Although technology can create incredible new learning opportunities in the classroom, it 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. In Beaverton Schools, we have a strong infrastructure and a substantial tech implementation which includes a 1 to 1 program for grades 6-12. . We have been working hard to bridge the digital divide for our students, but we still have a wide variety of teaching situations which require different approaches. 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.
1. A device poor class with limited home broadband access.Although Beaverton Schools operate with a high allocation of devices, many schools in Oregon and nationwide 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.
Resources for Device Poor Classroom with limited home Broadband Access
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.
Resources for Device Rich, Home Access Limited Classroom
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 this really is not 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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