

Yes the predictions for 2017 are bold, but in terms of the technology, certainly doable. Add another 10 years onto that though with the same rate of development, that would take us to 2027 and computers costing £2.

That really does start to make a lot of things look possible for a country with the leadership and determination to bring about change.

Internet access is still a problem, but things are developing pretty rapidly in that area too with many developing countries leapfrogging the developed world especially in terms of access to Internet through mobile (quite common here in Morocco).

I'm really not saying all of this will happen, but I am saying it is possible if there is the will to make it happen.

As teachers I think we need to be ready to be part of the solution though, not the problem.

Best

Nik

Graham Davies said...

It's the economic divide that is the major obstacle. I have a hit counter on the home page of the ICT4LT website that tells me which countries my vistors come from:
http://www.ict4lt.org
China is quite high on the list of 181 countries, but visits from Africa are significantly absent or very low down on the list - apart from South Africa.

And, yes, many educational institutions block social networking sites. YouTube is blocked in many UK schools, and Facebook, Twitter, etc are also blocked. I even found one school in Birmingham that blocked Google!

Graham

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Graham

Yes I agree. Most of the problems and obstacles are PICNIC problems (problem in chair not in computer) rather than technological problems.

Increasingly though, I think price is going to become less of an obstacle and so less of an excuse for inaction.

Best

Nik

Graham Davies said...

The comms infrastructure is a major obstacle. Even in an advanced country like the UK we do not have 100% broadband access - although it is promised by 2012. My local connection is supposed to run at 8Mbps, but I rarely get more than 3.5Mbps (which is OK for most apps) due to the fact that I connect to a very slow, small local exchange.

Then there is the cost of using mobile devices. I have hesitated to buy an iPhone due to the monthly fee - more than I am prepared to pay as a retired teacher. If the fee comes down then I may have a rethink. I am one of those people who hunts down hotels with free wifi when I am travelling. Interestingly, the budget chains (e.g. Campanile in France) are more likely to offer free access than the up-market chains such as Holiday Inn.

Graham

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Graham

Interesting point about connectivity and particularly wireless.

I actually get by quite well on a 1mb broadband line. Like you though, when I'm in the UK I try to hunt out free wireless connectivity and I have to say that it is extremely difficult to find in the UK!

Much easier to find in other countries, especially as a freebie in hotels. The same is true with mobile access.

Part of the problem is that a lot of the companies providing these services are cashing in.

Again we come back to the PICNIC problems.

Best

Nik

Mercedes Viola said...

Hi everybody,
Technology has become more affordable. However, cost is still an obstacle. Most of teachers and people in general are unable to buy a 3G mobile device and unable to afford its monthly cost.
Here in Uruguay, South America, we are implementing the One Laptop per Child program and is very successful. This program gives kids and teachers access to technology. There are a lot of training programs going on in order to help teachers get used to it and take advantage of it.

Mercedes Viola
www.4d.edu.uy

Michelle said...

Interesting, when I think of the digital divide I now think of it in terms of who can use the new technology and who can't.

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Michelle

I certainly think there is a digital divide among teachers between those who can and cannot use technology. As for the rest of the world, I think there are still plenty of people and in fact the majority who have yet to touch any kind of Internet capable device.

It is changing rapidly though.

Best

Nik

Graham Davies said...

I agree with Michelle. I tend to think in terms of those people who perceive technology as a "normal" part of their lives (v. Stephen Bax 2003) and those who still perceive it as rocket science. I think the divide is increasing due to the rapid changes that take place every day. It's getting harder and harder to keep up with new developments. I have simply given up. I am very selective about new technologies that I choose to use - just bought an iPhone, though.

And, of course, Nik is right about the large numbers of people in the world who have not been touched by comms technology yet. Most people in the world do not own a telephone - landline or mobile.

Graham

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Graham

I think that certainly in our field of education, there is SO much happening and SO much change and there is a lot of pressure to keep up. On the positive side, as I'm sure you'll find from your iPhone, although the technology is moving fast it's also becoming much easier to use. Compare the iPhone and all it can do, to my phone from 6 years ago (which I still use - but don't really understand that well). the iPhone is a much simpler tool to discover, despite being so much more than my simple SMS and voice phone.

I think the key thing in terms of keeping up, is really knowing what is worth keeping up with, and what will genuinely enhance our lives and what we do and want to do.

Best

Nik