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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

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.

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