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The impact of openness on bridging educational digital divides

16.12.2009

Openness has been a feature of higher education for many decades, particularly through the establishment of open universities, although there remain debates about what openness means in practice. Digital technologies, some based on open principles, and digital content, aided by open licences, have both contributed recently to an extension of what is deemed possible under the heading of openness.

Nevertheless, while in principle there may be greater degrees of openness available in higher education it does not mean in practice that many people can still readily avail themselves of these new opportunities to learn, not just because they do not have access to digital technologies but personal circumstances mean they also lack the necessary skills and the confidence to use such technologies in general or for education in particular. In fact it can be argued that this new openness, characterised mainly through the open educational resources movement, may actually widen rather than bridge the digital and educational divides between groups, both within and across national boundaries, through the increasing sophistication in technologies and the competencies expected of learners.

This paper reviews some of the evidence supporting these different areas of interest and attempts to provide a synthesis of them. It then argues that actions may be required by many inter-mediaries to help to reduce the diverse social and cultural digital divides within education, including through the mediated use of open educational resources between teachers and learners.

Author: Andy Lane, The Open University, UK