The new "digital divide": integrating tech into teaching

The new "digital divide": integrating tech into teaching

The possibilities of online learning

Online learning is seen, by many, as a pathway to improving educational productivity by increasing the effectiveness of programs, reducing the overall costs, and broadening access to a wider range of audiences (U.S. Department of Education 2012). Similarly, blended learning programs are formal educational programs that utilize some online learning components.

The West Virginia Virtual School’s seventh- and eighth- grade Spanish course is a great example of a successful blended online learning program. This course is taught remotely to students that attend schools in remote areas without access to qualified Spanish teachers. While the students partake in the course, a classroom facilitator is present to guide the students and ensure that they stay on track and on task. A three-year evaluation study found that these students did as well as those in traditional classrooms on written and oral tests (U.S. Department of Education 2012b).

So why haven't more schools used online and tech tools to teach better?

The new digital divide

The term "digital divide" has been used to refer to the disparity of technological literacy between high- and low- income individuals. This divide is very apparent when comparing schools in rich and poor neighborhoods.

When the term was coined, it was assumed that its root cause was a lack of physical access to computers in low-income regions. This may have been the case a decade or so ago, but today access to computers in the United States is increasing across the board. However, this hasn’t eliminated the digital divide (Lawless and Pellegrino 2007).

Now the divide is between classrooms and schools where technology is well integrated into the curriculum, and those where it isn't.  Although providing physical access to computers is the first step towards a solution, more work is needed. Effective integration of technology into the classroom and adequate teacher training are two major issues that still need attention.

In today’s classroom, students are often more technologically adept than their teachers. However, technological adeptness is not synonymous with technological literacy. Proficiency with social networking tools, instant messaging, and the like does not imply critical technological literacy skills. This illustrates that the problem does not come down to an issue of access, but rather to the effective use of technology in school curriculums (Vie 2008).

Properly training teachers to integrate technology into the classroom is of the utmost importance, it is also a necessary step for overcoming the digital divide. Professional development programs can provide teachers with the skills and confidence necessary to employ technology in the classroom.

Teacher professional development programs

Some of the largest barriers to the implementation of technology in the classroom include a lack of resources:

  • time, on part of the teachers, to develop new curricula
  • technical support for the teachers
  • technological and technologically-supported pedagogy skills, on part of the teachers (Hew and Brush 2006).

Having a shared vision of teaching and learning with technology, together with a technology integration plan, could help to overcome these barriers. Professional development programs can provide teachers with the skills and confidence necessary to employ technology in the classroom.

The skills required to use online tools can be daunting for teachers who haven't been trained in their use:

  • setting up course management systems
  • designing homework assignments and projects that require the use of online programs and/or coding
  • helping students develop online research skills
  • implementing technology such as electronic handheld clickers into the classroom
  • and more.

Professional development programs can help guide teachers in developing this portion of their curriculum, and connect them with other teachers working on similar tasks and/or teachers who have extensive knowledge of technology and its use in the classroom.

However, it is important to note that not all professional development programs are the same. As Lawless and Pellegrino (2007) discuss in their literature review of professional development programs, the traditional approach to technology-based professional development, which focuses mostly on training teachers how to operate technologies rather than how to integrate technologies into curriculum, has proved rather ineffective. This shows there is a pressing need for an increased quantity of effective training programs.

What's your experience using tech tools in your teaching?

Mandy McLean earned an M.S. in Environmental Earth System Science and now teaches high-school science.

See Also

The Stanford office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL) provides a great deal of support to faculty interested in pursuing any form of online teaching. Whether a faculty member is interested in adding an online component to their existing Stanford course or creating a new online public course, VPOL offers assistance with course development and implementation.


Hew, Khe Foon, and Thomas Brush. 2006. “Integrating Technology into K-12 Teaching and Learning: Current Knowledge Gaps and Recommendations for Future Research.” Educational Technology Research and Development 55 (3) (December 5): 223–252. doi:10.1007/s11423-006-9022-5.

Lawless, Kimberly A., and James W. Pellegrino. 2007. “Professional Development in Integrating Technology Into Teaching and Learning: Knowns, Unknowns, and Ways to Pursue Better Questions and Answers.” Review of Educational Research 77 (4) (December 1): 575–614. doi:10.3102/0034654307309921.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. 2012. “Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics: An Issue Brief”. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. 2012b. “Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity”. Washington, D.C.

Vie, Stephanie. 2008. “Digital Divide 2.0: ‘Generation M’ and Online Social Networking Sites in the Composition Classroom.” Computers and Composition 25 (1) (January): 9–23. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2007.09.004.