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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Digital Divide Strategy #3: Extending Library Hours

Digital Divide Strategy #3:  Extending Library Hours

When students in high schools throughout my district were issued chromebooks this year, I could immediately see some of the positive effects with respect to equity.   For many students, this was the first computer to enter their home.  In the library, I saw students proudly set up their chromebooks as they did research and worked on assignments.  As far as technology went, the playing field was leveled.   Now all students could access class documents, turn in assignments, type work, and collaborate on creative digital projects.
Of course, this first glance at technology integration held many truths but it also hid some inequities beneath the surface.  Keith Kreuger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, laments that "technology will be one more way to expand inequities rather than bridge the narrow."

Providing technology for all students was indeed a game changer that is still changing and evolving teaching and learning.  However, after a few months into the process it became apparent that not all students had equal opportunities to succeed as not all had home internet access.   Teachers worked hard to integrate digital curriculum and redesigning support structures for students.  Some teachers keep a great selection of help videos on their website and a few have moved to flipped classroom models.  This evolution of teaching and technology, though, plays back into Kreuger's quote about expanding inequities.  Although 75% of school districts don't have a comprehensive plan for internet access outside of school, many are working on ways to diminish the impact of this challenge.

In my district and in other districts across the country , it is not that  uncommon to see students hanging around just outside the school in order to get wifi access.   Providing devices is a visible and often tangible event, while figuring out access after hours is not.

One easy way to help address this problem in a small way is to simply open school libraries earlier and keep them open later in the afternoon.   In larger high schools where the library staff consists of more than one person, it is fairly easy to have overlapping shifts where one worker takes the early shift while the other arrives later and stays later.   Some schools even figure out transportation for those students who live farther away and need a way to get home if they stay a few extra hours.

Extending library hours is certainly not a solution for everyone as students often have other family and work obligations and can't stay after school.  However, providing more access through school libraries can be a small part of a bigger systemic solution when it comes to bridging the access digital divide.

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