New Media Literacy and the Digital Divide

New Media Literacy and the Digital Divide

Jörg Müller (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain), Juana M. Sancho (University of Barcelona, Spain) and Fernando Hernández (University of Barcelona, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-120-9.ch005
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This chapter explores the intimate relationship between new media literacy and the digital divide. The longer and deeper digital technology (DT) penetrates the fabric of society, the more it becomes connected to broader social concerns such as disadvantaged minorities, long-term poverty, access to resources or equal opportunities for all citizens. Contrary to initial expectations, DT is far from providing immediate responses to educational problems and even less, automatic relief to real world injustice; left to its own devices, it tends to reflect and increase existing forms of exclusion rather than ameliorate them. In order to address these issues, this chapter combines three major topics. Firstly, we summarize the argument on the closing vs. deepening digital divide. Physical access figures are presented according to adult and younger population, their socio-economic status and in relation to schools. Secondly, more recent findings are shown, dealing with the quality and use of the Internet by pupils. Thirdly, a more general reflection is introduced in relation to the role of schools and intervention strategies for implementing sustainable educational projects aimed at helping to improve social participation in a society for all.
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From The Digital Divide To Social Inclusion

The more digital technology (DT) pervades society, the more it becomes attached to existing patterns of social inequalities. It is increasingly evident that DT does not provide a ready-made remedy for real-world injustice. On the contrary, it rather tends to strengthen existing social structures and inequalities (van Dijk, 2005; Warschauer, 2000). Young people are no exception. Nevertheless, they use DT more than any other age group. As their lives are increasingly mediated by DT at home and at school, existing socio-economic patterns permeate their usage. Schools are crucial in this context because they provide a major access opportunity, especially for less advantaged, students and can offer alternative usage profiles. As the academic and policy discussion has moved beyond a binary understanding of the digital divide between “haves” and “have-nots”, different concepts of media-, computer-, information- and multi-literacies have emerged. Indeed, the early concerns with providing physical access have been largely resolved in OECD countries –although it is not the case for the great majority of the rest. Despite this success in terms of infrastructure in technologically developed countries, social inequalities at large are still present. The question, therefore, is how can schools contribute to a more encompassing sense of digital equity and ameliorate the multi-dimensional gaps that separate the information poor from the information rich? This is an especially pressing problem, since new medianew media literacy cannot be addressed in an isolated fashion within schools (Kalantzis, Cope, & Learning by Design Group, 2005). Wider social networks and pupils’ cultural capital emerge as decisive differential factors. Earlier differences in access are thus repeated in contemporary inequities of skills and sophistication of usage of DT. This implies that theoretical and practical counter-measures directed at reducing inequalities in the digital realm have to merge forces with strategies for social inclusion as such.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Divide: Inequality in terms of access and usage of digital technologies. This includes imbalance in physical access to communication networks, computer hard- and software as well as imbalance in terms of motivation, skills and usage.

Multiliteracy: Multiliteracy is the ability to identify, interpret, create, and communicate meaning across a variety of visual, oral, corporal, musical and alphabetical forms of communication. Beyond a linguistic notion of literacy, multiliteracy involves an awareness of the social, economic and wider cultural factors that frame communication.

Sustainability Change: Sustainable improvement endures over time while being supported by available resources and without diminishing the ecological diversity of the environment in which it takes place.

Socio-Economic Barriers: Include a lack of general acknowledgment of technology’s growing importance, a lack of acceptance of technology, and a lack of resources- maintenance, use, and effectiveness-for poorer schools and families.

Digital inclusion: The incorporation and use of information and communication technologies into communities in order to promote education and improve the quality of life.

Digital Equity: Broad, encompassing formulation of digital inequality taking into account not only inequalities in terms of resources and opportunities but also inequalities in terms of constrains under which given groups of people have to perform. Equitable situations take into account the equal distribution of opportunities and constrains.

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