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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Do you believe in myths?

America is a consumer society. We buy things and ideas. When it comes to computers those in the industry, who are themselves consumers, buy, both computers and the IT myth: There is no longer a digital divide.

Other takes on this myth: Desktops are out. Everybody’s buying laptops. Sure.

The focus of the EDUCAUSE Review article The Myth about the Digital Divide: We Have Overcome the Digital Divide by Brian L Hawkins and Diana G Oblinger is on computer owners, primarily. Elsewhere, I have called for computer manufacturers and VARs and resellers to target the low-income consumer market; those who do not own a computer in America. This is a consumer overlooked on the blazing path to obliterating (NOT!) the digital divide.

The four points below are taken from the IT myth article.

1. Do we know whether students have a computer? Do we know their skill level? Although it is easy to assume that all students own a computer and are computer-literate, is that a correct description of the student body? Is ownership the same for all students, or are there significant differences between groups, such as traditional-age students and adult learners? Are there different needs based on academic discipline?

2. Do we look beyond who has Internet access to consider online skills? What online skills, support, and freedom of use define an appropriate threshold for digital access and use on campus?

3. Do we limit the definition of digital divide to a haves and have-nots dichotomy? The digital divide is not a yes-no proposition; it is a continuum. Beyond computer ownership lie issues of Internet access at a reasonable speed, as well as availability of support. The campus may need to define its own metrics to determine the extent of its underserved, digital divide population.

4. How limiting will inadequate online skills be to students? The ultimate issue behind the digital divide is the ability of students to learn, explore, and become participating members of their chosen communities. Education is increasingly dependent on students technical proficiency not only to find information but also to analyze material and access experts. If students are regularly expected to participate in online discussions or use tools such as wikis, campuses should provide reasonable support to ensure that students can participate effectively and autonomously.

What I infer from this article is there is a sizeable market among these existing computer owners. Unless they are buying a new computer Dell, HP and Lenovo have no interest in them. These computer owners are not a myth. They are an open market for VARs, resellers and independent consultants who don’t believe the myth.

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