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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Friday, December 30, 2016

Under Connectedness -- different conceptions affect how students work at home

Under Connectedness and Student Perceptions

As school districts and teachers transition to e-classrooms, many teachers are aware that not all students have the same access at home.  Of course, not having broadband access at home can make life extremely difficult for students -- especially when teachers use LMS platforms like Google Classroom, Canvas, or Schoology (to name a few) to push out homework.

It isn't easy, however, to gauge the connectivity of students as it can be seen as a sensitive socio-economic issue.  If you are in a classroom of 30 and it seems like most others are connected at home, it can be hard for students to come forward to say that they have access issues.  

What can make this more complicated, though, is the fact that there are different types of access as each student has a unique situation.  Last year, for example, I taught 3 students who were having academic troubles and submitting/accessing their work.  When I asked if they had internet access, they all said yes.  As the year continued, I noticed that their academic performance was not necessarily improving.  They generally did fine in class, but any work outside of class was not up to par.

Finally, in one on one discussions I discovered that their definition of being connected at home was having access to a parent's cell phone browser.   Earlier when I had asked if they had home access to the Internet, they honestly said yes.  However, this type of access wasn't really robust enough to engage in some of the online readings/discussions/projects that were a part of the class.

Another student split time between parents and noted that her mother had broadband access while her father did not.  She did her best to get her work done at school and at her mom's house, but when she spent a week with her dad she felt more stressed and behind.

The bottom line is that each school is comprised of different levels of home connectivity, but each classroom has its own dynamics as well.  As educators transition into the digital classroom and all that it has to offer, it is important to explore home connectedness issues up front at the start of the year.  This informs best practice and helps teachers and students adapt to create situations that are best for both teachers and learners.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Flipped Classrooms and the Digital Divide

Flipped Classrooms and the Digital Divide:
Challenges and Remedies

As more technology is infused into schools, more teachers are experimenting with "flipped classrooms" where students do individual work at school (with help from the teacher) and view lectures/assignments at home.  The idea is that students can listen and study at their own pace at home and then get focused help from the teacher at school.  Here are some recent statistics concerning teachers and flipped classrooms:

- In 2012, 48% of teachers flipped at least one lesson, in 2014 it is up to 78%.
- 96% of teachers who have flipped a lesson would recommend that method to others.
- 46% of teachers researched have been teaching for more than 16 years, but are moving towards flipped classrooms.
- 9 out of 10 teachers noticed a positive change in student engagement since flipping their classroom (up 80% from 2012).
- 71% of teachers indicated that grades of their students have improved since implementing a flipped classroom strategy.
- Of the teachers who do not flip their classroom lessons, 89% said that they would be interested in learning more about the pedagogy.

These statistics are certainly compelling and make a strong case for at least partial use of a flipped classroom when appropriate.  However, flipped classrooms assume that students have broadband internet access at home.   Some teachers might respond that their students do have access, but it is important to find out what kind of access this is.  For example, many of my students in the past have stated that they have access at home, but it amounted to using a parent's smartphone to access the internet.   This is simply not a feasible way to access lectures/activities at home that fit into a flipped classroom.     Other educators might mention that their students can go to a public hotspot area to gain access, but once again this isn't always realistic (or fair for that matter).  The point here is that educators need to be deliberate in finding out the exact types of access that students have when they are contemplating flipped classrooms.

If a teacher has several students that don't have broadband access at home, that doesn't mean that a flipped classroom dynamic should be off limits.   Some teachers have experimented with a "modified flipped classroom" where a teacher implements an "in class" version of the flipped classroom in order to meet the needs of individual learners.  Students can still access materials online in class and then ask the teacher specific questions tailored to where they are in the learning process.

