In a world where educational and employment opportunities are increasingly tied to computer use, unequal access to information technology – known as the digital divide – is a significant public policy issue. Efforts to address this problem often focus on increasing access to public computers in schools and libraries. Yet, little is known about the impact of increased public access to computers given disparities in home computer ownership. Wei (2011) and colleagues developed a 3-level expansion of Dewan and Riggins’ (2005) 2-level model of the digital divide: (1) the digital access divide, which deals with unequal access to information technology in schools and homes, and leads to (2) the digital capability divide, which refers to differences in computer skills levels and ability to find information online, and finally results in (3) the digital outcome divide, which involves disparities in technology-focused learning outcomes. According to the authors, access to computers influences computer self-efficacy (CSE), or the belief in one’s ability to execute effective technology-related courses of action. This in turn is central to digital capability and outcomes. These authors used Bandura’s reciprocal determinism to depict the mutual influence of personal factors (such as computer self-efficacy), environmental factors (such as access to computers), and behavioral factors (such as patterns of computer usage). Survey data was collected from over 4000 secondary school students in Singapore. The survey assessed the students’ home and school computing environment, academic performance, CSE, and computer learning outcomes (skills and knowledge). The results supported the role of CSE in moving through levels of the digital divide. Students without home computers had significantly lower CSE, even if they had computer access at school, and students with lower CSE had poorer learning outcomes. Furthermore, IT instruction in school was more beneficial to the CSE of students with a home computer than those without. The authors also reported that use of home computers for leisure (e.g., computer games) was associated with higher CSE than was use of home computers for academic purposes. Wei and colleagues suggested that this may be due to the intrinsic motivation driving the use of computers for leisure as opposed to the extrinsic motivation underlying academic computer use. Based on these findings, the authors suggested that interventions focus on making home computers more affordable and available to students, thus increasing CSE, which in turn helps students navigate the digital capability divide and ultimately, the digital outcome divide.
A Social Cognitive Model of the Digital Divide
Wei, K.-K., Teo, H.-H., Chan, H. C., & Tan, B. C. Y. (2011). Conceptualizing and testing a social cognitive model of the digital divide. Information Systems Research, 22(1), 170-187.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation Reciprocal determinism Self-efficacy Social CognitionMedia Supplement
This NPR podcast , discusses the way Internet access through cell phones has shifted the “racial digital divide” in the U.S. [8 min 14 sec]