Technology and Equity in Schooling: Deconstructing the Digital Divide

*wiki edited by Elvis Schippers, Tamara Nguyen, Noel Nguyen, and Jason Dale



Prior to this article, research regarding technology and equality in schools has focused on the access that students have in information and communication technology (ICT). Since 1999, the gap in access for low-SES and high-SES students has diminished to an average of 6.4 students to every computer for high-minority schools as compared to 4.7 students per computer in low-minority schools. However, it is not just access that determines inequity in ICT for low-SES students. Previous research has found that how the technology is used is just as important as to whether they have it or not. High-SES students use the technology in science courses, where computers are often used for research, where low-SES students use the technology for drills in math and English courses (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone[1] ). Warschauer, Knobel, and Stone set out to investigate a broad array of school and home technology access and use issues, to deepen the understanding of technology and equity in schools[2] .

Theoretical Framework

Past research studies related to technologies and inequality mainly focus was on the number of individuals who had computer access as well as access to computers with Internet access at home and at work. Past studies also looked into and found that access to this form of technology depended on income, race and education[3] . In relations to the educational field, it was found that student success did not depend solely on having a computer at home; in fact it is how these computers are used that has importance[4] . And although the ratio of students with computers and computers with Internet in school has improved since the 1990s, not much studies have specifically looked into the how computers and technology are used in terms of socioeconomic status (SES).


The research team of four sought out to gather data on the accessibility and use of technology in California's public high schools in low and high social economic status communities. Their main method of gathering data was through qualitative survey or surveying. Eight California public schools participated in the study, 64 classrooms in a 7 month period in the 2001-2002 scholastic year. Five high schools where located in a low-SES neighborhoods and chosen for observation for reasons of high number of ethnic groups. The remaining three high schools represented the high-SES communities which student population had fewer than 13% of students on free or reduce price lunch programs, 10.3% English Language Learners, and where part of the top 20% of California's public schools Academic Performance Index.

It is noteworthy to keep in mind that ethnic groups, particularly Latinos, are found to be misrepresented by the projected 20.6 million college students enrolled during Fall of the 2010-11 school year (National Center for Educational Statistics)[5] and considered to be significantly found in low-SES schools.


"The process of comprehensively examining, a context or person. Qualitative survey designs maximize data collection within a minimum amount of time and thus allow qualitative data to be efficiently gathered and compared from multiple sites" (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone[6] ). There are several techniques in which the research team surveyed the 8 different schools:

  • Field-based observations

Basic observations taken place at the different school sites accumulating a total of 115 hours of instructional periods. Each teacher were observed twice during the 7 month duration of the research.

  • Interviews

Interviews with school personnel and administration about the access, use, and believes of technology as a tool for education. Teachers were also asked about their background in teaching and teaching experience.

  • Questionnaires

Each student participated in a 15 question survey.There were 12 questions regarding demographic and the type of technology students had access at school and home. The last three questions were open-ended for student opinion on technology use in their respected schools.

  • Artifact Collection

Artifacts were collected for data recording after the research was completed. Some of the collected items were student work, teacher design lesson plans and rubrics, school-conducted technology inventories and surveys, and school and teachers websites.


All schools in the study, both the low SES and the high-SES, had a relatively similar student to computer (including computer with internet access) ratio. The way in in which the computers and their related technologies were used was where the difference showed up. In terms of similarities, low-SES and high-SES schools used computers in their lessons to show simulations, present PowerPoints, do internet-based research and perform data analysis. Note though that when low-SES schools perform research-based searches, it was more for perfunctory uses such as definition look-ups of a vocabulary. The greatest similarities of uses occurred in science and the least occurring in math. In fact, there were no similarities shared between low and high-SES school. For further detailed similarities and differences of technological uses according to subject, look to Table 1.

Findings from the study was further broken down in to three patterns that appeared among all eight schools. The patterns in how schools used technology are as follows: "performativity," "workability," and "complexity."