Of course, there are work arounds to providing access to those who don't have home access.  These might include keeping the library open before and after school, lending out devices with connectivity, and lending out devices with the lectures/materials installed on them.  These are not perfect solutions and still might be inequitable in some cases, but they are a good start.
The flipped classroom does have great potential for those teachers who embrace the concept and work to perfect it.  Before doing so, though, an honest and thorough evaluation of student home connectivity is essential.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Latino Students and the Digital Divide (Part 2 of 2)

Latino Students and the Digital Divide (Part 2 of 2)

In part one, it was noted that Latinos in the United States are bridging the digital divide by getting internet access through smart phones.  As this connectivity increases, though, home broadband connectedness in Latino Households is actually decreasing.  This becomes an important issue for students as many districts throughout the U.S. are migrating to digital curriculum platforms.  As teachers are being trained and moving quickly towards an "all electronic format", it can be difficult for students with no broadband access to complete work in a timely manner.

This type of underconnectedness (mobile only and no paid broadband at home) limits the use and indeed the perception of the utility of the internet.  Parents without broadband often do not see broadband and a home computer as a necessity, even when that computer is provided by the school with a 1 to 1 initiative.  As a result, the types of higher level creative/collaborative activities and deep learning research that teachers are initiating with technology can put students who are underconnected at a distinct disadvantage.   The good news, perhaps, is that educators increasingly have opportunities to expose students to these types of activities at school, even when student skill sets are limited by lack of home use.  The challenge is to communicate consistently the importance of access and then to provide reasonable options to achieve access for families who are financially struggling.   When parents see home access as an important key to a successful academic career and become more familiar with using some of the powerful tools, the likelihood of connectedness will increase.  Latinos are bridging the digital divide through the rapid adoption of smart phones.  However, this "cell phone bridge" is not adequate enough to meet the demands of evolving educational opportunities that are growing throughout our country.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Latino students and the digital divide (Part 1 of 2)

Latino Students and the digital divide:  home access

Schools throughout the U.S. are beefing up infrastructure and adding computers/tablets in schools.   Of course, not all of this integration and infrastructure upgrades is happening equitably, but the general trend of more tech and more teaching with tech is more than notable.   With respect to Latino students, it is obviously impossible to make statements to apply to everyone in such a diverse group.  With that said, though, some important trends are emerging.   With respect to the digital divide, Latinos as a group in the U.S. are gaining access to internet at home through cell phones while actual computer ownership is on the decline.  This has serious implications for success in schools, especially when large numbers of teachers move to digital platforms and assign digital homework.   Educators are becoming more aware of students who don't have home access, but at the same time many fail to recognize the challenges that students face when trying to complete various types of homework on a cellphone (as they might not have a computer at home).   This type of "underconnectedness" makes some types of flipped classrooms and digital assignments that require larger screens and/or collaboration very problematic.   One creative approach can be found in the "Modifying the Flipped Classroom"   Educator Jennifer Gonzalez discusses the benefits of flipped lessons but how these benefits might be used in a classroom of students who have no internet access or cell only access at home.  With respect to Latino students, this is especially significant as broadband connection rates at home are significantly lower than other groups.
Teachers (myself included) can make assumptions about connectivity and the ability to complete electronic assignments at home.  Testing assumptions and modifying teaching strategies, in the end, is best practice and can work to benefit all students.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Digital Use Divide

The Digital Use Divide:  

Challenges to Technology Implementation

As schools continue to integrate technology into the teaching day, educators are talking about an emerging phenomena called "the digital use divide".   Many people talk about the digital divide with respect to access to technology, but the digital use divide is speaking more to what happens when schools and teachers have access but implement technology in different manners.

Here is a good working definition of "the digital use divide" from the U.S. Dept. of Education:

"Traditionally, the digital divide referred to the gap between students who had access to the Internet and devices at school and home and those who did not. Significant progress is being made to increase Internet access in schools, libraries, and homes across the country. However, a digital use divide separates many students who use technology in ways that transform their learning from those who use the tools to complete the same activities but now with an electronic device (e.g., digital worksheets, online multiple-choice tests). The digital use divide is present in both formal and informal learning settings and across high and low-poverty schools and communities."

Some of this, of course, revolves around how teachers are using technology.  If students are simply doing electronic worksheets, then they are operating on the lowest level of the SAMR model.   Really, no educational gains are made from a consistent use of substitution of electronic worksheets for paper worksheets or multiple choice tests.  Perhaps an argument could be made for quick formative assessments using electronic multiple choice tests as this could immediately inform instruction for the day.

