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Digital Divide within the Context of Language and Foreign Language Teaching

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Abstract

Digital divide, the existence of which is commonly familiar but unknown as a concept, influence the lives of human beings to a notable extent. Access to information and communication technologies is one of the most significant indicators revealing digital divide. Within this framework, digital divide has a remarkable influence in various areas ranging from education to economy and from art to industry. In this paper, the links between digital divide and language and foreign language teaching are explained taking the cause-effect relationships into account. Under its links to language, the factor of “English” and multilingualism are emphasized. Under its links to foreign language teaching, subjects like teaching materials, language testing, multiple intelligences and learning styles, and foreign language education for physically-handicapped students are discussed.
Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 176 ( 2015 ) 766 – 771
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Peer-review under responsibility of the Sakarya University.
doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.01.538
ScienceDirect
IETC 2014
Digital divide within the context of language and foreign language
teaching
Assist. Prof. Dr. İsmail YAMAN
*
Ondokuz Mayıs University, Samsun, Turkey
Abstract
Digital divide, the existence of which is commonly familiar but unknown as a concept, influence the lives of human beings to a
notable extent. Access to information and communication technologies is one of the most significant indicators revealing digital
divide. Within this framework, digital divide has a remarkable influence in various areas ranging from education to economy and
from art to industry. In this paper, the links between digital divide and language and foreign language teaching are explained
taking the cause-effect relationships into account. Under its links to language, the factor of “English” and multilingualism are
emphasized. Under its links to foreign language teaching, subjects like teaching materials, language testing, multiple intelligences
and learning styles, and foreign language education for physically-handicapped students are discussed.
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Peer-review under responsibility of the Sakarya University.
Keywords: digital divide; language; foreign language teaching; information and communication technologies
1. Introduction
Millenniums ago people lived on agriculture which took physical effort as its fundamental source. Everything
was slower ranging from communication to transportation. Also, as a result of the very nature of conditions
available at those times, the terms ‘difference’ and ‘gap’ cannot be said to have been in question within the
framework of people’s livings and relations to the extent it appears today. However, with the advent of Industrial
* Dr. İsmail Yaman. Tel.: 0362 312 19 19; fax: 0362 457 60 91.
E-mail address: ismail.yaman@omu.edu.tr
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Peer-review under responsibility of the Sakarya University.
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İsmail Yaman / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 176 ( 2015 ) 766 – 771
Revolution in the late 1700s in England, the whole understanding of the world began to change and many practices
in daily life from agriculture and manufacturing to communication and transportation turned out to have technical
dimensions within only a few decades. Following this industrialization process, it did not take long to introduce the
two most striking profiles for human beings: ‘wealthy’ and ‘poor’. These profiles cut for 19th and 20th century
people posed the core motive behind the most violent conflicts among human beings. Though, on the other hand this
quite fast industrialization process was paving the way for a totally new era: Information Age.
In the late 20th century the world began to take on a completely different appearance. The term ‘technology’
initiated its reign and it has maintained its dominance at an increasing pace since then. This new age has turned out
to be quite different from the preceding processes the humankind has gone through in that its speed of progress has
been unbelievable. While a walkman was viewed as a great gadget approximately thirty years ago, the existence of
pocket computers are taken for granted today. As a direct result of this characteristic of the new digital age, the gap
among people around the world has undertaken distinct dimensions. Since such development of information and
communication technologies (hereinafter ICTs) has brought out the well-known ‘globalization’, everything
throughout the world has become closely interlinked. Therefore this novel conjuncture and its direct and indirect
reflections have introduced many positive and negative outcomes for almost every field from education and
medicine to sports and transportation.
2. The term ‘digital divide’
Being a quite novel concept, digital divide can be roughly defined as the gap between those having enough
access to ICTs and those who do not have. It is defined by Mossberger et. al. (2003: 1) as “the patterns of unequal
access to information technology based on income, race, ethnicity, gender, age, and geography”. As it is clear from
the definition, ICTs constitute the basic criteria for the measurement of digital divide. As for the scope of ICTs,
television, phone (mobile and landline), computer and access to internet can be seen as the main determinants.
Digital divide can show itself in different contexts resulting from various factors. Considering this multi-faceted
characteristic of it, the methodologies formulated to measure digital divide are quite changeable. Therefore, while
measuring it the aim should be specified clearly and the criteria should be selected accordingly.
2.1. Factors behind the digital divide
Digital divide is resulted or exacerbated by some factors that also shape the way people live. These factors
can be counted as income level, literacy, age, geography, gender, language, population, disability, and so on. These
factors are, in most cases, inherited characteristics or conditions on which people generally do not have a right,
indeed, an opportunity of decision-making. It is just like being born into poverty or prosperity. What is worse, they
are rather hard to improve due to the multi-dimensional nature of the issue.
2.2. Basic contexts for digital divide
One of the most striking gaps in terms of access to ICTs arises between countries. From a more general
perspective, an apparent divide can be observed between continents. Secondly, digital divide can arise domestically,
between regions, areas and even individuals. As the socio-economic and educational factors can vary with different
regions and areas in a country to a notable extent, level of access to ICTs cannot be homogenous in every part of a
country. Actually, the issue has its roots at the individual level. Everybody has their own socio-economic and
educational background and the needs and routines of people vary radically even within families. Thus the manner
of people in terms of ICT use poses differences ultimately leading to domestic digital divide. Finally, time is another
important variable in terms of the way digital divide shows itself. Change of time directly means change of things
and so the inevitable result is the change of life. Hundreds of years ago, the divide was characterized by possessing
tools like ploughs for agriculture. Likewise, just a few decades ago, televisions pioneered a radical change after
radios and the digital gap displayed itself under having or not having access to this novel technology. However,
today the major context for digital divide is marked by access to computers and internet. After several decades,
probably, the world will see new technological discoveries access to which will constitute the gap between people’s
lives. Actually, time resembles a magic tunnel; as you get ahead, you come across totally new and unusual things
768 İsmail Yaman / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 176 ( 2015 ) 766 – 771
and conditions. It does not take long for new conditions to become solely a part of the near past. Similarly, digital
gap throughout the world perpetually adopts different faces in accordance with the circumstances posed by the time.
3. Digital divide and language
Language is a highly complex and multi-faceted system composing the essence of people’s lives. That is the
origins of language dates back to the origins of human beings. A number of languages have existed throughout the
history. While some of these have become extinct, some others have been able to exist up to now. In addition, some
of these living languages are spoken by billions of people like English and Chinese whereas some address solely to
thousands like Abkhaz and Adige languages.
Since language is so included in our lives, it is also an indispensable part of ICTs. The use of ICTs almost
always requires a language system. On this point the difference between the languages set in the electronic devices
or sources and the language the addressees of these ICTs speak pose a problematic situation.
3.1. Dominance of English
After the beginning of American dominance in politics and technology around the world, English began to be
used as the lingua franca almost everywhere. It is widely used even in many countries where it is not an official
language. This “universality” of English has been blamed for killing local languages and corrupting local and intact
cultures. As a matter of fact, many words of English origin belonging to fields like technology, medicine, botanic,
etc. have invaded and tarnished the originality and image of languages like even German, Turkish and French.
Because most people believe in the necessity to have a good command of English in our century, it is likely to see
more and more controversies as to the debilitating effect of English on other languages and cultures.
The interference of English lexical items is not the only problem faced by users of other languages. English is
widely seen and used as the most prestigious language of science. The status of English as a science language is
consolidated by the fact that it is commonly used as a prestigious language of education. For example, Middle East
Technical University and Bosporus University, which are among the most reputable higher education institutions in
Turkey, are teaching in English. Consequently, new scientific findings, major scientific articles and proceedings are
almost all communicated to the world via English. Publishing and presenting such studies in English are thought to
enable researchers to address broader masses of people and such studies are viewed as “more scientific”. Thus,
attaining access to new scientific findings and so planning future roadmaps in accordance with them requires the
knowledge and usage of English. As a result, in many cases, people who cannot speak English stay unaware of
recent scientific and technological developments or at best they wait for the translation of the researches even if they
are conducted in their home countries. Because science and technology are inseparable realms, people without
English knowledge and countries which do not make effective use of English are drifted towards a more severe
digital divide.
In addition to the above characteristics of it, English turns out as the most prevalent language under the
framework of computers and internet. As access to internet is the most fundamental indicator in terms of digital
divide of nowadays, the language factor gains more importance on this point. Considering the proportion of web-
pages by language according to the data of 2007, 45 % of all internet media is in English and it is followed by other
European languages like German (5.90 %), French (4.41 %) and Spanish (3.80 %)
(http://funredes.org/lc/english/inicio/). Similarly, latest data from Internet World Stats (2010) indicate that English is
used in the internet by 536 millions of people and it is succeeded by Chinese (444 millions) and Spanish (153
millions) (www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm). It can be apparently deduced from both researches that English
has an overwhelming rule in the realm of internet. That is, non-speakers of English have a rather limited scope in the
digital world and they are left in a necessity condition that they learn English and only then get access to the
innumerable benefits provided by internet.
The problem is worsened by the fact that most software and hardware belonging to computers and related
technologies are designed and formulated in English. Until new computer-related devices and programs become
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ready for the use of non-English speaker communities, they go through a challenging translation process. This
relatively technical translation job not only retards the delivery of technology but also produces new problems.
Since, most terms and concepts related with technology are of English origin and many other languages, particularly
less spoken ones, do not have their equivalents. Moreover, words like format, update, wireless, etc. are preferred
even in languages like Turkish which has their native equivalents. Therefore, components of key significance like
user manuals and software instructions turn into an incomprehensible load of borrowed words and terms. The result
is then a mounting digital divide again for less educated and those with a lower socio-economic status.
3.2. Multilingualism
The nature of human beings requires them to interact with each other. Throughout history, many
nations, states, empires, colonies and communities have appeared in differing locations on Earth and
members of these have all made use of a language system to communicate with each other and even to
talk to themselves. Following the rise in interactions between people with activities like trade and war, it
was understood that knowing only one language was not adequate. From this point on, the world began
to see the cases of multilingualism and plurilingualism almost everywhere people live.
Even though multilingualism is a direct indicator of cultural and social wealth, it may become a
disadvantage in dealing with digital divide in communities where the number of languages exceeds a few.
While the rule of English is an undeniable case, it would be weird to expect that more than three
languages in a country can receive equal shares in terms of technological developments. The existence
of each more language means a new challenging translation process. Furthermore, every language in a
multilingual system does not have the chance of being seen worthy enough for translation. In India and
South Africa, for example, there are more than ten official languages and in addition to them dozens of
other local languages. When a novel technological system or software enters into such countries, the
official languages (even some of them may be neglected) are naturally given priority for the translation of
related documents and systems. Thus, speakers of less common languages become digitally isolated
and they are somehow forced to employ other prevalent languages in order to keep abreast of
technology.
4. Digital divide and foreign language teaching
Each passing day brings a new paradigm and the conditions of effective learning are shaped in accordance
with these new paradigms. The century we live in has introduced a number of facilities for the realm of education
and most of these are closely related with the use technology. In the book “The World is Open” Bonk (2009: 51)
lists ten openers that make learning more effective and prevalent in the 21st century:
Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)
1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
4. Leveraged Resources and Open Course Ware
5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
7. Electronic Collaboration
8. Alternate Reality Learning
9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
10. Networks of Personalized Learning
These points listed by Bonk (2009) put a strong emphasis on the integration of technology and computers
in to education. This clearly shows the extent to which internet and new technological developments hold potentials
for learning in the 21st century. In the same direction, Warschauer et al. (2000: 7-8) state that the integration of
770 İsmail Yaman / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 176 ( 2015 ) 766 – 771
the internet brings ALIVE (Authenticity, Literacy, Interaction, Vitality, Empowerment) to the learning process.
However, the problem here is the identification of the extent to which learners have access to ICTs on an equal
basis. As a mater of fact, digital divide remains as a serious threat in front of having equal learning opportunities.
The results of a recent report by the World Economic Forum indicate that Turkey ranks 45th after Kazakhstan and
Hungary in The Networked Readiness Index 2013
(http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GITR/2013/GITR_OverallRankings_2013.pdf). This statistical datum is simply
related with the between-countries context and it shows that Turkey is not in a desirable place in terms of network
readiness. Even developed countries face inequalities among students concerning access to ICTs (Castaño-Muñoz,
2010).
Foreign language teaching differs from second language teaching in many respects. First of all, learners do
not have enough opportunities to have access to the authentic uses of the target language in foreign language
contexts. This is mostly because of the fact that there are not enough native speakers around to practice and to be
exposed to the target language to an adequate extent. Therefore, language learners and teachers need to exert extra
effort to compensate for this disadvantage. Under this framework, the significance of making use of technological
aids increases. If there is digital divide faced by the learners in different countries, regions, cities, schools, and even
families it is hard to mention equal chances of developing foreign language skills. The importance of the use of ICTs
for language learning and teaching purposes is discussed below under separate subheadings.
4.1. Instructional materials
The effective use materials is quite important in foreign language teaching. In order to raise the efficacy of
the learning process, teachers can make use of internet, computers, smart boards, and projectors in the classroom.
This is especially important in terms of raising the authenticity of the learning. Through internet, learners can have
access to limitless authentic reading, listening, writing, and speaking activities and tasks. In disadvantaged schools,
for example, listening activities are still done through cassette players, which challenges students due to factors like
poor voice quality, the absence of a visual aid, and so on. However, a computerized listening activity provides the
students with supporting visual aids, a perfect-like voice quality and even a script. Alongside their benefits to the
improvement of language skills, the use of technological aids in the classroom can contribute remarkably to the
motivation of the learners. Actually, this is not something completely related with the within-class conditions; on the
contrary, these learning aids render learners autonomous and make learning free of time and place restrictions. The
posh term, ‘Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL)’ puts a strong emphasis on this autonomy dimension
with its direct reference of learning instead of teaching. Nevertheless, in order to benefit from these opportunities
adequately, you have to possess these types of ICTs. A technologically-advantaged student, for example, can look
up an unknown lexical item on a smart phone instantly while a technologically-disadvantaged student has no
alternative than a paperback dictionary the use of which is relatively time-consuming compared with digital and
online dictionaries.
4.2. Testing
Assessment is an integral part of all learning processes and language learning is not an exception within this
context. Computerized systems enable language teachers to prepare more interactive and content-rich tests.
However, the learning environments that suffer from digital divide are bound to paper and pen tests. Internet media
do not only bring benefits for the teachers in terms of preparing quality tests, they also bring considerable
contributions to the learners in the self-preparation process for the tests. Moreover, the international tests of English
like TOEFL and IELTS are now carried out mostly on internet-based basis. If a learner is not familiar enough with
computers and online systems, this constitutes a serious disadvantage. Even if such students are good enough at
language skills, their inadequate digital literacy may put them in a difficult condition.
4.3. The recognition of multiple intelligences and different learning styles
In a foreign language class, it is very important to understand the different intelligence types of the learners
in order to address their different learning preferences. It is wrong to expect every learner to have the same sources
of motivation to learning. Through the recognition of different types of intelligences and learning styles in a single
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İsmail Yaman / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 176 ( 2015 ) 766 – 771
classroom, the teachers can adapt the language and accompanying activities to suit the needs and intelligence types
of the different language learners in their classes. The integration of technology can make teachers more powerful in
addressing the distinct needs and expectations of their students. A video display, for instance, can enhance the
motivation and learning performance of a visual learner while a nature-related video can contribute to both to
learners with visual and natural intelligence. Every small addition will help the teachers touch more students in their
classrooms and this holds a strong potential in enhancing the quality of learning. However, in a technology-deprived
setting, teachers do not have many alternatives at hand in addressing the different expectations of the learners.
4.4. Foreign language teaching for handicapped students
A more crucial point as to the integration of computer and internet technologies into foreign language
learning is the potential of helping people with disabilities by providing them broader range of opportunities during
the whole process, thus ultimately assisting them in integrating more with life. Some specific websites and software
that are specifically designed for the visually-impaired learners can be quite useful if there is a chance of having
access to internet. Even screen readers can bring priceless uses to such disadvantaged learners in their foreign
language learning process. The availability of a computer and access to internet can also save other physically-
handicapped students from going and participating in language courses in person. Thanks to internet, they can
benefit from the limitless language resources to develop different language skills in accordance with their own needs
and preferences and even attend online speaking sessions. However, these are not so possible in settings where
digital divide unfortunately shows itself.
5. Conclusion
In this paper, the term digital divide is covered within the context of language and foreign language teaching.
After a general introduction with the basic factors behind and basic contexts for it, digital divide is linked to
language under the titles of the dominance of English and multilingualism. Its relation with foreign language
teaching is established under the titles of instructional materials, testing, the recognition of multiple intelligences
and different learning styles, and foreign language teaching for handicapped students. It is obvious that digital divide
is not something that can be ignored. In this paper we have looked at its apparent relations with language and
language teaching, and it becomes clear that we all have to strive to bridge this gap in order to let language teachers
and learners experience better and higher-quality processes. Technology is developing at an unbelievable pace and
the benefits it brings hold a significant potential for everyone. However, if we cannot manage the struggle against
digital divide, these invaluable benefits can easily turn into huge disadvantages for many people.
References
Bonk, Curtis J. (2009). The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco:
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Castaño-Muñoz, J. (2010). Digital Inequality among University Students in Developed Countries and its relation to
Academic Performance. Revista de Universitat i Societat del Coneixement (RUSC), 7(1).
Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. & Stansbury, M. (2003). Virtual inequality: Beyond the digital divide. Washington, D.
C.: Georgetown University Press.
Warschauer, M, Shetzer, H. & Meloni, C. (2000). Internet for English Teaching. Alexandria, VA: TESOL
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http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm Accessed on August 26, 2014
http://funredes.org/lc/english/inicio/ Accessed on September 12, 2013
http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GITR/2013/GITR_OverallRankings_2013.pdf Accessed on May 3, 2014.
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Research on the digital divide has shown that it is important to study more than just the differences between those who do or do not have Internet access. Other dimensions that should currently be studied are: Internet skills, time spent on the Internet and, in particular, the use people make of the Internet. For each of these it is important to study the determinants and social consequences. In this paper we first present an overview of these dimensions and their determinants, and secondly analyse the influence of the dimensions with respect to the academic performance of university students. The analysed data, in agreement with international research, demonstrate that a) the effects of the Internet on academic performance are not direct, but mediated by variables and, b) the positive effects of the Internet are more pronounced in those students whose background is already more favourable for achieving better academic results without using the Internet, in agreement with the knowldege gap hypothesis.
Book
That there is a "digital divide"—which falls between those who have and can afford the latest in technological tools and those who have neither in our society—is indisputable. Virtual Inequality redefines the issue as it explores the cascades of that divide, which involve access, skill, political participation, as well as the obvious economics. Computer and Internet access are insufficient without the skill to use the technology, and economic opportunity and political participation provide primary justification for realizing that this inequality is a public problem and not simply a matter of private misfortune. Defying those who say the divide is growing smaller, this volume, based on a unique national survey that includes data from over 1800 respondents in low-income communities, shows otherwise. In addition to demonstrating why disparities persist in such areas as technological abilities, the survey also shows that the digitally disadvantaged often share many of the same beliefs as their more privileged counterparts. African-Americans, for instance, are even more positive in their attitudes toward technology than whites are in many respects, contrary to conventional wisdom. The rigorous research on which the conclusions are based is presented accessibly and in an easy-to-follow manner. Not content with analysis alone, nor the untangling of the complexities of policymaking, Virtual Inequality views the digital divide compassionately in its human dimensions and recommends a set of practical and common-sense policy strategies. Inequality, even in a virtual form this book reminds us, is unacceptable and a situation that society is compelled to address.
Article
Web-based technology has opened up education around the world to the point where anyone can learn anything from anyone else at any time. To help educators and others understand what's possible, Curt Bonk employs his groundbreaking "WE-ALL-LEARN" model to outline ten key technology and learning trends, demonstrating how technology has transformed educational opportunities for learners of every age in every corner of the globe. The book is filled with inspiring stories of ordinary learners as well as interviews with technology and education leaders that reveal the power of this new way of learning. Captures the global nature of open education from those who are creating and using new learning technologies Includes a new Preface and Postscript with the latest updates A free companion web site provides additional stories and information Using the dynamic "WE-ALL-LEARN" model, learners, educators, executives, administrators, instructors, and parents can discover how to tap into the power of Web technology and unleash a world of information.
Internet for English Teaching
  • M Warschauer
  • H Shetzer
  • C Meloni
Warschauer, M, Shetzer, H. & Meloni, C. (2000). Internet for English Teaching. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Publications. http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm Accessed on August 26, 2014