Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education

In November 2008, the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning organized its Fifth International Seminar entitled Fighting the Digital Divide through Education, which I contributed to organize and reported here.

After that event, the director of the Review of University and the Knowledge Society (RUSC), Josep Maria Duart, asked me to coordinate a monograph on that same subject, the Digital Divide, but within the framework of Higher Education. This monograph has just been published: Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education.

The monograph aims at giving an comprehensive overview to the topic of the Digital Divide, from infrastructures to the more philosophic concepts, and from mere access to impact, always related to Education and, most especially (though not exclusively) to Higher Education. Following are the abstracts and links to the full text articles. The introduction is not (only) your usual introduction, but also a sort of a roadmap that wants to explain the structure and rationale behind the monograph. Enjoy your reading and don’t stop you from sending your feedback to the authors. Last, but not least, I want to thank Matti Tedre, Fredrick Ngumbuke, Jyri Kemppainen, Neil Selwyn, Jonatan Castaño-Muñoz (and other persons that at last could not make it) for their support and contribution to this project. I cannot but also thank Elsa Corominas for her tireless editing effort, and Michael van Laake and Shirley Burgess for their empathy and understanding when reviewing and translating the manuscripts. Thank you all.

Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education (Introduction)
Ismael Peña-López

This is the introductory article to the monograph “Redefining the Digital Divide in Higher Education”. The article describes a comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of the digital divide and digital access, based on Marc Raboy and Mark Warschauer’s research. This approach depicts the evolution from mere physical access to effective use of information and communication technologies in the field of higher education. Within this framework, the articles in the monograph are presented highlighting their role in contributing to a comprehensive approach and reflection on the digital divide in Higher Education.

Download the introduction (PDF file 246 KB)

Infrastructure, Human Capacity, and High Hopes: A Decade of Development of e-Learning in a Tanzanian HEI
Matti Tedre, Fredrick Ngumbuke, Jyri Kemppainen

Tumaini University, Iringa University College in Tanzania began to develop technology-enhanced learning in 1999. At the beginning of the process, the college had no public computer laboratories. The e-learning capacity was gradually developed over the following 11 years: computer laboratories, a local area network, an electronic library collection, a dedicated IT support department, Internet connections, electronic presentations, a B.Sc. program in IT, video lectures, and online learning. In this article, we analyse the complex network of challenges that we faced during the development process. We discuss technical issues with ICT equipment, system administration, and networks, and we analyse socio-cultural issues with training, funding, and pedagogy.

Download the article (PDF file 814 KB)

From Laptops to Competences: Bridging the Digital Divide in Education
Ismael Peña-López

Most of the existing literature that deals with the digital divide in the educational system focuses either on schools or universities, but rarely do we see a vertical approach where the system is considered as a whole. In this paper we relate initiatives that aim to bridge the digital divide in the current situation in higher education. We discuss why policies that focus on infrastructures (e.g. laptops) are not the answer, as they mostly leave digital competences unattended, leading to (or not helping to amend) the digital void in universities in matters of skills. We end by proposing a general framework to define digital skills so that they are included in syllabuses at all stages of the educational path.

Download the article (PDF file 717 KB)

Degrees of Digital Division: Reconsidering Digital Inequalities and Contemporary Higher Education
Neil Selwyn

Whilst many authors are now confident to dismiss the notion of the digital divide, this paper argues that inequalities in ICT use in contemporary higher education are of growing rather than diminishing importance. In particular, it argues that there is an urgent need for the higher education community to develop more sophisticated understandings of the nature of the digital divisions that exist within current cohorts of university students – not least inequalities of ‘effective’ use of ICT to access information and knowledge. With these thoughts in mind, the paper presents a review of recent research and theoretical work in the area of digital exclusion and the digital divide, and considers a number of reasons why digital exclusion remains a complex and entrenched social problem within populations of higher education students.

Download the article (PDF file 349 KB)

Digital Inequality Among University Students in Developed Countries and its Relation to Academic Performance
Jonatan Castaño-Muñoz

Research on the digital divide has shown that it is important to study more than just the differences between those who do or do not have Internet access. Other dimensions that should currently be studied are: Internet skills, time spent on the Internet and, in particular, the use people make of the Internet. For each of these it is important to study the determinants and social consequences. In this paper we first present an overview of these dimensions and their determinants, and secondly analyse the influence of the dimensions with respect to the academic performance of university students. The analysed data, in agreement with international research, demonstrate that a) the effects of the Internet on academic performance are not direct, but mediated by variables and, b) the positive effects of the Internet are more pronounced in those students whose background is already more favourable for achieving better academic results without using the Internet, in agreement with the knowldege gap hypothesis.

Download the article (PDF file 356 KB)

Monograph: Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education

Download the whole monograph (PDF file 4,199 KB)