The Digital Matthew Effect: Technology Unleveling the Playing Field

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Reposted from the Brilliant Report:

“While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: It is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.

This is not a story of the familiar “digital divide” – a lack of access to technology for poor and minority children. This has to do, rather, with a phenomenon Neuman and Celano observed again and again in the two libraries: Granted access to technology, affluent kids and poor kids use tech differently. They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience.

The unleveling impact of technology also has to do with a phenomenon known as the “Matthew Effect”: the tendency for early advantages to multiply over time. Sociologist Robert Merton coined the term in 1968, making reference to a line in the gospel of Matthew. Now researchers are beginning to document a digital Matthew Effect, in which the already advantaged gain more from technology than do the less fortunate. As with books and reading, the most-knowledgeable, most-experienced, and most-supported students are those in the best position to use computers to leap further ahead.”

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2 thoughts on “The Digital Matthew Effect: Technology Unleveling the Playing Field

  1. I’ve seen this play out in my classroom in a low SES rural high school. I incorporate a blended learning approach and have enough computers for every student to use one in class, and almost every student in my room quickly learns to override any block to access games, music and Facebook, but the same students don’t know what to enter in a simple google search to help with their schoolwork. They don’t have email or know how to use it. They ask me for help looking for an after school job on the computer and I am amazed at how ineffective they are in finding valid sites and completing online forms. I thought the part of the original article where researchers had observed parents in libraries in high SES neighborhoods sitting with young children and providing instruction and scaffolded guidance on use of the computer, but parents in low SES neighborhoods often either sat passively or left young children unattended at the computers was especially interesting.

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    • Becca the parenting piece is so pervasive, setting expectations and modeling ways to support children in technology use, as in everything else. Perhaps we have given short shrift to those affective components of technology….or presume too much is already in place?

      Liked by 1 person

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