Great (albeit unequal) strides have been made in technology implementation and best practice with respect to classroom instruction over the past several years.  However, the 2016 report from the U.S. Office of Educational Technology notes that there are many areas in need of awareness and improvement.  Some of these include

• Research on the effectiveness of technology-enabled programs and resources is still limited, and we should build capacity to generate evidence of individual-, program-, and community-level outcomes. • Many schools do not yet have access to or are not yet using technology in ways that can improve learning on a daily basis, which underscores the need—guided by new research—to accelerate and scale up adoption of effective approaches and technologies. 
• Few schools have adopted approaches for using technology to support informal learning experiences aligned with formal learning goals. 
• Supporting learners in using technology for out-of-school learning experiences is often a missed opportunity. 
• The focus on providing Internet access and devices for learners should not overshadow the importance of preparing teachers to teach effectively with technology and to select engaging and relevant digital learning content. 
• As students use technology to support their learning, schools are faced with a growing need to protect student privacy continuously while allowing the appropriate use of data to personalize learning, advance research, and visualize student progress for families and teachers. 

Change with regards to technology integration is coming more rapidly than most educators would have imagined and probably will continue to do so.  With this change comes challenges and nuanced situations that require systemic thinking from all parties involved.  That includes teachers, school administrators, district leaders, and community members.  For many districts, it is a matter of not knowing what they don't know.   Implementing technology and reimagining education and classroom instruction is empowering.  However, time and thought are needed to do this effectively.

For more reading on this subject, go to 2016 National Technology Plan

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What are districts doing to close the digital divide?

Access to reliable broadband internet outside of school is a nuanced and often overwhelming problem.  Educators (certified, classified, and admin) have resorted to advising students to "find a local hotspot at a McDonalds or Starbucks" or perhaps find a library if possible.  This advise is well intentioned (I have advised this myself) but ultimately it is unrealistic for many students and is not best educational practice.   There is no one single answer in providing access to students as schools and districts across the nation are so different.   The article below from Edtech magazine explores some of the initiatives that districts are exploring.  They include wireless on busses as well as extended library hours and hotspots.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Homework Gap in U.S. Education

What is the "Homework Gap" and why should we care?

When talking about the digital divide in U.S. education, many articles reference “the homework gap.”  A good working definition of this term is provided by families.com:

The homework gap “is the space between the students whose families have access to the internet at home – and the students whose families do not have internet access at home. Those who cannot access the internet at home are at a disadvantage.”

But why is this significant?   As it turns out, the past several years have seen large influxes of technology into classrooms around the country.  Although this technology hasn’t been distributed equally among all districts, great strides have been made in technology integration and the vast majority of students are getting at least some hands on use.  In many districts, this influx of technology has led to a change teaching practice.  At Its best, this change has led to a redefinition of education and to tasks, collaboration, and projects that were not possible before.  (See SAMR model below)

Technology has led to the increased integration of learning management systems like Edmodo, Google Classroom, Haiku, Schoology, and Canvas.  Assigning digital homework, projects, and collaboration can lead to deep understanding, but it also puts students without home access at a significant disadvantage.    When teachers have just a few students without access, they often work to find alternatives (even though these alternatives are not always equal).  When the number of students without home internet access increases, then teachers become hesitant to assign work (hopefully empowering and redefining work that motivates students). 

Although the United Nations has recognized the detrimental impacts of the digital divide on a global level (http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ares68d198_en.pdf) the majority of school districts have not made plans to address the issues surrounding the homework gap in the U.S..  There is no magic solution, of course.  However, beginning to address this problem on a system level is crucial for the education of all of our students.  

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Teaching in the Digital Divide: Classroom 3 of 3

How do teachers lesson plan when teaching in a digital divide?

Case Study 3:  A device rich class with mixed broadband home access.

