Is access to computers and the web enough to solve the digital divide?

technology-fieldIn the middle of one of Miami’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods, there is a computer lab with free wireless internet for Liberty City residents who would otherwise go without the technology.

But when Cecilia Gutierrez looks at how residents are using the web connection her nonprofit provides, she’s disheartened.

“They’re going to social media sites. They’re not using it to get ahead, unless they’re being guided by us,” said Gutierrez, CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative.

Gutierrez has zeroed-in on a problem researchers are only now beginning to understand: access to computers and the web is not enough to solve the problem of the digital divide.

Researchers are learning that not all access to technology is equal. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that more technology may contribute to opportunity gaps between the rich and the poor. For example, a 2014 University of Connecticut study found that lower-income students were worse at locating and evaluating online information than their higher-income peers.

Next page: What researchers and educators say about technology and the digital divide