Performativity in the educational context refers the way teachers assign assignments without having a purposeful or meaningful learning outcome. They are simply going through the motions of marking off checklists of technological skills students were suppose to learn without giving thoughts as to whether or not
students are getting the picture of things. The majority of schools from both types were guilty of doing this. Consider this class with many English language learners from a low-SES school as an example. The assignment was to research about a country by using the web. In order to complete the assignment, all students had to do was input the name of the country assigned and they were instructed to copy and paste the text that that appeared onto a Word document. Students were fulfilling the requirement of performing a research-based assignment, however there were no assessment or analysis in selecting the correct search engines, evaluating the content of the information that appeared, or interpreting the results found. Low-SES schools were not only, high-SES schools were also observed to carrying out performativity. As an assignment for science, a PowerPoint presentation was graded on the number of fonts and sounds used, in addition to the number of animations and transition applied. Students are taught the flashy features of PowerPoint, but not necessarily the components of a good and effective PowerPoint presentation.


In their article, Warschauer, Knobel, and Stone address the issues of workability by comparing a high socio-economic status school (in this case Dalea) to a low socio-economic status school (in this case Bergenia). One thing they discovered overall about workability, was that teachers reported that having access to an effecitve technological support network was just as important as having the access to the technology itself. Meaning even if they had the computers, they wouldn't get used unless the teachers had a support network they could turn to for help.
Support Network = Access to Technology

Workability at Dalea (High SES School)
  • Interconnected Technological Support - Dalea maintained 12 full-time teachers who received technological support training, 1 Media specialist who had a free period to just help teachers set up and implement the use of technology in their classrooms, 1 full-time tech. expert who's only goal was to maintain and update the Dalea's school website, and each of these faculty members were given a large amount of student aids who could assist them in technological support situations for other teachers.
  • Communication and Coordination - Since Dalea's support staff consisted of a large number of faculty members rather than just one individual expert, the information flow of technological issues and news was spread throughout the school in a timely and coordinated manner. Since each individual department at the school had their own tech expert to report and ask questions to, it gave the regular teachers someone who was familiar with using the technology for their own content area. Someone who they were comfortable asking questions to and someone who was readily available to them.

Workability at Bergenia (Low SES School)Communication.jpg
  • Bergenia, although being a low SES school, had relatively the same amout of access to computers for their students as Dalea had (4.5 students per computer at Bergenia vs. 4.2 students per computer at Dalea) however, just becuase they had access to them doesn't mean they ever got to used them.
  • Bergenia, also had a diverse group of technological experts at their school, however where Dalea's school stressed communication and coordination, Bergenia's did not, they suffered from many training and communication issues. For example, many of computer lab assistents were not trained in the software programs that were available to he students and thus were unable to assist the students with their questions. Another situation that occured at Bergenia, was when one of Bergenia's computer labs was being re-wired so that it connected to the internet. The communication at Bergenia was so poor that the computer lab was finished for 5 months before any of the teachers even knew that it was ready to be used.
  • Another reason for students have little access to computers at Bergenia was due to the extensive amount of reconstruction going on at the school. Many teachers and their students were forced to move classrooms multiple times throughout the year, and the teachers and tech. support staff wouldn't take the time to reconnect all of the classrooms' computers between moves.


In their article, Warschauer, Knobel, and Stone address the issues of complexity by highlighting the three main testingforce.jpgconcerns/reasons teachers gave about not using technology in their classrooms.
  1. High Stakes Testing - the interviewed teachers stated that there was too much pressure and focus now on high stakes testing and that doing enriching activities on the computer are all well and good when they have time, but right now they need to spend all their time focused on the standards. - the authors noted that this attitude is more prevalent in low SES schoools.
  2. Home Computer Access - the interviewed teachers, especially those at the low SES schools would underestimate their own students' home computer access. A lot of teachers think that their students don't have home computer access when in fact a lot of them do. Warschauer, Knobel, and Stone noted that roughly 99% of high SES schools' students have home computer access and about 84% of low SES schools' students have access to computers at home. However, they did note a a fairly large discrepancy between the amount of computers at home with internet access for high and how SES schools, about 97% to 72%, respectively.
  3. The amount of English Language Learners - low SES schools have about 3 times as many English Language Learners as high SES schools do, this makes using technological programs and software much more difficult to teach and explain. Additionally, many teachers of EL students complain that their students have too high of a dependency on Spell Check or Grammar Check and just allow these softwares to fix their errors without thinking about whether or not that even makes sense. This only makes their spelling and grammar worse, since they just always assume that their way was wrong without thinking about why what they wrote was wrong.