Out of the 3 case studies considered, this one is perhaps the most challenging when it comes to planning lessons.   How does a teacher use technology in an empowering and transformative way when some of their students have home broadband access and others do not?  Districts around the U.S. are purchasing technology for the classroom, and many are creating system wide structures to facilitate learning.  These structures include LMSs (Learning Management Systems) like Canvas and Schoology that can extend the classroom and opportunities for meaningful interaction and collaboration outside of the classroom.  But what happens when some students cannot access digital homework at home?  What happens when students are assigned digital assignments/projects and they cannot work on them outside of school?  Most importantly, how does a teacher plan for a class where some students have access and others do not?

Of course, there are no easy answers.  Technology integration is moving at breakneck speed.  Consider the following 2 statistics with respect to technology in our schools:

1.  20% of students say they are impacted by the homework gap - they cannot do homework because they lack internet access outside of school

2.  75% of school systems nationwide do not have any strategies for providing connectivity at home and after school.

We know that the digital divide is an issue, but it has so many nuances that we are often at a loss to respond.  We know that students are being impacted due to assumptions that schools and teachers make, and we also know that the vast majority of school systems are not addressing the home access challenge.   

Classes where some students have home broadband access and others do not require thoughtful planning.   Here are some strategies that teachers have used.

1.  Don't assume anything with respect to student access.   Doing a confidential survey at the start of the  year can be very informative.  Over the past few years, many teachers (including myself) didn't really realize that there was a problem until student work submissions were infrequent.  By then, students are already at a significant disadvantage in the class.  Knowing (not assuming) the broadband access levels in your classroom is the best starting point.

2.  Alone or partnering with a group of teachers, designate a class before school/during lunch where students can come in and work on digital content.  If students are in a 1 to 1 school, this also might mean keeping the library open later after school so that students can complete work.

3.  If students have a school issues device but lack home access, have them download documents from a teacher's website/LMS site and read them at home.

4.  Be cognizant of peer to peer digital assignments like peer to peer reviews or group presentation projects.  Students can still accomplish peer reviews digitally, but perhaps a teacher could give some sample work to evaluate at home (on paper and/or digitally) and have the actual peer review work time in class.  

5.   It is quite possible that students with home access will be more skilled at some digital tasks.  Setting up "genius times" for peer to peer teaching within a classroom can be helpful.  Creating a collaborative learning community (one where the teacher models learning as well) seems like a basic foundation for success.

6.  When needed, making available paper copies for those who want them is still a good option.  It takes away from the goal of "going paperless", but it doesn't penalize students for not having access.

It would be easy to abandon technology integration and innovation given these challenges, but that doesn't seem to be a viable option.  Successful use of technology is not only transformative, but it is necessary for a student's success in the future.   Recognizing the challenge of teaching in a digital divide and sharing ideas with admin and fellow teachers is the first best step.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Teaching in the Digital Divide: Classroom 2 of 3

How do teachers lesson plan when teaching in a digital divide?

Case Study 2:  A device rich class with limited home broadband access.

Technology can create great classroom opportunities for students that did not previously exist.  It can be engaging, compelling, collaborative, and transformative.  However, access outside of the classroom (or lack thereof) shapes how teachers plan and teach.   Over the past several years, more and more schools have purchased technology for individual classrooms, and other schools have carts of computers for checkout.  In many districts, Title 1 schools have access to funds and grants which allow the purchase of technology.  In these schools, though, many students might not have access to broadband internet at home.  Essentially, this means that a teacher can plan for engaging activities using technology in the classroom, but will often limit homework assignments that require outside devices and access.

When each student has a device within a classroom, a teacher can start a class by posting an agenda or writing prompt in a learning management system (LMS) like Google Classroom or Canvas.   If a teacher does not have access to an LMS, they can still post a question or a prompt and have students keep a running document of responses to opening questions.  Many teachers will use Dropbox or Google Drive to collect writing prompts.

In addition to opening the class with a prompt or question, teachers can also use free web based programs like "Goformative" or a Google form to pose a formative question so assess student understanding.  This, of course, could shape the lesson for the day:  if students have mastered a concept, the teacher might choose to spend less time on that and more time on a question/prompt where greater numbers of students had difficulty.   At the end of a class period, teachers can also opt to integrate programs like "exitticket" in order to assess where students are and what types of lessons/instruction students need for the next class period.  Teachers can show the "whole class" results of an exit ticket to get students to reflect on how the class is doing and what concepts have been mastered as well as which ones need more attention.

