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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

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: