This blog attempts at applying some of the issues raised in M. Warschauer’s article “Dissecting the Digital Divide“to the current situation in our schools and/or universities. The first relevant point I found in the article was the idea of the digital divide mindset; the term refers to”seeking to overcome social gaps through provision of computers and the Internet, with little regard to the context in how they are used” (Warschauer 298). This is evident, for example, in the Faculty of Arts where I teach; we have a whole lab full of ready to use computers but neither the instructor nor the students can access it whenever they want. Ironically, e have only two labs in our entire faculty, each has a maximum capacity of 20 students. The single class in any academic year, however, can reach up to 200 students. Moreover, there are hardly available slots in either the students’ or instructors’ schedules. Consequently, accessing the labs to deliver a workshop or to introduce a new learning platform to your students is actually an impossible dream to achieve. This situation, I think, is a very clear application of the “digital divide mindset” discussed in the article; in other words, you have the technology but you can’t use it for reasons that are beyond your, and probably the institution’s, control.
Later in the same article, Warschauer refers to how some Egyptian schools have started investing in technology in an attempt to solve their persistent problems. The term “a magic bullet” (298) used in the article again is highly indicative of the situation at my Faculty. I’m not sure why these 2 labs were established in the first place, but the fact that they are, at least officially, named “language labs” implies that may be they were originally set up for language teaching purposes. However, setting up these labs obviously has failed to solve any of the problems educators and students face on a daily basis. A very relevant example is a situation I face every week in my academic writing class which, in my opinion, jeopardises the entire learning process of my students. Firstly, the room is equipped with a data show device which at many times doesn’t work! The technician is NEVER available and you find yourself wasting more than 20 minutes of the session time trying, in vain, to make it work. Secondly, we don’t have classrooms in the real sense of the word in our faculty; all we have are lecture halls that are designed to facilitate only one teaching method: lecturing. While this method may be used in teaching content based courses, also with several disadvantages, it definitely cannot, and should not, be used in teaching skills-based courses like writing. How can you lecture your students on how to write??? Can you give an instructor based session on student’s most common errors without having any feedback from the actual students??? Can you design peer-assessment and cooperative writing exercises for a class of at least 100 students??? Hence, adding data show devices to the lecture halls and setting up a couple of language labs was definitely not “the magic bullet” to solve our problems.Consequently, the biggest educational challenge I face at the Faculty of Arts is how to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment for my students. The picture below provides a visual illustration of this dream: