The digital divide is preventing nearly one-in-five teens from completing their homework, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the digital divide refers to gap between those with and without access to computers and internet access.
“Roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 and whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6 percent of such households earning $75,000 or more a year,” said Pew researchers Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin.
Wait. I thought all teens had access to smartphones. We’ll get back to that in a second.
The digital divide has resulted into what’s now referred to as the “homework gap.” This gap was a serious problem for teens in some urban and rural districts in the early years of the internet, when high-speed access and technology hadn’t quite reached low-income homes.
Indeed, the gap can be an academic obstacle for teens without access to the fast, reliable technology at home. Students without access to computers can’t to do simple searches, have a harder time finding help with math problems, and have difficulties staying up-to-date with current research and definitions.
“Black teens, as well as those from lower-income households, are especially likely to face these school-related challenges as a result,” Anderson and Perrin said.
It’s surprising that there’s still a digital divide thanks to the abundant and near-constant access teens have to smartphones.
Consider this: A previous Pew study, also co-authored by Anderson, noted that 95 percent of teens have (or have access to) a smartphone.
While some teens report having trouble completing homework due to limited broadband and internet access, most of them are also carry around what amounts to a super computer in their hands. It’s not unreasonable then to assume that these same devices would be available to students in their homes.
Smartphones are mostly outlawed in schools, and for good reason. They’re a distraction. But so is worrying about having the right tools for completing assignments.
Perceptions of what smartphones can do for students at home and school must be changed, but for this we need teachers to step in.
Teachers who want to bridge the divide should encourage students to bring their phones to school, to use in class, and to complete homework.
Let’s start letting them use their devices to solve problems, not just to take and share selfies.
Learning how to download and use homework help apps, and strategies for doing mobile research, are essential next steps to closing the gap.
After all, learning how to solve homework problems on their smartphones now will set them up for solving real problems later in life.
To read the full report, go to pewresearch.org and search “digital divide.”
Online discussion boards were all the rage “back in my day.”
Yes, I know this sounds like old man Earnheardt, sitting on his social media front-porch rocking chair, reminiscing about the glory days of the internet.
But I actually uttered those words in class last week. “Back in my day.”
Truth is, discussion boards are alive and well. They’re just as relevant today as they were “back in my day.” They’re still a necessity for asking questions, sharing knowledge, and building community.
In the ’90s and early ’00s, webmasters built sites with pages upon pages of information. The only interactive features were discussion boards.
As a webmaster, these boards helped me build websites. Boundless discussions on coding, graphics and design, a novice developer could easily access text-based tutorials and expert strategies in a matter of a few clicks.
Yes, I’m referring to discussion boards in the past tense, as though they’ve gone the way of the dinosaur. But they’re still here, and some just look a little different.
Consider sites such as Reddit and Quora, discussion board-like platforms with social media features. These sites are perfect for engaging an eclectic audience of experts and newbies.
The problem with these boards today, however, is that the same netiquette problems that have corrupted social media have crept into our discussion board spaces.
Or was it the misuse of discussion boards that corrupted social media?
Anonymity. Trolling. Flaming. Bullying. These were all hallmark antisocial behaviors of a small group of discussion board participants long before social media arrived.
It’s easy to remember the netiquette problems we faced long before social media rolled around.
The solution might be in the most likely place: the classroom. Going back to school might be an easy fix for these types of behaviors, in all forms of online interaction.
As an educator, I use discussion boards all the time in face-to-face and online courses. They’re an education staple.
Post a question or thought-provoking statement and ask your students to respond. Then ask your students to respond to other students. It’s exciting to watch the conversations that ensue.
When I’m teaching a face-to-face course, it’s easy to bring those online conversations into the classroom for deeper discussions.
It’s in these classes that we talk about appropriate discussion board behavior. We talk about community-building dialog. They ask questions online while building meaningful conversations and weaving in nonverbal cues (e.g., smiley faces). They engage in banter that we don’t have time for in our regular class meetings.
My students will tell you that what makes someone want to engage in an online discussion are the feelings of inclusiveness and the sense that they’re being heard.
My students are doing what I hope we all find we want and need from discussion boards: to connect, to learn, and to build community.
We get a lot of email from people in the community with questions about social media.
“How do I [blank] on Facebook” or “Where can I find [blank] settings on Snapchat?”
It’s a laundry list of questions that usually involve changes to basic settings, and strategies for connecting with their friends, and sometimes, customers.
The answers we give are often followed with another question: “Do you have a student who can help?”
We teach social media courses at Youngstown State University. Those courses are part of a special track in our communication studies bachelor’s degree program.
As you might imagine, it’s a popular track. In fact, it’s now a sort of a destination program, attracting students from around the country who want to learn social media theory and applications.
Of course, we were teaching about social media before we started the track, but now we focus almost exclusively on preparing students for careers as social media designers and directors.
Our graduates are managing and curating social media accounts in all types of industries, from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofit organizations.
In response to the questions we get about social media and our students, we’ve gathered local experts and our students to launch a new series.
This spring, we’re excited to offer the first “YSU Social Media Essentials Brown Bag Series.”
Each session will feature a social media expert and focus on a specific platform. Sessions last 90 minutes. The first half will focus on platform basics and the second half on questions, giving attendees an opportunity to interact with each other and with our social media experts.
We’ll have students from our social media program on hand to answer questions and offer basic tips.
Here’s the schedule:
Feb. 5: Instagram. Jamie Jamison has an impressive following on Instagram. She’s an Instagram “influencer” and an instructor in our communication studies program. She also runs her own social media coaching business.
March 5: Twitter. Kati Hartwig, a graduate of our master’s program in professional communication, is coordinator of social media and digital marketing at YSU and an expert on all-things Twitter.
March 26: Facebook Live. Dennis Schiraldi, founder of DOYO Live, is one of our amazing social media instructors at YSU. Dennis has produced an endless stream of valuable Facebook Live videos on social media marketing.
April 30: Snapchat. Ryan McNicholas, assistant director of marketing for fitness and wellness in YSU’s campus recreation program, knows Snapchat. If you want to reach a millennial audience, Ryan will teach you the basics.
Each session begins at noon in YSU’s Kilcawley Student Center Ohio Room.
The series is free, but you must register via email at email@example.com.
“Hi... I actually got another friend request from you which I ignored so you may want to check your account.”
That’s a message millions received from Facebook friends over the past few days.
If you followed the instructions and forward the message to your friends, you’re probably feeling a bit ashamed right now.
“Stop! Ignore it! Delete it! Don’t forward it to all of your friends,” someone posted on Facebook, lamenting those duped by the hoax.
If you did forward the message, you shouldn’t feel shame. You care about your friends, for which you should be commended, not chastised.
We all have Facebook friends who aren’t necessarily “friends” in the traditional sense of the definition.
We also know that our traditional definition for friend doesn’t apply to Facebook. We try so hard not to conflate the noun with the verb in conversations: “I don’t mean Joe is my friend in real life. He just friended me on Facebook.”
Even Merriam-Webster knows the difference.
Dictionary editors expanded the definition of friend with alternatives such as friended and friending, in part to capture the meaning of the transitive verb.
I’m not sure Mark Zuckerberg knew what he was doing when he landed on that term – friend – as the signifier for adding people to our Facebook networks. By all accounts, Zuckerberg had few real friends at the time he created Facebook, so it’s likely he didn’t contemplate the implications for choosing that term.
Or did he?
When Facebook exploded in popularity, it was not only because of the number of new people who joined, but because of the number of new personal networks it cultivated for us. Zuckerberg was, in fact, growing Facebook by redefining the word “friend” in terms of networks, not individuals.
Imagine snowballs rolling down a hill, smashing into each other to create larger snowballs – not an avalanche, but fast like one, with seemingly unending momentum.
Those snowballs are our networks. They smash into one another. They mingle. They create connections we might otherwise never experience.
This is true of people who aren’t really our friends, at least not in the true sense of the definition. We’ve simply added them as friends because, truth be told, it feels good to get a friend request.
It’s a fleeting euphoric feeling, a dopamine hit. Maybe not for everyone, but for enough people that friend requests are approved with minimal scrutiny of those on the other end of the requests.
It’s what made this latest Facebook hoax so problematic. We default to the traditional definition of friend.
We care about our friends. We want to protect them from danger.
If you were one of the millions who forwarded the hoax to everyone in your network, don’t feel bad.
Feel good knowing that you care enough about your friends to protect them, even if they’re just Facebook friends.
(part two of two)
There’s nothing quite as tedious as the eye roll of a teenager. It’s irritating.
It can also be encouraging.
Most parents I speak with get the “irritating” part, but “encouraging” is not a word they use when describing that quick flick of the eyeballs, shifted ever so briefly to the heavens as the ultimate sign of contempt.
This is exactly the reaction I got from my teenager and her lackey, my pre-teen who, at 11-years-old, is serving as understudy to the sulky ways of her older sister.
Their contempt for me today (yes, it changes depending on the day) rests with a correction I gave when they mistakenly referred to someone as a cyberbully.
The target of their cyberbullying accusation was a player on the massively popular platform Roblox. Except that it wasn’t cyberbullying. It was game play.
“Most kids don’t bully or cyberbully. You know that right?” I asked my daughters. “So what makes you think Tam07 (the accused) is a cyberbully?”
They responded with terms and words that were all related not to cyberbullying, but to game play – the kinds of things you hear kids say when they’re losing. Badly.
“She kept blocking,” “She wouldn’t get out of the way,” and “She never responded no matter how many times we told her to stop.”It sounded like Tam07 was simply kicking their little sister’s butt on a game she probably wasn’t old enough to play.
I explained that Tam07 was probably older and knew game strategies and tricks that their 8-year-old sister didn’t understand.
“That’s not cyberbullying,” I said.
More importantly, I explained what cyberbullying is.
“Imagine if Tam07 was constantly harassing your little sister on this game, calling her names, following her around and being mean to her, making her feel bad or hurt. Imagine if she threatened your sister.”
“That’s cyberbullying,” I said.
Here are the steps I told them to follow if they see a cyberbully:
Tell a grown-up. I even tell my older friends, most of whom are technically grown-ups, to ask others if they think the activity they’re seeing online is, in fact, cyberbullying.
Don’t react to the cyberbully. This goes for kids and for parents. It’s hard to keep your cool when your kid is being bullied. Instead, document the evidence and report the bully when you think it’s time.
Block and delete. Two of the most powerful tools on smartphones, games, and social media: block and delete. Some platforms will only let you block, but sometimes that’s all you need to stop the harassment.
Sure, I may have been a little irritated with their eye roll reactions, but I was encouraged when my kids actually listened to me explain how to identify a cyberbully, and what to do when they see one.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.