Cyberworld unlimited? Digital Inequality and New Spaces of Informal Education for Young People

International Conference, February 9th -11th  2006 / Bielefeld, Germany



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Poster Presentation and Project Exhibition




  Cyberworld unlimited?
Digital Inequality and New Spaces of Informal Education for Young People

International Conference February 9th -11th  2006
Today, the internet is regarded as the central resource for knowledge and information. Associated with this, the idea is that everyone is able and even expected to serve himself or herself according to his or her own needs via this medium. Since more and more services are delivered online the internet seems to allow its users to enjoy specific advantages in dealing with their everyday life.
However, using the internet is based on a range of preconditions. New results of empirical and theoretical research indicate the rise of a social divide in this context. Within the internet, differences in ways of use can be identified alongside social inequalities. They mirror boundaries of the „real life“ in the virtual space e.g. in terms of forms of communification and spaces for appropriation (in a sense of self-formation processes of social actors). These are not only shaped by individual preferences but particularly by social structures and processes. This appears in two dimensions: by processes of social closure and by service structures which only reach special target groups – prevalently in contrary to their own intention.
In the context of the broader debate on education it is stated that formal educational structures are to be urgently completed by arrangements which are structured in informal resp. nonformal ways. Particularly the internet is suggested to play a special role in this respect. However, the phenomenon of digital inequality points to limitations consolidated by effects of cultural, social and material resources: Economical resources affect opportunities of access, priorities of everyday life shape respective intentions of internet use, social relationships have an impact on the support structures available and ways of appropriation reproduce a specific understanding of informal education (“Bildung”). This produces an early stratification of opportunities especially for the subsequent generation and may lead to extensive inequalities regarding the distribution of advantages in terms of education.
Thus the capacity of the virtual space in terms of participatory opportunities and democratic potentials raises concerns of major relevance with respect to social and educational policy. From the perspective of different disciplines involved in these issues, it is essential to clarify this issue in empirical as well as theoretical ways and to make it utilizable for a future-oriented practice.  
In particular, the following questions are central for the analysis:
  • What are the impacts of technical equipment and social sites of access with respect to online participation?
  • How do social preconditions influence differences in using the internet and which are the consequences for young people’s ways of use?
  • What forms of communification and specific media cultures can be observed on the internet and how do they affect informal processes of education?
  • In which ways are aspects of the “real life” and the “virtual space” related regarding the facilitation of different ways of appropriation?
  • Which preconditions are required for opening up new spaces of education for young people via the informal structure of the internet?