Tod Johnston

Digital Use Divide

Discussion created by Tod Johnston on Oct 27, 2016
Latest reply on Nov 1, 2016 by Jean Fleming

Not that long ago, if equity and technology were mentioned in the same sentence, more than likely the speaker was talking about the digital divide, or the gap between students with and without access to a device and an Internet connection. According to the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP), titled Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, school districts across the United States have made steady progress towards more equitable access to technology. However, equity in technology extends beyond access, and the NETP devoted significantly more time to the topic of equity than in any previous version, just within a different context.


The authors of the report coined a new term, the digital use divide, to describe a new technology equity gap, this time referring to how students are asked to engage with their devices.


Some students limit their use of technology to more passive levels, such as consuming media whether in the form of a YouTube video or digital textbook. Other students have opportunities to use technology in more active ways. Here the possibilities are not only more ubiquitous but also more exciting. Active uses of technology include mind mapping with a digital tool to organize learning, maintaining a blog or website, creating media, participating in interactive presentations, or collaborating in real-time with peers both near or far on a digital document.



(Infographic from


Nowhere is the impact of the digital use divide more evident than in assessment. When students use technology in passive ways, little can be done by a teacher to gauge understanding. But when students use technology in active ways, teachers have a wealth of learning artifacts to formatively discover what students understand and are capable of doing.


Consider this example: If students only watch a YouTube video on how to calculate the area of a complex shape, a teacher will have no foundation for understanding which students are actually able to solve a similar problem. However, if students are required to make their own short screencasts describing two strategies for finding the area, the teacher will have a wealth of data to gauge both students’ points of understanding and points of misconceptions and then make informed decisions about the next instructional strategies.


Interestingly, unlike the digital divide which tends to divide school districts along socioeconomic lines, the NETP states that the digital use divide is “present in both formal and informal learning settings and across high- and low-poverty schools and communities.” So improving access to devices and internet connections is important, but maybe not as important as educators rethinking what they ask students to do with the technology they already have access to. 


Connect with other educators and reply to following questions to join the conversation:

  • What ways do you encourage and/or require your students to use technology in active ways?
  • How do you use technology to assess student understanding and skill development?