Since the introduction of computers into classrooms, the premise has been that increased access to technology would result in more creative, rigorous, personalized, and meaningful learning than what was possible in an analog world. However, despite decades of progress toward equitable access to devices and the internet, this promise has not been universally realized.

well-documented pattern began to emerge in the early 2000s when scholars started evaluating disparities in how students actually use technology. As researchers at the Metropolitan Education Research Consortium argue, even when students have access to the same technologies, their experiences may vary from school to school depending on systemic barriers, as well as from classroom to classroom depending on individual teachers’ instructional practices and/or biases. Further, they assert that differences in the quantity and quality of students’ technology use directly impacts their potential academic and employment outcomes.

The 2017 National Education Technology Plan defines this inequity as the digital use divide, or “[T]he disparity between students who use technology to create, design, build, explore, and collaborate and those who simply use technology to consume media passively.” Recognizing the implications of the digital use divide, educators and leaders have spent the past two decades creating and adopting media creation tools, curricula, standards, and technology integration frameworks to guide instruction.

Dangerous Framing: Creation vs. Consumption

The binary framing of the digital use divide as creation versus consumption may be further exacerbating other problems related to digital equity. Its definition presumes that one end of the dichotomy (creation) is either better or neutral, while the other (consumption) is inherently worse. This leads to the false assumption that any use of classroom technology that focuses on creation is essentially better without considering quality or intent. Of particular concern, this framing of the digital use divide regularly leaves critical media literacy skills on the sidelines. Even when the focus of student technology use is on creation, these lessons often ignore media literacy issues such as ascertaining the credibility of sources, understanding copyright, or recognizing media manipulation.

Because media literacy is often relegated to a single unit or lesson, solutions offered to close the digital use divide continuously fail to acknowledge how Americans increasingly rely on technology: to source, filter, and evaluate information. 2021 Pew research study found that roughly one-third of Americans regularly get their news from Facebook and one-fifth from YouTube. This is troublesome given the scarcity of checks on the quality or reliability of the information posted to these sites. Even more worrisome, a 2018 MIT-Sloan study found that false news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth” on these platforms. The lack of nuance in the current definition of the digital use divide and associated failure to address how individuals actually use technology is creating an even more nefarious problem.

Read the full article about media literacy and the digital divide by Beth Holland and Michael Ham at The Learning Accelerator.