chapter  10
16 Pages

From Divide to Continuum: Rethinking Access in Online Education

Technology and education, especially online education, are topics of great

interest in higher education due to changing student demographics, university

budgets, and competition. The academic community is clearly open to online

learning: enrollments have seen steady increases over the past decade, including

a 12% increase in 2007 in the number of students taking an online course

(Allen & Seaman, 2008). Many instructors are fully embracing this new medium,

delivering their courses using a variety of technologies from the simple to

fringe and experimental. In our enthusiasm, however, we cannot ignore that even

though 57% of American households today have access to the Internet (Kruger

& Gilroy, 2009), the digital divide is still a significant factor in the effectiveness

of innovative technology in the online classroom. The impetus behind online

education has always been increasing the availability of education to those who

would otherwise not have access, and in a physical sense, it has been very

successful: thousands of students who would not be able to physically attend

a face-to-face class have earned college degrees online. If, however, our online

classes employ technologies that many online students cannot fully participate in,

we may be causing an electronic version of the physical problem we have worked

so hard to solve. And it is the innovative use of technology as well as the

incorporation of new and advanced technologies in education that complicate

the concept of the digital divide today beyond its original meaning of access. In

this chapter, we will examine ways the digital divide has changed over the past

decade, analyze some of the more prominent new technologies being employed

in online education, and discuss how the more complicated issues of the digital

divide today give educators more to consider when introducing or requiring

these new technologies in their courses.