Instructional Design and the Digital Divide Some Ethical Considerations

Instructional Design and the Digital Divide Some Ethical Considerations

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Instructional Design and the Digital Divide: Some Ethical Considerations Stephen P. Victor Capella University Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA Email: [email protected] Abstract: This paper argues that instructional designers should consider implications of the digital divide when designing distance education. The term “digital divide” is defined as the notion that differences in socioeconomic status result in varying levels of access to modern communication technology, particularly the Internet. The paper examines the literature on socioeconomic considerations in education and discusses general ethical principles that are applicable to the question of instructional design and the digital divide. The paper concludes by suggesting that designers of distance education have an ethical obligation to be aware of the digital divide and to apply equitable design principles to their work. Introduction: The Digital Divide By its nature—requiring access to expensive technology and a developed telecommunications infrastructure—the Internet is the province of the affluent. Noting the gap between rich and poor nations, and between rich and poor citizens of developed countries, Bynum (2004) asked if moving such necessities as education, business, and medical services online will cause the gap between rich and poor to grow even wider. This paper argues that designers of distance education must be aware of the role they might play in perpetuating the disparity between rich and poor, both in their own nations and in a global context, and it offers suggestions for incorporating this awareness into the instructional products they design. Definition What is the digital divide? As a basic definition, it is the notion that differences in socioeconomic status result in varying levels of access to modern communication technology, particularly the Internet. According to Moore and Kearsley (2005) there is a “digital divide” in distance education, which they define as “the gap between those who have and those who do not have access to the digital technology that is an essential prerequisite for online learning” (pp. 210 and 212). Damarin (2000) described the term as “a code for all inequity in relation to computers, the Internet, and, particularly, the World Wide Web” (p. 17). This inequity is not only related to socioeconomic factors; for Groendal-Cobb and Patterson (2002), the digital divide also includes the factors of race, ethnicity, age, education, disability, language, and gender. Tavani (2003) made the important distinction that there is a digital divide both between wealthy and poor nations, and also within nations between rich and poor, racial majority and minority groups, men and women, young and old, disabled and non-disabled, etc. Solutions to the Problem Proposed solutions to the problem of the digital divide in education are varied and often contradictory.
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