Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
VHS, color, Four-part Series, 57 min. each
Jr. High - Adult
Reviewed by Charles J. Greenberg, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University
Digital Divide is a cleanly produced and articulated attempt to focus the attention of educators, parents, students, and business leaders on the emerging inequities of the high technology world. The inequities start in the earliest home and classroom settings and permeate society, up to and including long-term industrial workers only recently re-tooled for the computerized workplace. This four-part series (also available separately) consist of:
- Wired for What? The Dividends of Universal Access, which examines technology as enhancement or competition for traditional curriculum elements;
- Fair Play: Achieving Gender Equity in the Digital Age, which demonstrates and analyzes gender computer usage patterns and perceived inequities;
- Virtual Equality: The Information Revolution and the Inner City, which profiles community technology support when urban schools cannot meet student needs and desires; and
- Crossing the Divide: Creating a High-Tech Work Force, which presents student stories of genuine and false hope that computer access produces a guaranteed place for graduates in today's skill-competitive marketplace.
In Wired for What? The Dividends of Universal Access, all the hope and hype of universal digital access is on display, from the huckster atmosphere of an educational computing conference to technology magnet schools with impressive computer to student ratios. At the same time, a nice balance of evidence attempts to articulate whether technology in classrooms can be evaluated as an independent factor or even impedes, by inevitable fiscal competition, other basic early childhood learning experiences or academic disciplines. For instance, an early childhood educator effectively argues for the inability of keyboard or other devices to substitute for physical manipulation skills found in disappearing drama and dance curricula. Teachers, authors, and educational administrators share their experiences and opinions regarding the use of computers and Internet in lessons, including several personalized examples of trials and triumphs faced by teachers re-tooling for digital classrooms. Classroom, student, and teacher portraits are personalized and minimally intrusive, which lends a sense of authentic struggle.
Fair Play: Achieving Gender Equity in the Digital Age takes place in an Austin, Texas, middle school which is making an attempt to deliberately reform a whole set of inculcated teacher behaviors which serve the natural tendencies of boys and inhibit the adolescent accomplishments of girls. Are computers a gender equalizer or an agent making a wider problem even more entrenched? The program effectively demonstrates examples of authentic male classroom aggression with or without computers, yet shows teachers attempting to train themselves to be vigilant for countering gender-aggressive male behaviors. Expert opinions and founders of girl-friendly web sites describe their own perspectives and motivations for viewing universal computer access as an asset to provide intellectual and emotional support for young women in new ways.
Virtual Equality: The Information Revolution and the Inner City offers a reality check on political pontificating of technological antidotes by giving a clear first-hand account of the urban children in an uphill struggle to penetrate the invisible wall of lowered expectations and poverty. Out of a muddy swamp of blame, excuse, and bureaucratic non-accountability, computers in schools may nevertheless be the only place a student will encounter a computer at all. In the overwhelming competition for a minimal number of school-based computers and the difficulties of maintenance, community-based technology activists and organizations have found fertile soil to launch non-school technology centers. The program also articulates the prevalence of video games and skill drill-oriented software in inner city schools and the lack of educational software introducing higher-level thinking skills. Some expert comments are also included to indicate that the drive toward technological competency is often on a pedestal above the chronic need for basic literacy in most inner city settings.
Crossing the Divide: Creating a High-Tech Work Force presents three contemporary secondary schools seeking to maximize the leverage of their graduates into the high technology workplace, either directly or with a decided advantage in college preparation. The stories of the fortunes of four young people seeking to graduate high school provide the central drama. Every story is compelling and might form the basis of a television series. For instance: the disadvantaged girl that saved her fast-food job salary for two years to buy her own computer, only to have the long work hours take their toll and delay her graduation; the son of the Cambodian immigrant doughnut shop owners who not only learns English and programming but also becomes his high school's student of the year. The world of technology work is competitive, and a set of skills is not always the winning ticket. Proficiency, critical thinking, and teamwork is the focus of these high technology schools, but viewers are reminded that these same schools have no formal place for athletics, print libraries, or art in the new curriculum. Expert opinions present issues such as the school-to-work movement and universal Internet access.
Because technology literacy issues encompass diverse and even extreme opinions, the producers have elected to focus on a tight set of human portraits in each program, such as individual students, schools, families, and employers, which even in their selectivity introduce the most thought-provoking or controversial issues. The expert opinions from well-known advocates and political personalities add a bit of salt and pepper to these personal and often poignant stories. Produced for broadcast, Digital Divide as a videotape series can certainly be used in classroom and in-house teacher training to reduce the anxiety and raise the interest in the integration of computer technology into the contemporary elementary and secondary curriculum.