In addition to formative assessments and exit tickets, classrooms that are device rich can also use devices for student collaboration.  Working simultaneously on a project (presentation, mock trial prep, peer editing protocol) teaches team building skills and gives students an immediate audience.  If the majority of students don't have broadband access at home, then assigning them to work on electronic projects will not yield good results.  However, teachers can still assign some short writing prompts, lab reports, math problems to prep students for a formative assessment at the start of class the following day.

Click the link below to visit a resource page for the Device Rich Class 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Teaching in the Digital Divide: Classroom 1 of 3

How do teachers lesson plan when teaching in a digital divide?

Case Study 1:  1.  A device poor class with limited home broadband access.

Although technology can create incredible new learning opportunities in the classroom, technology's integration can also pose complex and multi layered challenges with respect to equity.  There is no one good response for how to teach in a classroom or district that faces digital divides.  Of course, it depends on the specific district, school, or classroom.   For this blog, three general situations will be considered:

1.  A device poor class with limited home broadband access.
2.  A device rich classroom with limited home broadband access.
3.  A device rich classroom with mixed home broadband access.

Each situation demands a different approach by teachers.  It is important to note that these three general situations are just patterns that have been observed over the past several years and that have been evolving with the influx of devices into schools and an expansion of broadband connectivity at school and at home.

1.  A device poor class with limited home broadband access.

Many schools, even in poor areas, have computer labs and/or ipad/computer carts.  Almost all teachers in the U.S.  have a classroom computer to take roll and conduct business, and many (but not all) are connected to a presentation device.   If a teacher is teaching in a one device classroom, it would mean that most of the computer access is through the teacher.   However, this doesn't have to be the case.   If at least some of the students have cell phones, teachers can conduct polls via the small groups (www.polleverywhere.com or a google form).  A teacher (or student) can also design a Kahoot (www.kahoot.com) and have groups of students compete using one cell phone per group.   In addition, teachers can use a random  name generator on the screen to facilitate a discussion.  (http://primaryschoolict.com/random-name-selector/).   If a class does have limited access to a computer lab or a class set of computers, students can work collaboratively on a project using a number of sites (google slides, www.liniot.com, www.padlet.com, thinglink.com, coggle.it etc.) 
Finally, there are many activities that can serve as a nice class opener and/or a transition between activities.  For example, having students look at Google Trends Visualizer on the large screen and having them think about what people are searching for in different countries around the world can be utilized in a variety of classroom settings.  Geoguessr or the Great Language Game are also sites that can be used with a whole class participating on one computer.

Click the link below to visit a resource page for the Device Poor Class where students have limited home broadband access.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Systemic lack of planning for after school online access

A recent report from CoSN, (the Consortium for School Networking) shared this statistic from the Pew Research Center:

75% of school systems surveyed do not have any off campus strategies for providing connectivity to students at home and after school.   

This is a mind boggling statistic with serious implications for our students.   Many districts are making monumental advances in offering technology at school and teachers around the country are converting curriculum to digital platforms.   In addition to classroom organization and electronic submissions, technology is leading to important developments in collaboration, creativity, and efficiency.   In the most dynamic classrooms, teachers are redefining the learning process (See the SAMR Model)

However, this change in education needs to be matched with systemic thinking in school districts across the nation.    The default plan for many teachers is to tell their students to "go to the library after school".  Well, this isn't always possible -- especially at night when students often do their homework.    