Warschauer, Knobel, and Stone's study contributes to the suggestion that there is no single digital divide, but the issue is actually much more complex. Although the technology is more equally distributed for all students, the introduction of technology amplifies inequality between lower- and higher-SES schools. This all stems from the difference in human support systems, homework assignment patterns, and performance pressures. Schools with high-SES students were receiving the enriching education that the technology promised to provide, but low-SES students were drawn into perfunctory uses of the Internet (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone[7] ).

Placing computers and Internet connections is not the remedy for the challenges faced by low-SES schools. In some cases, technology provided a distraction and was counterproductive to the learning environment. The most important concept for the researchers the social embeddedness of technology (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone[8] ). The issues that the low-SES schools face is independent of the technology, and the social context of these schools shaped how the computers were used.


There are much broader social contexts that contribute to the digital divide in the California schools that were studied. The social realm is largely defined by the economic, cultural, and linguistic differences that play a large part in the implementation of technology in the schools. Teachers in low-SES schools had less experience, low-SES schools had more English learners, and home access was much greater in high-SES. Because of the needs of the students to be successful beyond high school and the needs of the schools to perform on state tests, low-SES schools focused on remedial literacy, number, and computer basics. There isn't time for more academically rigorous uses of technology in the classroom. Warschauer, Knobel, and Stone suggests a three-prong approach for educational policy makers:

  • Create a mechanism for experienced teachers, staff, and administrators. Schools with lower SES and larger numbers of English learners need well-trained and experienced people to run it. The current state is the exact opposite. Schools in these situations should also receive additional funding to meet the needs of the students.
  • Technology use needs to shift from mastery of software to scholarship, research, and inquiry. Technology assignments tend to consist of checklist tasks, such as a required number of slides, pictures, and animations on PowerPoint. Instead, funds can be provided for teachers to serve as mentors for academic uses of the technology. These teachers can support their colleagues to create assignments that will help students reach their full potential.
  • Schools need to address unequal home access to computers.Students should be encouraged to make use of publicly available computers. Schools can also find funding for laptop programs or provide an avenue for students to check them out. Generally speaking, the lack of access should be viewed as a challenge to overcome rather than an excuse (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone[9] ).

As an education system, we have taken a great leap forward by providing more technology to more students in both low-SES and high-SES schools. To reach greater levels of equality, we must now turn our attention to home access, how the technology is used, and how to train educators to enrich the use of technology.


  1. ^ Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Technology and Schools. 18(4). 562-588.
  2. ^ Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Technology and Schools. 18(4). 562-588.
  3. ^ U.S.NationalTelecommunications and InformationAdministration. (1999).Falling through the net: Defining the digital divide. Washington, DC: Author.
    U.S.NationalTelecommunications and InformationAdministration. (2000).Falling through the net: Toward digital inclusion. Washington, DC: Author.
    U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (2002). A nation online: How Americans are expanding their use of the Internet. Washington, DC: Author.
  4. ^ Attewell, P.,&Battle, J. (1999).Home computers and school performance. Information Society, 15(1), 1-10.
    Becker, H. J. (2000). Who’s wired and who’s not? Future of Children, 10(2), 44-75.
  5. ^ National Center for Educational Statistics. (2010). Digest of Education Statistics: 2010. April 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2011, from
  6. ^ Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Technology and Schools. 18(4). 562-588.
  7. ^ Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Technology and Schools. 18(4). 562-588.
  8. ^ Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Technology and Schools. 18(4). 562-588.
  9. ^ Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004). Technology and equity in schooling: Deconstructing the digital divide. Technology and Schools. 18(4). 562-588.
                              • >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >