Monday, January 02, 2006

Bridging the Digital Divide

I know one of the issues that many educators deal with when looking at Technology as a way to deliver content to students is the equity and access issue, otherwise known as the Digital Divide. In some school districts (Palo Alto, Fullerton and San Diego), the district required students in certain schools to purchase laptops with their own resources. When talking about the Digital Divide, there are two pieces to the puzzle. The first being the Hardware / Software issue. How can we provide the actual computer, operating system and software for students. This issue has been mitigated to a certain extent. In any of our computer repair classes, we can build a computer, load an operating system (Linux) and open source software for less than $150 each. We can defray these costs through community donations and in-kind donations. MIT is currently working on a laptop that would cost $100 to produce. Rumors are flying around that Google is currently in negotiations with Wal-Mart to produce and market a low cost PC for those people who do not have access. Both Google and Wal-Mart deny that they are in the works to do this.

The other issue is access to the Internet. Having a laptop allows those users to gain access to the Internet through wireless hotspots. (Every library in San Mateo County has a wireless hotspot!) There are plenty of web sites that list free and pay for time wireless hot spots. (Boston's Logan Airport had free Wi-Fi, until some companies got upset!) Google and other companies are in the process of creating metropolitan free Wi-Fi zones. (Tempe, AZ - Wi-Fi Program) Google is in the process of providing free Wi-Fi to the entire city of Mountain View and MetroFi is doing the same in Sunnyvale. There are also plans to provide free Wi-Fi for all of downtown San Francisco.

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