Science 5 min read

Video Games to Close 'Digital Divide' Between Household Incomes

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Research suggests that, though they spend roughly the same amount of time online, there is a gap between how teens with wealthy families and teens with less affluent backgrounds use the internet. Is the data accurate? What can we do to attack the gap?

In a 2012 study, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that both rich and poor teenagers have roughly the same amount of hours logged online. The difference? More affluent teens spend their time on the net searching for practical information, check e-mail, or read news rather than play video games like less affluent teens do.

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The information provided by the study highlights an interesting pattern, but I have doubts about its comprehensive nature. For instance, what do they mean by ‘practical information’? Does social media interaction count as useful info?

Regardless, the study makes it clear that the digital gap between rich and poor teens may have more to do with education and opportunity than actual preference.

This leaves us wondering whether the information is misleading, and what ripple effects this data has on other fields that wish to target online audiences precisely.

How Comprehensive is the Data?

The report was based on data from over 40 countries. It concludes that even when all teenagers have access to the internet, there is still a divide in how they are utilizing the technology. We already mentioned what the divide is, but why does it exist?

According to the report, some teens are only go online at school, which makes education a natural target for the study. In fact, the OECD gathered the data for the study as a part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an initiative that examines the academic performance of 15-year olds all around the world. The report says that “Equal access does imply equal opportunities,” but it goes on to say that disadvantaged students are less likely to be aware of the opportunities that are available via the internet.

So, according to PISA, academic performance is the driving factor in the digital divide between wealthy and poor teens, but more impoverished teens may not be made aware of the opportunities available to them. Thus they spend more of their time playing video games rather than working to better themselves.

The problem with the study is that we can’t tell how comprehensive the data is. We simply do not know their criteria for ‘practical information,’ which is one of the leading factors in their proposed digital wealth gap.

Also, the information can be misleading regarding adolescent capacity in individual skills. For example, reading comprehension performance in an academic setting where books are printed on paper (from the PISA study) may excel while reading time online could lag if the computer they are using is slowing down.

What is the underlying factor, then? It could be that those teens that have less access are not reading as much as their more privileged counterparts, or it may even come down to a preference for things printed on paper rather than displayed on a screen.

Still, it’s pretty clear that academic performance makes a difference between how teens are using the internet, so how do we close that gap? In a word: Gamification.

Learning Through Video Games

If you have a low-performing sector of a population, then you naturally want to build up their skills to give them the ability to catch up to their peers. There could be many reasons why richer teens are more motivated to flock to online opportunities rather than diversions, but if you want to change things, then you need to target the ones that you want to help the most.

So, how can we influence people who spend most of their time playing video games? Through games, obviously. If developers made games that also teach kids about possible opportunities that they have in the internet age, we would likely see an entirely different set of data in studies like what was done by the OECD.

One example of educational games comes from EteRNA, browser-based video games that engage users in solving fun puzzles that teach them about how RNA molecules fold onto one another to build expected organic shapes.

Their video games are a perfect tool for students that may one day become our next top biologists and medical researchers, and once they realize that they have been studying high-level science, they may be more open to looking for opportunities in those fields.

We need more educational games because gamification makes learning a skill fun, and that increases engagement. Ask any teacher anywhere what the golden key to learning is, and they’ll likely tell you that it is engagement. Gamification is an education hack that tends to elicit a very engaged response from a student. The result? Students learn through playing, and that makes everyone in an academic setting happy.

Additionally, marketing companies could get a piece of the action by using educational games to target teenagers based on their academic interests.

We often mold our life on what we liked in school, and that means that savvy marketers that keep their finger on the pulse of ed-tech can get in on the ground floor of people’s interests.

Can games bridge the opportunity gap between rich and less wealthy kids in Industry 4.0? The answer is very likely yes, but whether or not that will happen is up to the edtech sector.

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William McKinney

William is an English teacher, a card carrying nerd, And he may run for president in 2020. #truefact #voteforedgy

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    Shannon Harrington March 30 at 9:28 am GMT

    It’s worth reading. Will browser-based video games make a difference?

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