February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Game Design-Based Lessons can Help Shrink the Digital Divide, Says Study

Daily technology-based lessons, specifically those around game design that are taken for school credit, can help bridge the digital divide among students—particularly that between boys and girls, according to a new study.

Students used Adobe Flash to program and edit games, starting with a paper prototype and moving through to a final, group programmed demo. Inquiry and collaborative skills were infused into computer programming by putting students together as teams—and requiring they finish the work for credit. The direction, group work, and even the stakes involved all help “attenuate digital divide effects,” according to the study.

Static tech labs and carts full of devices—even maker labs—may be insufficient at shrinking the gap, assert the authors of the study, which appeared in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Instead, researchers recommended infusing “designed experiences,”  where children are directed to create a project for a grade, into a school day to enhance  students’ use of technology. While not dismissing hands on, self-directed exploration of technology and digital tools, the authors emphasized the instruction and direction—and knowing the work was part of a required course—as helping to shrink the digital gap.

Ming Ming Chui

Ming Ming Chui

“You can’t do anything without a computer,” says Ming Ming Chiu, professor of educational psychology at Purdue University’s College of Education and co-author of the study. “But just having computers isn’t enough if you don’t how to use it well.”

Shrinking the digital divide is a focus for all educational stakeholders. On July 15, President Obama presented a new program, called ConnectHome, specifically aimed to get faster Internet connections into the homes of low-income students. Children who grow up with limited access to the Internet have less ability than their connected classmates to finish homework, stay in touch with teachers and friends, or even apply for college.

Rebecca Reynolds

Rebecca Reynolds

Chiu and co-author Rebecca Reynolds followed 242 middle and high school students at 38 schools in West Virginia enrolled in a game design program through K-12 platform Globaloria in 2011. They found that the gap between girls and boys and how they engage with technology, shrunk from the start of the program to its end, where “…girls were empowered to participate on par with boys,” wrote the authors.This was “notable” as women tend to show lower skill levels with computer and Internet tools, according to the study. That difference disappeared after the program among the girls and boys—even though both groups were learning new skill sets.

The program also helped to level the divide among students across socioeconomic levels and ethnicities—with all students showing a higher level of ability, plus an increased willingness to use technology in a more advanced manner regardless of their background, by the end of the program. Students averaged 30 percent greater basic, and 49 percent more advanced computer activity after using the game design platform.

The key to these results, say researchers, was creating a stake for kids—requiring students have a reason other than simple curiosity or time after school to engage with the technology. Researchers believe that simply offering students hands-on time with tech tools and devices is not enough to level the divide.

“The study challenges the people in the maker movement,” says Reynolds, assistant professor of library and information studies at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information. “They want to find a way to structure teaching and learning to ensure students are getting more substantive and deep learning experiences, with dedicated time on task.”

Reynolds says she believes school librarians could play an important role as educators, helping to shape a tech program that is scheduled into the school day, rather than just handing students tools and devices to explore “on their own,” she says.

“Educators are always hearing a need to implement technology, and a lot of them struggle with how,” she says. “At Rutgers, we’re suggesting school librarians play a significant role in this.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.