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The Digital Disconnect: Revisited

Note: Doug Levin, SETDA executive director, is guest-posting this blog.

In 2001, the Pew Internet & American Life Project commissioned a study on the impact of the internet on education from the American Institutes for Research. Based on work I had been doing over the prior several years in supporting the U.S. Department of Education's technology initiatives, I had the incredible opportunity to conduct this study with my colleague, Sousan Arafeh (now a professor at Southern Connecticut State University). Released in August of 2002, we titled the study, "The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between internet-savvy students and their schools." While there were others at the time who were exploring the changing dynamics and societal implications of the first generation growing up with access to the internet (most notably, Don Tapscott, author of the 1999 book, "Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation"), our study was the first to focus on the possible implications on K-12 schools and schooling.


From the vantage point of 2011, there are aspects of this piece of work that feel quite dated. For instance, the study pre-dated the rise of Web 2.0, the explosion of access to mobile and portable devices, the rise of the open educational resources (OER) movement, and the oft-discounted steady progress made in the K-12 sector to take advantage of new tools and services. Yet, in many respects, I continue to find that the conclusions and implications we offered at the time are still surprisingly relevant (reminding me of the quote from the futurist, Paul Saffo, who chides us to "never mistake a clear view for a short distance").

Consider this observation from 2002:

"Students urge that there be continued effort to ensure that high-quality online information to complete school assignments be freely available, easily accessible, and age-appropriate–without undue limitation on students’ freedoms. Even students with strong skills say that finding the right information on the Internet can be frustrating and time-consuming. Most students who spoke with us expressed frustration about finding quality information to help them complete their school assignments. Here are some of their complaints: Search engines regularly retrieve too many references for common Internet searches. Authorship of Web sites and timeliness of posted information is often not disclosed; the information on many Web sites can be biased or incomplete; and, the reading level of the best information may exceed the capabilities and comprehension of students. In addition, visitors to many sites that offer useful information for free are inundated with commercial advertisements, and trusted sources may charge fees for their information."

So, dear readers, what do you think? How far do you think we've come and how far do we have yet to go?

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