Featured Post

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.