Using E-Learning to Address the Educational Digital Divide in Remote Communities in the EU: Best Practices and Lessons Learnt from the REVIT Project

Using E-Learning to Address the Educational Digital Divide in Remote Communities in the EU: Best Practices and Lessons Learnt from the REVIT Project

Thanasis Hadzilacos (Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus), Angelika I. Kokkinaki (University of Nicosia, Cyprus) and Demetra Egarchou (Computer Technology Institute, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4550-9.ch009
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Digital Divide may manifest itself in terms of educational opportunities, especially in remote or insular areas. REVIT, an e-inclusion project, proved that e-learning courses can be designed, developed, and implemented to address the needs as these are described by the trainees themselves in an economically feasible, pedagogically sound, and technologically advanced way. The educational outcome of the project is not a “techie” product threatening to alienate the intended audience. Rather, the medium becomes the message and in some cases the tool employed by the citizens of remote or insular areas to establish their own online communities. This is the value brought forward by the REVIT project.
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The Digital Divide can be defined as a gap between people and/or places with regards to their access to “Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and their use […] for a wide variety of activities” (OECD, 2008). In this research, the Digital Divide is examined within the model for diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2003) and the reason is twofold: first, it is a widely accepted theoretical framework and second, it permits us to study and argue on this issue on a basis that is neither loaded with perceptual biases nor with ideological overtones.

From a policy-making viewpoint, the ‘Digital Divide’ is posited as an issue that ought to be reduced, or extinct. Numerous fora have formed strategies and funded projects to address the Digital Divide. E-inclusion initiatives attempting to bridge the DD have been proposed at national, transnational, regional or international level; however, their outcomes do not seem to always have a sustainable impact. It seems that the Digital Divide indicates a much subtler social discrimination than the economic and class related inequalities; therefore, it is much more difficult to address the DD than simple economic or more complex cultural and class differentiations.

On the face of it, e-learning seems a perfect tool to alleviate the DD; e-learning is about education and education with ICT too (“the medium is the message”) – and education is the basis for alleviating any social inequality. However, e-learning implies effective adoption of ICT and in such cases, van Dijk (2005) has shown that the Digital Divide is widening instead of being reduced. So, e-learning can be a tool to sharpen, or hide the Digital Divide (DD), as well as to alleviate it. In this chapter we shall describe an e-inclusion project that employed e-learning to alleviate a Digital Divide. REVIT (Revitalizing Small Remote Schools for LifeLong Distance e-Learning) was financed by the LifeLong Learning Program (LLP) of the EU Commission and run from 2008 until 2010 in Finland, Poland, Bulgaria, Greece, and Cyprus.

Following the systematic categorization of contributing factors for DDs, as proposed by Hilbert (2011), we first report on REVIT’s conceptualization in each of the proposed directions:

• The ICT infrastructure is one of the main dimensions used to examine the Digital Divide. Depending on the ICT infrastructure selected to be studied, conflicting conclusions might be reached. For example, the DD is closing with reference to mobile phones adoption (Barrantes & Galperin, 2008; Castells, Fernandez-Ardevol, Qiu, & ISey, 2009); however, it is spreading when it comes to broadband networks adoption (e.g. Cohen, 2008; Guerra & Jordan, 2010). So far, the Digital Divide has been reinforced with ICT innovations, however, an aspect that is interesting relates to the gradient of this divergence; the Digital Divide may not always be binary (haves vs. have nots); it may have escalations, i.e. “have how much,” “have how fast” etc. In the REVIT project, we were focusing on the necessary ICT infrastructure to support Web and Web 2.0 services;

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