Digital divide and science divide
Tsoi, Mai Yin
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Several studies (Hoffman & Novak, 1998) have documented the “Digital Divide”, a phenomenon of at-risk student populations receiving fewer opportunities to use school computers than students from high-track classes. Low-track students use computers for low-level activities (such as drill-and-practice), while their counterparts engage in more creative and problem solving type computer tasks (Schofield, 1995). Underserved populations and females are also less likely to continue into science and math fields (Atwater, 1994), causing a “Science Divide”. In order to explore this intersection of computers, science education, and equity due to the legislated incorporation of computers into science curriculum, this mixed method study aimed: first, to describe the types of computer activities assigned in different track-levels in secondary science; second, to discover the ways teachers differentiated computer activities between classes of dissimilar track-levels and in relation to student demographics; and third, to interpret the salient teacher beliefs about students that affected teachers’ computer activity differentiation. At a large, suburban high school in southeastern United States during spring semester, 2002, a total of 29 science teacher interviews, one case study, and 1,070 Student Demographic Surveys informed this study. The results showed that the four main categories of computer activities assigned were: “internet searches”, “information dissemination”, “inquiry”, and “computer as tool”. Three methods of computer activity differentiation were used: “amount”, “change content”, and “change activity”. Fewer activities that covered less content, had lower student requirements, and were more teacher-centered were assigned to lower-track classes, which were comprised of predominantly African American and Hispanic students, males, and low-income students. Teachers cited low student math, science, and computer ability, diverse learning styles, low student motivation, atypical interests and life goals, and lack of student computer ownership as reasons for their activity differentiation. They differentiated to increase low-track students’ grades and to control behavior. Teachers’ own personal experiences as students, track levels taught, longevity in teaching, and “projected self-efficacy” influenced teacher’s choices and adjustment of computer tasks for different track levels. This research indicates that issues of race, class, gender, and teacher judgments about educational resource allocation impact both Digital and Science Divides.