Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pondering New Years Resolutions (Digital Access)

My last post began a series of reflections on the New Year's Resolutions I made on Infinite Thinking Machine back in 2007. It focused on

#1 My resolve to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.
This time I'd like to look back at the second of five resolves I made that year.
#2 I resolved to know which students lack access to digital tools at

A few years ago, I was encouraged by the data that we collected about the number of students who have computers and Internet access at home. I was encouraged that in a high poverty area such as ours, almost 90% of our students had access. Computers were becoming more affordable and multi-functional; even families that didn't always see the value in investing in educational tools at home, were purchasing computers as they took on entertainment value.

But this year I became discouraged by an increase in the response “we use to have Internet” or our computer doesn't work anymore. Discretionary items such as “internet access” are being cut from family budgets during increasingly challenging economic times. I also became discouraged when I learned that local public libraries do not have the resources to keep up with increased demands and use. I recently gave a student without home access a thumbdrive to save her work so she could continue it after school at the public library. She returned it the next day and shared that the only computer available to her didn't allow for thumb drives. (Photo Credit)

As we increase computer resources and Internet access in schools, teachers are integrating more technology tools in the classrooms. As a technology integration specialist I am excited about the increased use of tools like Google Earth, wikis, blogs, and social bookmarking in our school. But students with access at home are definitely at an advantage. Although I consider myself sensitive to the population of our students without digital access, I worked on the premise that these students at least had access to these resources in our public libraries. But I recently realized how challenging it is for libraries to keep up with increased demands.

Part of the challenge for libraries is that those who need computers for homework, filling out job applications, or accessing information only available online are competing with an increased use of library computers for accessing MySpace, playing video games, or accessing other entertainment websites. Libraries like those in Palm Beach, Florida are challenged by increased need for computers after the local food stamps office closed, forcing local residents to apply online. (Photo Credit)

The community library in Williston North Dakota reports increased use of its computers as the economy suffers. Upgrading or repairing home computers and keeping Internet access in their family budget has become increasingly difficult for many families.

For years libraries have been balancing the needs of their patrons to have access to essential nonfiction materials with increasing request for fiction; just because the circulation for fiction materials was higher, did not mean they stopped purchasing nonfiction resources. This dilemma continues in a world filled with digital information and entertainment. How do libraries make computers available for both those who seek to use them for entertainment and those who need them for homework or everyday living tasks?

Thus my evaluation of my 2007 resolve has just been expanded to not only inquire about student access at home, but to also find out about the access possible outside the home. Does it exist? To what extent? What are the parameters?

And finally, I resolve to start dialogues between community libraries and schools about how we can better support each other and collaborate towards the goal of greater digital equity in our community.