Do free and open learning technologies help the rich more than the poor?

April 23, 2012 at 8:57 am 4 comments

I looked up Justin Reich based on Betsy DiSalvo’s comment last week.  Justin argues that the affluent benefit more from free and open learning technologies (like WikiSpaces) than do lower socioeconomic class students, so free and open learning technologies actually widen the gap, more than shrink it.  His video op-ed, linked below, makes this case with data based on use of WikiSpaces, showing that lower socioeconomic schools have less capacity to pick up and use these technologies.

But what to do?  I liked both of the initiatives that Justin mentions, but I was disappointed that both of them are outside school.  His study is on school use, but his recommendations are for out-of-school use.  Is there nothing we can do in poorer schools to make things better?

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  April 23, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Hi Mark

    Maybe too simplistic and one-dimensional (as are so many things in educational reform).

    For examples, there have been studies going back many decades (before computers were available to any) about which students and which schools and districts use public free library facilities. (Guess what?)

    There have been very large studies — also before computers — about socio-differences between cultures with highly shared gene pools (such as the “classes” in the UK in the 50s and 60s). (Guess what?)

    As my wife once argued with Al Gore about the digital haves and have nots: “the real haves and have nots are those who have or have not developed the discernment to use what is readily available to broaden and deepen learning”.

    The cultural differences are huge factors and tend to dominate.

    In a much larger view, the pop culture differences in the US as a whole show distressingly large dominance and influence on most of the sub-cultures, whether “high” or “low”.

    In this sense, easy access only seems to help those who can afford it.



  • 2. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  April 23, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Model the tools effectively. Many lower SES schools may default to drill and skill procedures – and the digital divide may be use rather than access to technology – but effective modeling of technology can help students from disparate backgrounds. It will just have to be supported and modelled in meaningful ways. Warschauer & Matuchniak (2010) provide a meaningful account of this with Project Fresa (the tech is proprietary, but the principle is the same). Also community and peer support is huge – so it will help to bolster community / peer understanding of accessible (FOSS) technology in order to promote meaningful communities of practice for the fiscally marginalized.

    Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of the equity in access, use and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 179–225.

  • 3. Justin Reich  |  April 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I think there are great examples inside and outside of schools, though not nearly enough.

    My favorite in-school example is the Leadership Public Schools CK-12 project. The challenge there is that kids coming into school with low academic literacy, but they need math and science classes to get into the UCal system. They must focus on literacy and math and science simultaneously. So LPS stops buying textbooks, and spends the savings to hire teachers to build math and science curricula with built in academic literacy supports inside the CK-12 flexbook model. Superintendent Louise Bay Waters gives a great talk on the project here:


  • […] and minority get access to online CS) is low.  Diversity in terms of economic success is low (as discussed in this blog post and in this one too), so scaled online learning is unlikely to be an engine to bridge economic […]


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