Re-examining the Digital Divide in the Urban Chinese Classroom

Commentary 3:

Re-examining the Digital Divide in the Chinese Urban Classroom

The multilayered life worlds of our students enter the classroom with their gadgets. The iPods, the iPhones, the laptops and the Internet bring the private lives of the world outside of school within the four walls Wesch’s describes as the classroom. Students and their mobile phone technologies have access to dictionaries, translators and Google with a click of a key. New London Group’s discussion of multiliteracy is indeed entering the teaching and learning routine whether or not the educator is prepared (1996). Wesch’s blog entry “A vision of Students (& What Teachers Must Do) sheds light on how much the classroom structure has changed with the increasingly growing amount of digital technology students are bringing to the school scene (2008, n.p.).

A quick scan of the current classroom in China today reveals a similar scene to Wesch’s description. Dobson and Wilinsky’s discussion of the disparity caused by the digital divide seems to be shrinking as technology is becoming more economic with the growth of mobile technologies. Computers are common but mobile phones are even more available than ever. Both female and male students have their gadgets with them and students are not shy to surf the Internet for the latest updates. Multiliteracy is growing increasingly important in the classroom regardless of the digital divide and the examination of several aspects of the current classroom launches an insightful discussion.

Mobile technologies have been shaping the way students communicate in the classroom. With a simple movement of a few fingers, the students are able to ask people in and outside of the school, answers to the questions that arise in the classroom. The occasional chat over the daily gossip is popular and common with the increasingly affordable prices of instant messaging.

The gender gap Dobson and Wilinsky discusses (p.12) is subtle. As much as the male students are chatting with a flick of a button, so are the female students. Students have a language of their own as they remix different languages (Chinese, English or their hometown dialect) and emoticons through their short and grammatically incorrect sentences. The students are able to review and take notes on paper with the aid of a textbook, but simultaneously they are functioning in their technological private lives under the table. One moment they are exhibiting characteristics of print literacy while a second later they are engaging in digital literacy. One moment they are watching a video online, another minute they are back to the novels on their desks. The multiliteracy aspect of the classroom is changing at a rapid rate and students are switching between mediums instantaneously. The question then becomes, how can educators use such powerful gadgets to an educational use? Will it be possible to differentiate the public and the private on the current mobile phones? Educators would like more technology in the classroom but how can they use what every student already owns? How can educators handle multiliteracy in the classroom?

Teachers are becoming more digital savvy regarding their use of mediums in the classroom. At this time in history, the print and the digital literacy are coming together in a way that is causing change at a rapid pace. The institution of school that Wesch describes as being “built into the walls” is becoming transformed with the multiliteracies students are bringing into school (2008, n.p.). Furthermore in the near future when the educators themselves are also causing such change when this digital native generation matures and enters the teaching profession. As the teacher is preparing to present the curriculum from a textbook, they are able to complement their materials with online resources. The video clips, the audio clips and the use of the LCD projectors is blending a variety of educational methods together.


The digital divide is apparent between the rural areas of China but within an urban classroom, digital technology is flourishing and the presence of a digital divide is absent. Rather than a disparity of the presence or absence of technology, the latest digital divide within the urban classroom is between what the technology can and cannot do. The latest iPhone has abilities of a mini-computer whereas the oldest model of a phone in the classroom can only simply dial out with a screen smaller that is incapable of handling media messages. The gender gap within the younger generation is very subtle as both male and female students are both eager to engage in the world of the Internet. Each gender has it’s own behavioral patterns and social networking routines and communities. Multiliteracy is common in the classroom regardless of the digital divide that is apparent from a global scale. The convergence of the old forms of literacy and the new forms of literacy are happening in the classroom. Both students and educators are realizing a different classroom is being created. It is a space where the private and the public fuse together and the print and the digital are causing massive change.

Works Cited

Dobson, T. & Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital Literacy. In Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved, November 20, 2009, from

Wesch, M. (2008). A Vision of Students Today (& What Teachers Must Do). Retrieved from:

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