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education's digital future

Apr 23: Public forum — can we move beyond digital divides and educational inequalities?

Major attention is being devoted to issues of digital divides and educational inequalities as nations and states design and implement strategies for K-12 technology-enhanced learning in an increasingly networked world. What approaches to tackling these issues are being attempted in the United States and around the globe, and what is being learned about what happens 'on the ground' when such strategies are implemented?

Panelists: Mark Warschauer (UC Irvine) and Wayne Grant (Intel).

Mark Warschauer
Mark Warschauer (UC Irvine)
Wayne Grant
Wayne Grant (Intel)

Mark Warschauer is Professor of Education and Informatics, Associate Dean of the School of Education, and director of the Digital Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine. Professor Warschauer’s research focuses on the intersection of new technology use with educational reform, language and literacy development, and educational equity. His books include Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide (MIT Press), Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom (Teachers College Press), and, most recently, Learning in the Cloud, How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Media (Teachers College Press).

Dr. Wayne Grant is the Director of Research and Planning for the Education Market Platforms Group at Intel Corporation, where he leads a team of ethnographers and other social scientists, designers and architects to define technology platforms for the education market. One of these solutions is the Intel-powered classmate PC, designed for elementary school students based on years of ethnographic research around the world. Prior to joining Intel, Dr. Grant was the Chief Education Officer at PASCO. He was President and founder of ImagiWorks, VP of Educational Products at Knowledge Revolution, Principal Scientist at SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning, and Senior Scientist with Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT). Dr. Grant received his PhD in Science Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education in 1993.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 5:00pm to 7:15pm
101 CERAS Learning Hall
What happened in class: 

After a brief welcome from Roy, Intel's Wayne Grant introduced himself as having traveled more than a million miles to understand and remediate digital divides. As a user-experience researcher for Intel, he helps them to not just distribute existing technology, but to customize it for local needs. Wayne pointed out that computers are no longer an ancillary tool, they are a key medium within which one lives and works. Robots and artificial intelligence are taking over for routine physical and cognitive skills, emphasizing the importance of education for non-routine skills that involve digital tools. There has been a resulting groundswell of government and tech-company investment in education and tools for skilled workers. But politicians are often incentivized to distribute large numbers of computers for public approval without including the costly but crucial software, support, and internet infrastructure. Ultimately, the near future is looking like an unevenly distributed mixture of high- and low-tech. Wayne argued that the digital divide might be in some ways "inevitable" because of exponential improvements of technology that are distributed gradually.

UC Irvine's Mark Warschauer then took the stage to discuss some qualities of successful programs for reducing digital divides in America. He began by noting that digital divides are aligned more along income and education gaps than race gaps. He also echoed Wayne's citation of research by Levy and Murnane on the economic value of non-routine cognitive skill. So are existing tech-distribution programs cultivating these skills? Mark described a pilot of the "One Laptop Per Child" program in Birmingham, Alabama, that rapidly failed due to a lack of repair support. Learners in Birmingham spent less time engaged in non-routine cognitive skills with technology after the program than before. However, this is not the norm: Mark and his colleagues have generally found consitent positive effects of tech-distribution programs on non-routine cognitive skills and academic learning outcomes. How does this happen? In his view, four key factors are Content, Composition, Construction, and Community. Students can get content online for cheap, and it can be represented in ways that support learners and decrease divides. Composition, specifically persuasive writing, is critically important for knowledge economy. Most of the best laptop programs are paired with writing curricula to close divides. Community is not achieved simply by putting people online, but by active attempts by teachers to support students in collective meaningful online dialogue. Finally, Construction activities offered through programs like Scratch can support sophisticated thinking, literacy development, and unique epistemological approaches to learning. Mark ultimately agreed with Wayne that programs to reduce digital divides depend not just on access to tech, but also on skilled support.

The panel concluded with a Q&A session. Roy began by asking how teachers might better understand the skills that students need to succeed. Mark responded with optimism that better assessments will help guide educational enterprises, including teachers, towards more important competencies. A question about the role of entrepreneurs was taken up by Wayne, who responded that interfacing with entrepreneurs was critical to his job. Big players like Intel need to offer ways to collaborate with local entrepreneurs in order to meet local needs. In response to a question about the importance of teachers, Mark and Wayne agreed that high-quality teachers are indisputably essential, and that good teaching has some surprising similarities across cultures. Teachers looking for professional development should engage with the literature on "technological pedagogical content knowledge". Finally, another audience member brought up the issue of parent participation. Mark noted that most of the best tech-distribution programs involve parent engagement and support in some way. Roy echoed this point, noting that Sesame orkshop research demonstrated the importance of parent-child active co-viewing.


Hargittai, E. (2008). The digital reproduction of inequality. In D. Grusky, (Ed.), Social stratification: Class, race, and gender in sociological perspective. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of equity in access, use, and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(179), 179-225.