Ubiquitous Technology & Literacy Disconnect

How do these challenges and opportunities relate to activities across different areas of life - not only in formal educational institutions per se, but also to informal contexts and activities of learning?

Students of all ages are increasingly engaged in digital technology and new media within the 21st century. They are spending more time connected with technology than ever before, and ubiquitous technology is changing the way that youth around the world are socializing, playing, and researching.  It is not uncommon for a 15 year old to go home and update their MySpace page, followed by playing online games, or looking up the new trendy YouTube video. These forms of technology are often the topic of adolescent conversations as Youtube, blogs, e-magazines, Facebook, MySpace, iPhones, and iPods dominate the commercial and social networking market.

Some researchers refer to this phenomenon as ubiquitous technology.  Ubiquitous technology acknowledges the speedy adoption of day-to-day use of technology as a global phenomenon.  Ubiquitous technology is arguably the pinnacle of the growing global market, and therefore is seen as a necessary component of education.  This often takes shape within the classroom as ubiquitous computing. Ubiquitous computing in education is the act of teachers and students having access to technology (computing devices, the Internet, services) whenever and wherever they need it.   Mark Van 't Hooft and Karen Swan believe that, "In a world of ubiquitous computing, the technology is always accessible, and is not the focus of learning. Rather, faculty and students are active partners in the learning process, and they decide not only when technology is needed but also what to learn and how best to create new knowledge"(p.79-80, 2007).  This Utopian model is not always possible, and access issues are easily recognizeable.  Surely, in a perfect world education would be inclusive of the multimedia and digital tools that are becoming incorporative of the global workforce.

Traditional literacy activities may be disconnected from new media and new learning processes which students interact with outside of school.  With the increase in local diversity and global connectedness, traditional literacies are no longer fulfilling the needs of our local communities and schools. The new activities that students are participating in are becoming disconnected from what is conducted in the classroom; thus,  creating a gap in 21st century knowledge making.  It is absolutely essential that students are able to see that what they are learning inside of the classroom mirrors what they are seeing and participating in outside of school.  Furthermore, in many situations what was once private is now becoming public due to mass media culture, global commodity, and the rise in communication and information technology.  This has created "multilayered lifeworlds" where each of us are participants in a number of lifeworlds  that contain specific social terms, responsibilities and roles we must play.  Kalantis and Cope, of the New Learning project, argue that " In an era of ubiquitous technology there is a need for children to make sense of a multiplicity of communication channels, media types and technologies".  Schools play a direct role in how we prepare students for a world of ubiquitous technology, and a workforce of multiple identities.

Not everyone is in support of this fast forward to technology, and there have been different interpretations of the consequences with these rapid developments.  Nicholas Carr describes his interpretation of the Internet and information technologies as a sort sensory overload.  "My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."  He goes further to say that, "The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing".  Is this where education is headed?  Will the Internet play a more prevalent role than textbooks within the classroom?  The future lies in our hands.

Digital Divide and Access Issues

The digital divide is described as the gap between those who benefit from digital technology and those who do not.  This topic has been given much attention with the increasing adoption of various modes of technology.  As with many costly social, political and economic products and medians, the development of communication and information technologies (ICT's) has been constructed and adopted at unequal rates. Access to technology and digital activities has often been restricted along economic and geographic lines creating a digital divide both inside and outside of the classroom. 

The digital divide is widely acknowledged, but highly controversial.  The debate circles around the importance of and links between access to ICT's as well as access to what makes technology available- skills, time, lifelong learning, etc.  Access is therefore not only a technological issue, but there are in fact many definitions of what access means holistically.  The inequalities of gender, different learning styles, availability of time, and other social, economic and political issues are all important factors that directly affect how one will use the technology once they receive it.  You can walk a cow to water, but can't make him drink. Burbules describes this as the quality and quantity of access.

The complexities and constant growth of the digital divide are responsible for creating the current disagreements. One argument is that technology can and should take the lead in poverty and social issues. Supporters of this argument believe that once access to technology is acquired it can be used for knowledge, or what is referred to as intelligent access.  This argument states that the real issue is the benefits derived from access, rather than the technological factor.  Some even take it so far as linking the resolution to terrorism to closing the technological gap.   Furthermore, the 80/20 factor states that 80% of profit made by the ICT industry is derived from serving the 20% who are most affluent.  This further widens the digital divide because there is the adoption of direct marketing to the wealthy, while the poor are receiving low-quality and localized versions of products intended for the rich.  

The anti-terrorism, anti-poverty arguments pinpoint the importance of intelligent access, but the controversy lies in how to determine the answers to the following questions.

- What is intelligent access?

- How to use intelligent access?

- How to monitor proper use?

The solution to this problem is given as two prongs.

1. Businesses and governments work together to change the digital markets and create solutions that will be useful for all sub-populations

2. Improve health care and quality education to the poor in hopes of a higher percentage attaining intelligent access

There is a story that tells of a child in Cambodia who is given internet access and a computer, and chooses to use it for gaming.  This ends up diverting him from intelligent access, and keeping him from doing his schoolwork.  When the intentions may be lifelong learning, there is a lot of wiggle room for a backfire.  

Inversely, the competing argument believes that technology has amplified existing inequalities of school and society.  This argument places technology in the hands of those who are more economically endowed, and do not see access to technology as a precondition for removing poverty.  This argument also believes that we may be arming the very problems, we are aiming to curb-racism, violence, and crime.  The internet and widespread use of technology may allow for greater catastrophes with the speed at which negative actions are allowed to travel.  Other possible pitfalls of ubiquitous technology may also be a backfire in political correctness and the canon of great literature, proper grammar use, or how to ensure that different cultures, languages, and gender are not barriers to educational success.

It is true that what is meaningful and beneficial access to you, may be different than what I find useful or intelligent access to me, or the 50 year-old man next door; so monitoring the divide in quantifiable means is not completely tangible.  This argument is complex, and continues to be dissected and discussed as technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous.  This controversial digital divide has also affected multiliteracies.  Multiliteracies are also developed inequitably along access lines.  As the importance of technology and multimodalities become more prevalent in literacy education, the gap has come to surface.  As long as education inclusive of multiliteracies requires tools and access to technology, the gap will remain.  21st century education calls for literacy that continues to transform and grow with changes in society.   The progression of multiliteracies walks alongside access.  But then again, this brings us back to the question at hand-what is access?



Carr, Nicholas, 2008, Is Google Making us Stupid?, The Atlantic July/August, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google.

Digital Divide
2009,Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide>.

Digital Divide.org 2009, <www.digitaldivide.org>.

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., 2008, 'Multiliteracies', Kalantzis & Cope, <http://newlearningonline.com/learning-by-design/principles/>.

New London Group, 1996, A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review. 66(1), 1-30.

Van't Hooft, M. & Swan, K. (eds), 2007, Ubiquitous Computing in Education, Educourse Quarterly. Issue 2, 79-80.