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EDITORIAL: Digital divisions threaten to plague semester

Maintaining uniform educational opportunity includes assuring digital equality, especially during an online semester.
Photo by Photo by Pexels | The Daily TargumMaintaining uniform educational opportunity includes assuring digital equality, especially during an online semester.

We are now all embarking on an experiment unseen in history — digital learning. 

Many challenges and opportunities present themselves amid this great experiment, and the full implications of many inequalities will become exposed. Foremost among those inequities is the digital divide seen between students.

Simply put, some students have access to better computers, better wireless internet and, generally speaking, better technology than other students. This puts certain students at a disadvantage in their classes and makes it more difficult for them to attain high marks.

Stanford University explains how the widening digital divide is often striated along class and geographic lines.

“Not surprisingly, and in direct correlation to education, the levels of household income also play a significant role in the widening gap … It has been observed that households earning incomes (more than) $75,000 are 20 times more likely to have home internet access than those at lowest income levels and 10 times more likely to have a computer if living in the city or suburban area than in the rural area,” according to Stanford University.

At the hands of circumstance, poorer students and students living in areas with low internet connectivity are disadvantaged this semester. Economic inequality is certainly a factor, one which further harms students already dealing with struggles that accompany lower class life.

It is clear that some students face digital shortcomings, oftentimes based on class lines. It is the responsibility of the Rutgers administration to assure that it assuages these technological gaps and prevent students from facing unnecessary disadvantage.

Attempts, as of now, have been misguided. The University is providing iPads for students, but with a catch: It is only available to first-years of the Rutgers community.

This is clearly an attempt by the University to soften the blow of digital education for incoming students and make technological access easier, but as previously stated, it is an entirely misdirected gesture. 

What makes first-year students particularly susceptible to technological shortcomings? What makes them uniquely exposed to digital inequality? Simply, why do they need University-sponsored technology more?

They do not. Instead of flippantly handing out learning technologies to incoming first-year students, it would have been much better advised for Rutgers to figure out, through a survey or verifiable financial statements, which students have lower quality technological capabilities which may disadvantage them in a digital learning environment. 

The administration needs to find out who, exactly, has poor internet access, and then provide technological aid to those students. It needs to draw the lines of computing aid among accessibility lines, not age lines.

There are other steps Rutgers should take to mitigate the impact of the digital divide on student learning. In addition to providing learning technologies to students who need them most, the University should form a concrete plan, distributed to professors, to combat technology issues.

For instance, if a student has poor Wi-Fi and is cut out while taking an exam, professors should have a protocol to refer to on how to proceed. If a student’s power goes out and misses a paper deadline, professors need a University-wide plan to refer to. This hypothetical plan would have to consider that students do not always have the same access to modern computing technology.

In his first year in office, University President Jonathan Holloway has a lot to deal with, but he would go a long way in earning the good faith of the Rutgers community by tackling this issue with efficiency and clear-mindedness.

“Please know that I have high expectations for you, and that you should in turn expect my own best efforts to build a strong community,” Holloway said, according to a University-wide email.

We do expect those efforts. Now act on them.

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The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.