When electronic assignments don't come in on time, the lack of online access sometimes doesn't occur to educators (myself included).   If a teacher suspects a lack of online access at home, they should certainly ask students in a confidential way.   Sometimes students will say that they have access, but they are referring to their cell phone.  Many projects and assignments, though, require larger screens and greater bandwidths in order to create and collaborate.     And just as teachers need to recognize issues (and work with students on an individual basis) to provide reasonable work arounds, districts need to plan in a more systemic manner.  Not acknowledging this problem is doing a disservice to students.  The 75% of districts who haven't started addressing this problem need to start thinking of solutions that would best fit their communities.    Home access one of the most difficult problems to tackle with respect to the digital divide, but it is also one of the most important.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Economic Realities of Home AccessMedia preview

The graph above from the Pew Research Center challenged some of my assumptions about the use of Broadband internet connections at home.  I had always assumed that the rise of internet use in education and in our society as a whole would mean that more and more people would end up seeing access as a necessity.   In the past few years, though, broadband use at home in many groups is actually declining!

A recent trend has been for families to drop their land lines in favor of just having a cell phone.  Dropping the land line saves money and avoids a duplication of services.  As a benefit, smart phones are subject to far fewer cold calls and surveys, and that is especially important during election season!
Likewise, it seems that many people who have smartphones and who are on a very limited budget feel that smartphone internet access duplicates a broadband service, so paying for broadband is something that could be avoided.

In education, some internet tasks can be done successfully on a smartphone.  However, more creative and collaborative tasks really do need a larger screen and faster connectivity.  Additionally, reading documents online and highlighting them and adding comments is very difficult to do effectively on a smart phone.  Smart phone connectivity can certainly be helpful in education, but viewing it as a good substitute for high speed broadband connectivity is a mistake.  As education evolves and teachers change their practice to take full advantage of teaching, learning, collaborating, and creating, those students who only have cell phone connectivity at home will be at a marked disadvantage.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Challenge to Schools and Teachers with respect to lack of access at home.

Here is an interesting quote from the 2016 Dept. of Education's Office of Educational Technology:
"Learning does not stop at the end of the school day, and access to digital learning resources should not either. According to a report from the Council of Economic Advisers, approximately 55 percent of low-income children under the age of 10 in the United States lack Internet access at home.  These statistics along with consideration of the amount of time spent out of school have given rise to concerns about a “homework gap” between students whose Internet connections at home are slow or non-existent—a problem disproportionately common in rural and underserved communities—and those who have home connections with adequate speed. They also give credence to the view that connectivity at home for students is an essential component of a 21st century education—not something merely nice to have—if we are to avoid exacerbating pre-existing inequities in unconnected homes."

As schools continue to digitalize curriculum, students need home access to collaborate and to access their work.  The advice of "go to Starbucks or McDonalds" or even "go to your local library in the evening" is not necessarily reasonable advice.  It is a question of access as well as a question of safety.

The digital divide of access to devices at school and access at schools is slowly being won.  As we move forward, though, the newest challenge of home internet access is pressing.   Ask teachers why some of their students are failing, many (myself included) would discuss the lack of submission of assignments.  However, some of these assignments are pushed out through Learning Management Systems like Schoology, Edmodo, Canvas, Google Classroom or even Google Sites.   If the class structure is set up around digital access, it can put some students at a big disadvantage.   Interestingly, sometimes this challenge does not appear in lower socio-economic schools as teachers realize that many of their students are in this position.  As a result, they are more likely to alter their assignment flow to take into account this lack of access.   In schools with a wide variety of economic groups, sometimes this problem goes unnoticed as the majority of students have access.  Of course, it is very hard to determine who has access and who doesn't as this statistic is difficult to gather and is rarely tracked by school districts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

The catch phrase "digital divide" often means different things to different people.  Some commentators discuss how access is divided by age groups or by regions of the country.   In education, some people discuss the differences between schools that have many devices available compared to schools that have few devices available.  In addition, some districts have high speed internet access while others still haven't arrived at that point yet.  While these issues are compelling, the newest manifestation of this divide is appearing with respect to a student's capability of accessing the internet after school hours.  With the rise of Learning Management Systems like Canvas, Schoology, Moodle, Edmodo, and Google Classroom, the number of teachers who are digitalizing their classrooms is increasing at breakneck speed.

With that said, many students who have device access at school and a powerful network still don't have the capability to access assignments from home.   The implications of this lack of access are framed aptly in this video: