Education Chat

Digital Divide to Digital Continuum

Michael Cohen and Ira Sockowitz took questions on the findings and implications of a new study on children's access to technology across the socioeconomic spectrum.

October 26, 2007

Digital Divide to Digital Continuum

Michael Cohen
, the president of the Michael Cohen Group, LLC, and principal investigator for the Ready to Learn Partnership; and Ira Sockowitz, executive vice president of the Ready to Learn Partnership.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s live chat. I’m Janelle Callahan, a research associate in the EPE Research Center, and I’ll be your moderator. Our guests Michael Cohen and Ira Sockowitz will answer your questions about the findings and implications of the new report “Children, Families, & Media: A Benchmark”.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Let’s begin the discussion.

Question from Aric Haley - Director of Corporate Sales - Datawise, Inc.:

It’s one thing for socioeconomically disadvantaged children to have technology in their homes, but how well are they picking up the skills needed to take full advantage of the tools at their disposal (e.g. keyboarding, Internet research & critical analysis skills) as compared to children in families of higher socioeconomic status?

Michael Cohen:

This is an excellent question that is right on target in regard to what we presented yesterday. Simply we don’t have the answers and it’s what we’re hoping to explore and identify over the next year or so.

Question from Maureen Casey, parent, Arizona:

As a parent of child with a physical disability I am frustrated that despite creation of the NIMAC (a federal repository where publishers can “deposit” digital files to assist students who are visually impaired or print disabled) to access textbooks, it still seems that connections between software for students with disabilities and textbooks provided for general education are held together with string and tape. How can we ensure that students with disabilities truly access the general curriculum at the same time as their typical peers? And why does it seem that things are not getting easier, despite the proliferation of software and hardware solutions?

Ira Sockowitz:

I understand and appreciate your frustration with the pace of technological innovation and improvement. While there are seemingly many efforts to make such improvements, the downside is that they are often dispersed and not universally known or even built upon. the best way to ensure that students get access to the latest and best technology is to become or remain a forceful advocate on these issues and have other parents and interested parties do the same. This includes your school board, your local, state and federal officials.

Question from Annette Clayton, Lead School Social Worker, Newport News Public Schools:

Far too often teachers and school leaders assume that students have access to computers and the internet at home. Typically, homework and projects now require easy access to computers and the internet (even in the primary grades). Without it, low income students are “left behind.” Not only do they earn poorer grades, they become “marginalized” early on...because they recognize that they are different. Can you suggest some realistic solutions, given the reality that income still dictates whether or not resources are available in homes and communities.

Ira Sockowitz:

As Dr. Cohen’s research suggests, the gap is media technology access is starting to get smaller. Nothwithstanding the new data, the gap does remain and yes, teachers do make some assumptions about that access. Realistically, I think that parents, PTAs and other advocates need to work closely with their school leaders to ensure that the “local” capabilities are understood and that lesson plans and assignments are adjusted accordingly. the other side of the coin of the question you pose is that it is also important that parents and advocates work to ensure that resources are available to these students in their schools or other community settings, such as after school centers and libraries, to allow those without computers to also gain the skills the assignments seek to utilize. In that way, they are not differentiated from the rest of their peers and the skills they’ll need to advance in their education and ultimately the competitive job market.

Question from Reed Markham, Associate Professor, Daytona Beach College:

Has your research identified what specific types of software and learning technology is most beneficial to children from low income backgrounds? Does your research indicate whether access to technology is improving scores on standardized achievement tests?

Michael Cohen:

No, we have not yet identified specific software and technology. Right now, we are focused on identifying what might be the optimal use of different platforms - e.g. digital video vs web delivered interactive content, etc. The technology and outcome question is critical and we ourselves haven’t seen anything any work that differentiates content from platform so the answer is - we don’t have any evidence for any conclusions right now.

Question from John Stallcup Co Founder APREMAT/USA:

Given the near universal access to online resources why has there been so little work done to promote the use of existing, proven, low cost and free programs like,,,and by the large population of students in failing schools.

Ira Sockowitz:

Sadly, your reference to “near universal” access to online resources is not yet true. As Dr. Cohen’s research reveals, we are now seeing all income levels participate in the use of media and technology. However, the rate of participation still varies by the level of income. While the adoption of media technology in low income homes is happening at a more rapid rate than previously thought, it remains far from universal. That said, I cannot speak to specific resources like the ones you mention and their adoption, or lack thereof, by specific school systems or districts. I do know that the concept of media-based interventions and learning tools is still an evolving pedagogical area and is not yet itself universal in acceptance. that may have something to do with these resources not yet being utilized.

Question from Bill Ring, Past Chair, Parent Collaborative, LAUSD:

With over 650,000 students, mostly ELL and Title One, LAUSD students MAY have access to working technology in classrooms (yes, most high school students do have cellphones) yet parent leadership groups are challenged by how to harness the internet to communicate when so many of our district parents have no computer, internet or email at home nor access at work. What does your research show about how viable your argument is in Los Angeles today?

Michael Cohen:

I don’t know how to answer the question becasue I’m not sure what you consider our argument to be. Certainly, although we may have seen a dramatic increase in the access to technology at all economic levels we speculate that significant differences are going to exist not so much in who has the hardware but by social environment. Therefore, I would hypothesize that students who live in homes where the parents are not involved in their technology use are going to have a significantly different experience.

Question from Darla Hatton, Parent:

Since most individuals have TVs, and most TVs are now enabled with closed captioning, I would like to know if the use of this technology has been explored to encourage children age 5 and up to improve literacy development?

Ira Sockowitz:

Unfortunately, I am not aware of whether or not the use of closed captioning is being either tested or utilized in this fashion.

Question from Bill Penuel, Director of Evaluation Research, SRI International:

To what extent does access to digital technologies in the home translate to young people being able to take advantage of powerful new online multimedia environments that might require access to broadband? Also, to what extent might literacy levels affect families ability to learn from the Internet and other text-rich media?

Michael Cohen:

Hi, I can only offer an hypothesis. I assume you mean the literacy levels of both the student and caregivers - I imagine it would have a gigantic impact on the ability to learn from any “text-rich” media. Secondly, we don’t have the evidence yet to identify the relationship between ownership of technology and opportunities for learning via that technolgy.

Question from Paula, Ed.Advocate and Mom, Orleans County, NY:

Our school districts support instruction through the use of technology,starting as early as elementary school. How do you bridge the gap between parents and children? I wouldn’t mind a regular newsletter (electronic and/or printed) from the school of suggested informational websites that are age and interest appropriate for my child. I think this is a challenge to many parents who would appreciate some ideas and guidance.

Ira Sockowitz:

It is great to learn of your district’s efforts but you raise an interesting problem for parents. Regular communications between the district, or better yet, your child’s teacher, would most certainly be helpful. fortunately, there are many resources already available to you, as a parent, from trusted sources on the Internet. these include sites like Born Learning (, PBS Parents ( and many of the reading program sites. In addition, as content producers like ourselves, both the Ready to learn Partnership and our first product, WordWorld, also try to put parental information on our web sites and we are currently developing those resurces for you. Please visit and to see what we are developing for you.

Question from Michelle Ribant, Math Science Center Director, Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District:

How do you address the resistance of some teachers to allow complete technology integration in the classroom setting?

Ira Sockowitz:

The answer is at least two-fold. First, we must overcome the resistance by evidencing that media-based interventions do work. As a federal grantee, the Ready to learn Partnership not only makes curriculum-based media but we also rigorously test them. In fact, our first show, WordWorld, which has begun airing on PBS nationally, is undergoing just such an analysis by the Michael Cohen Group. They did 23 formative studies that helped the WordWorld team create and revise the show in its production phase. Now that there is a series, Dr. Cohen’s team will conduct a summative study to ascertain the show’s efficacy. When these results come back, and are positive in nature, then we can add to the knowledge base of how media-based interventions are a pedagogically sound means of advancing student skills. Second, we must work with organization like NAEYC, IRA, and teachers colleges to introduce them to the latest designs, technologies, and proven media-based interventions so that they both overcome any resistance they may have and learn how to best utilize these tools in various educational settings, both formal and informal.

Question from Tom Gaskill, Education Coordinator, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve:

What technologies have been proven most effective for bringing field-based science to students?

Michael Cohen:

It depends on what aspects of the field-based science experience one is focused on. Technologies that allow for more interaction have been, in my reading of the literacture (I haven’t done the work myself), more effective in regard to student involvement, engagement, and learning. Non-interactive video in my mind could be very valuable for certain aspects of field-based science as well.

Question from Daniel Ward, Editor, Language Magazine:

I understand the emphasis on reading, however, children also need to learn how to write if they are to become contributors to society. Despite the development of some impressive and affordable digital tools, such as Pomona (just outside Los Angeles) USD’s RxNet Writer, online writing tools are rarely used. How do you think this situation can be rectified?

Ira Sockowitz:

You ask a good question that I believe is part of a larger question still, and one I tried to answer from another questioner here. In my humble opinion, I believe that there is an emphasis on reading in part because good readers are then able to learn a multitude of topics once they are capable readers. The question of whether we are using technology to teach either reading or writing is the larger question, however. In that regard, again my opinion is that we need to evidence the efficacy of using media-based interventions and get educators and parents trained and comfortable with using these tools.

Question from Pam Locascio, GATE Specialist, Ronzone Elementary:

How can schools better implement technology in the classroom to teach kids (rather than just provide follow-up activities) and actually engage them more in the learning process?

Ira Sockowitz:

My belief about where to place the emphasis on the best use of technology in classrooms begins with training, especially for teachers but also for principals and superintendents who make the purchasing and curriculum decisions around those technologies. By having leading associations and teacher colleges come to accept the pedagogical soundness of technology and media-based interventions, the training necessary to make them most useful should follow in short order. By finding ways to offer teachers already in place professional development courses we will enhance their skill sets. By making technology part of the curriculum for new teachers now earning their degrees, they will come to their school with these new ideas and skill sets already in place.

Question from Martha Bleeker, Princeton, NJ:

Have you been able to examine the interaction of income-level and gender, in terms of access to technology? In other words, are there any gender differences in technology use or access within low-income families?

Michael Cohen:

Great question, and interestingly, no we didn’t see any gender differences. I was surprised myself and want to keep a close eye on this as we track findings and do further investigations. Please keep in mind that we are working with families of children two to eight. It may be that we see significant differences as we head into the early adolescent years.

Question from Byron Holdiman, Teaching with Primary Sources Director, Quincy University:

Has there been any research on whether there still is a divide in remote rural communities based upon socio-economic status?

Michael Cohen:

In our research, we didn’t see any significant differences between remote rural communities and the rest of the population. For the sake of clarity, we did see differences but not a clear divide and they were the same differences that we observed in urban and suburban populations. As we move forward I’d like to do more nuanced work about rural, suburban, and urban social environments.

Question from Meg Cramer, Human Factors Engineer:

Is there data on laptop usage for low income families? Laptop usage was not borken down into income brackets in the report. Thank you.

Michael Cohen:

Thank you for asking. Yes, we do have that data and for variety of reasons we didn’t report on it on a level of detail that I think you’re interested in. If you’d like to know more I’d be happy to get you directly in touch with Jocelyn Kiley, one of my colleagues who I believe could help.

Question from Chris Pawelski, Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University:

I briefly read the Summary of your report, and I noticed that you didn’t mention iPods. We’ve been curious about how available are these within the various economic groups of folks. We see lots of them on the streets....did you include this media in your research....and if so...what did you discover...OR if not....can you venture some thoughts on this as a useful tool for education...both for children and families?

Michael Cohen:

We did ask about iPods and the data was captured in a category called MP3 Players. The study wasn’t designed to look at this issue at the level of detail that it deserves. We are now going into a period where we are going to be looking at specific technologies and platforms ‘through a microscope’. I couldn’t agree with you more that the iPod technology as well as the iPod social phenomenon contain perhaps the most vibrant and significant opportunities for educational use. Also, the rapidity of Apple’s upgrading of the technology makes it a particularly interesting topic for study.

Question from Shelley Pasnik, Director, Center for Children and Technology:

Hi Michael, hi Ira. Thank you for sharing the results of your survey. Could you say a little more about the background questions you might have included in the survey, such as those related to caregivers’ level of education, and how they fit with media use aimed at supporting literacy?

Michael Cohen:

Hi Shelley. We included an entire battery of demographic questions including caregivers’ level of education, caregiver age, race, ethnicity, etc. Interestingly, we didn’t see a lot of significant correlation and if you don’t see it as a headline, it means for the most part that we didn’t see any significant correlation.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

You can download the full report at You may also be interested in yesterday’s panel discussion with the Ready to Learn Partnership and moderator Chris Swanson of the EPE Research Center. There will be an archived version of this Webinar on soon.

Question from Kathy Brown, Parent, Warner Robins Ga.:

Have you thought to look at some of Albert Bandura’s research on “role modeling” and how “self-efficacy” may play a role in your technologically constructed world and the education process for all students?

Michael Cohen:

That’s a great idea. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at Bandura’s work - thanks for the excellent advice.

Question from Elizabeth, Children’s Software Consultant:

Part of the resistance to technology by caregivers is the feeling that they have already been “left behind” as new technologies are continually evolving. Yet, there are many resources available to those with even the very basic understanding of how to navigate on the web or use a CD/DVD. How can we encourage a KISS strand among developers who feel deliverables need to have all the bells and whistles?

Ira Sockowitz:

I think that you raise an excellent point. As the Ready to Learn Partnership’s outreach work is focused on children and families from low income settings, we place a strong emphasis on making our media-based interventions easy to use. Moreover, when we pair them with caregiver tips and guides, we work hard to ensure that they are in easy to understand language, both technologically and grade level. Hopefully, with increased awareness of the adoption rate of media technology across all income strata found in Dr. Cohen’s research, more developers will seek to take advantage of this new information and work to make their goods and services usable.

Janelle Callahan (Moderator):

Our hour is up. Thank you to our readers for the great questions. And a very special thank you to our guests, Michael Cohen and Ira Sockowitz, for sharing their expertise today. You’ll be able to find the transcript of this chat on It will be posted shortly.

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