Archive for September, 2011

Exploring Digital Exclusion

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Earlier this week, we talked about how Microsoft and The Clinton Global Initiative are teaming up in an effort to make technology more accessible to low-income families in the United States.  Microsoft and the CGI plan to bring home access to high speed Internet and a personal computer to one million people over the course of three years.  Is this a worthwhile use of money and resources?  Many people see Internet access and a personal computer as mere luxury items. Is there a greater benefit to having Internet access and a computer in your home?  The research answers yes.

In a study done in November of 2008 titled Home Computers and Educational Outcomes:  Evidence from the NLSY97 and CPS, researchers found that students who have access to a home computer are between six and eight percent more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who do not have a computer at home.  The researchers also concluded that students who had home computers were more likely to have higher grades than students that did not have a computer in the home.  They also found that students with access to a computer at home were less likely to be suspended from school or commit a crime.  These researchers also suggested that having access to a computer at home may become increasingly important as more and more schools begin to use digital materials and even require the use of Internet based course content. At the time of this research, it was estimated that nearly 20 million children, or 26 percent of all the children in the United States, did not have a computer in their home.

Having a computer at home has impacts reaching beyond a person’s education.  It is estimated that 50 percent of all jobs require employees to have technical skills or computer literacy.  Within the next ten years, this estimate is expected to rise to over 75 percent.  The families who do not have a home computer with Internet access are unnecessarily missing out on various eLearning resources and online job skills training.  There is also a significant cost to society as a whole for families that do not have a home computer or home Internet access.  These costs come in the form of lost potential wages (which translates to lost tax revenues), a decrease in access to preventative health care information, and a decrease in the participation in government programs.

Similar outcomes were found in research from the United Kingdom as well.  In a study from October of 2009, The Economic Case for Digital Inclusion, researchers found that students with access to a home computer would have a higher lifetime earnings total than their counterparts who have no home computer.  The estimated 3.6 million households that do not have a computer or Internet access were found to be missing out on over £1 billon per year that could be saved by either shopping or paying bills online.  This report estimated that if everyone in the United Kingdom were online, the total economic benefit would be around £22 billion.

As you can see, making technology accessible to all people has many economic and societal advantages.  If you would like to learn more about digital exclusion, two great websites to visit are Shape the Future or Race Online 2012.

Microsoft Corporation and the Clinton Global Initiative Making Technology More Accessible to Low-Income Families in the United States

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Last week we talked about United States high schools requiring online coursework as part of their graduation requirements.  This trend is a good indication that policy makers in the United States see great value in students gaining technical exposure and experience as part of their degree path.  For a lot of students, adding an eLearning component to the graduation requirements will be just one of many interactions they will have with technology and the Internet before they finish high school.  But there are also a large number of students who are not so lucky.  Many young people in the United States do not have the means to afford a computer in their home, much less Internet access.  Technology giant, Microsoft, and the Clinton Global Initiative plan to change this. Last week, Microsoft announced its commitment to partner with the Clinton Global Initiative to bring digital access and skills training to one million low-income students in the United States.

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) states its mission to be “to inspire, connect, and empower a community of global leaders to forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”  The CGI is achieving this goal “by fostering partnerships, providing strategic advice, and driving resources toward effective ideas, CGI helps its members – organizations from the private sector, public sector, and civil society – maximize their efforts to alleviate poverty, create a cleaner environment, and increase access to health care and education.”  If you would like to know more about the CGI, you can visit their website at http://www.clintonglobalinitiative.org/

This partnership between Microsoft and CGI is an extension of Microsoft’s Shape the Future project.  Shape the Future is an initiative in which Microsoft hopes to help governments around the world support universal technology access for all citizens.  The Shape the Future project has already helped to provide digital access to approximately 10 million students all over the world.  Microsoft’s partnership with CGI includes plans for reduced cost Windows-based PCs optimized for students, broadband Internet access, Microsoft education software, and job skills training.  The city of Seattle will be one of the first locations participating in this project.   Seattle public school students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch will also qualify for high-speed Internet access at a rate of $9.95 per month.  This is about 75% lower than the average cost of high-speed Internet service.

On the Microsoft Unlimited Potential blog, Anthony Salcito underscored the importance of all students having adequate access to technology by sharing this: “In speaking with school leaders, there’s one thing I’ve heard time and time again: Students without Internet access at home face an uphill battle in school that affects their academic progress as well as their opportunities to graduate and get good jobs.” Mr. Salcito is the Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector Education for the Microsoft Corporation.  If you would like to read more about this partnership between Microsoft and CGI, you can view the press release here.

United States High Schools Including Online Coursework as Graduation Requirement

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, is making news this week with his announcement that every high school student in the state of Indiana should be required to take at least one online course before being granted a high school diploma.  Mr. Bennett explained his rationale for an online course requirement by stating that he felt like experiencing an online course would help to prepare Indiana students for the technology they will be using at colleges and universities, as well as in the workforce.

Several school districts within the state of Indiana are already incorporating technology into the curriculum, thus showing their belief that having technical skills is important for the students they serve. The Evansville Vanderburgh school district provides take-home netbooks to all middle and high school students. This Indiana district also has a teacher placed in the role of “eLearning coach”, responsible for working with other teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. Other technology heavy programs within this district are its Virtual Academy and New Tech Institute.

Indiana is not alone in its belief that technological experience is important to high school students.  The state of Michigan began requiring its students to take at least one eLearning course or have an online learning experience as part of their high school graduation requirements in the fall of 2006.  Michigan was the first state in the United States to have an online learning component as part of their high school diploma track.  The rationale for this decision was stated in the Michigan Merit Curriculum Guidelines.  According to this document, an online experience “will allow students to become familiar with a key means of increasing their own learning skills and knowledge. It will also prepare them for the demands that they will encounter in higher education, the workplace, and in personal life-long learning. While students informally develop technology skills and gain experience through their media-rich lives, an online learning experience will require them to complete assignments, meet deadlines, learn appropriate online behavior, and effectively collaborate with others in an instructional setting.”  This is quite a hearty endorsement for the importance of distance learning to say the least.

In 2009, the state of Alabama also added an online feature to its high school graduation requirements.  This change was adopted when policy makers realized Alabama students attending small schools were turning to online courses to access subjects that the schools they were attending did not offer.  Florida joined these ranks in 2010 when they decided that beginning with that year’s freshman class, all students would be required to take at least one course through the state’s virtual education program in order to receive a high school diploma.  Again, strengthening technical skills was the main reason sited for the change.  The Idaho state board of education is also considering adding an online course element to its high school graduation requirements.  Idaho voters will have a chance to approve this change in an election held in November of 2012.