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Digital Haves and Have-Nots


February 3, 2015 by nsakas1

This weeks readings cover a wide variety of topics relating to both use of the web for historical purposes as well as issues relating to copyright. The readings that peaked my interest the most came from the Rosenzweig, Clio Wired text. The chapters titles, Rewiring the History and Social Studies Classroom, Should Historical Scholarship Be Free, and Brave New World or Blind Alley all touched on the subject of access to online resources. What I took from these readings was that there is certainly an array of possibilities the web offers, however if you have no access to these resources they have no use or benefit.

Some people may deny that inequalities still exist in our society. Taking a closer look at our education system would quickly work to dispel those myths. It is easy to see the disparities by looking at public schools in more affluent areas compared to those in impoverished neighborhoods. For students in poorly funded public schools providing safe classroom space, quality educators, and textbooks are challenging enough much less providing students with internet access. However, schools in the affluent areas are more than likely able to provide well funded computer labs. Rosezweig makes this argument in his chapter entitled Brave New World or Blind Alley. On page 165 he discusses the benefits of the web as being able to connect students in Florida with those in Buenos Aires. He also says, ” To be sure, a private high school in a wealthy suburb such as Grosse Pointe, Michigan, is much more likely than a public high school in south Chicago to have functioning Internet access and computers capable of displaying Web pages.” Rosenzweig offers a precaution for the inequalities by stating, “We need to remain vigilant lest the Web reinforce the gap between information haves and have-nots.”

Starting on page 96 RosenZweig discusses the advantages of using technology in the history classroom. Rather than relying on memorization and regurgitation, which has proven ineffective, Rosenzweig advocates for learning through online resources. This returns us to the problem of access. If online resources are truly the benefit Rosezweig advocates for, than those who do not have access do not achieve an equal educational opportunity.

Rosenzweig makes this debate slightly messier when he raises the question in his chapter Should Historical Scholarship Be Free. Most of us here at Georgia State University do not have to confront this issue very much in that our institution provides a plethora of online databases for our use as student.While these sources are not free, these databases are available through our tuition at the University. Some Universities do not provide these valuable databases that many of us have and continue to use in our research. This is where the question becomes relevant. Should historical scholarship be free, thereby giving those who do not have access the same opportunities as other researchers? The other side of the coin, according to Rosenzweig, is that if these resources are available for free, than many of these resources would loose the funding that allows them to stay in business. This issue is difficult to provide a clear cut answer to, and I certainly do not claim to have one of my own.

So is there a solution for digital haves and have-nots? Rosenzweig highlights a practice where fees for online databases are waved for community colleges in high risk areas so that student have the same research opportunities as larger institutions. Computer donations and fund raising have helped in some areas. However, inequalities exist in our society, and regardless of how the internet is marketed as a medium for connecting all people, those without access to computers. will continue to fall by the wayside, while the more affluent will continue to reap the benefits of the digital age. Some of you might have seen this commercial during the super bowl, but it made me reflect on these readings.  


  1. acoleman34 says:

    Nick, you bring up some very poignant issues. The denial of inequality is certainly real and it is no more apparent than in the education system. We sentence impoverished children to remain that way by providing limited access to reliable materials such as textbooks, quality educators and even internet access–something we assume is in every school and take for granted. Rosenzwieg does a fantastic job of demonstrating the possibilities of equal access to the internet in schools. Without the same access to technology how can we expect these students to take in and learn the same information as those with unlimited resources and high quality materials, let alone do as well on standardized tests (don’t even get me started)? Although i don’t think all of historical scholarship should be free, i think that providing equal access and funding to schools is imperative to bridging the gap between the rich and poor. It is incredibly unreasonable to expect the same results from those with and without resources.

  2. chuber1 says:

    Nick, you hit on a key point that I feel was only danced around in the readings. We as a culture need to ask who gets left behind as we make computers another essential item. It is important to get them into the schools, but once they are there will it become an expectation that students have access to one at home in order complete assignments. If so how will students in less affluent areas be able to afford one. This question on inequality and access is one that we must address as a society if we truly believe that the digital world we are creating is a egalitarian one.

  3. jjackson39 says:

    This is a really serious issue that is raised in your response and one that is unlikely to change even as the technology that creates this divide continues to shift and evolve. As you noted, this issue may be even worse than the one we’ve faced in previous generations where students in disadvantaged areas had old books and shortage of supplies. They may now lack any technology at all in some areas. Perhaps technologies will advance in a way that makes this technology so affordable that it can reverse this trend but we can’t rely on this possibility and instead need to limit the disadvantages by providing more resources to schools, while investigating viable long-term ways to solve these problems.

  4. Alexandra Troxell says:

    I think there’s a great parallel between the highly accurate and valid points made above and the current media and FCC issue about net neutrality. I agree with other commentators that many of these issues are not likely to be resolves easily or quickly, as much as we would like to hope they could be. However, it is good to know from the news stories that issues of internet access are on many people’s minds today. Net Neutrality and the idea of the internet as a public utility are ideals that have taken and will continue to take a lot of time and effort to sort out, but I think it’s a good sign that the process is at least in progress. I hope it helps the public, and especially the educational system, in the long run.

  5. jeldredge1 says:

    I agree that technological inequalities are a serious new (or old, depending on how you classify technological) problem in the socio-economic divide. With more and more scholarship, educational sites, networking and job- training material being offers on the web, it becomes increasingly more imperative that everyone, regardless of status, is offered equal access to the web. Unfortunately, libraries, which are often the only free access people have to computers and the Internet have been hit by budget cuts at a disproportionately high level. I think it would greatly behoove our economy and national skill levels to create a program to bring computer and web access to a broad swath of the underprivileged. Perhaps the state and federal government could partner with non-profits to bring mobile web stations to rural and poor areas? Let’s face it, there is really no job sector that will not be affected by the growing web. This could especially be helpful to those long-term unemployed who have fallen into the giant chasm that current unemployment programs have created. They especially have been without opportunities to learn the new skills needed in today’s job market. I didn’t exactly plan on needing to learn digital tools during my first days of grad school, but it’s crystal clear to me know that to be competitive in the market once I graduate, I certainly better have these skills well in hand. I’m just lucky that this class and the opportunity to earn the GIS certificate are open to me. But there’s the big divide between me in grad school, and a middle aged person looking for work in a rural or underprivileged area.

  6. Adina Langer says:

    Nick, I appreciate your insights into the problems of access raised by the rise of new technologies and the increasing difference in content, quality, and interactivity between what is available online and what is available in a traditional textbook. When I was in graduate school, I interviewed a group of teachers about their use of digital collections of primary sources, and when I asked them about challenges to implementation, they overwhelmingly cited lack of basic resources and the need to teach standardized material to prepare for mandatory assessments. I know that the creators of resource repositories have attempted to tie their materials to standards so that teachers can feel more justified in incorporating content into lessons, but the time it takes to construct creative lessons from non-standard sources is something that a lot of teachers in underprivileged areas simply do not have. I wonder what can be done to help with this — sometimes it’s not enough just to give people access to the Internet or computer labs if staff do not receive proper training or are not given enough prep time. Rosenzweig touches on this, and unfortunately, it seems to be a problem that persists almost 10 years after the publication of the book.

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