Even being the best teacher is not always enough.
The importance of good teaching cannot be understated. As every educator knows, however, the ultimate effectiveness of instruction rests with the student and their work both inside and outside of the classroom.
Technology access plays a big role in this learning. From working on school assignments and watching online tutorials to communicating with teachers and confidently using modern computer technology, technology access matters a lot for student learning and their ultimate educational success.Those who need a helping hand the most often are the ones with less technology access outside of the school, unfortunately. A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that fully half of all families below the poverty line do not have access to high-speed internet. A third of all low and moderate-income families also lack adequate internet access, the center noted.
When the Gates Foundation surveyed teachers last November and asked about the biggest challenge they faced in terms of digital resources, the most common response was, “My students do not have access to technology outside of the classroom.”
Although most students now have smartphones with some internet access, the digital divide still is very much real. And it is hurting students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged and stand to gain the most from good education.
Be the Change You Want to See in the World
Teachers don’t have to stand by and watch as their students struggle from a lack of adequate computer access outside of school, however. Good teachers not only care about their students and deliver quality instruction, they also understand that they can be the change they want to see in the world. Teachers can’t fix the digital divide nationally all by themselves, but they can help equal the playing field for the students directly under their care.
- Understand Student Access
The first step is understanding the problem by determining early in the school year what sort of technology access each student has outside of the classroom.
If some of your students only have internet access via their smartphone, for instance, online worksheets and research assignments will be significantly more challenging for these students. Likewise, those that rely on a shared family computer might only have spotty access and could have their homework disrupted or inaccessible at the last minute when the computer is not available. Teachers can compensate for these issues, but only if they understand the problems their students face.
Brian Sersion and Douglas Stevens at the Cincinnati Public Schools have developed a “Student Technology Access & Use Survey” (STAUS) survey that they give each student at the start of the school year to determine digital access. Consider using this survey in your classroom or developing your own.
- Develop Lesson Plans with Bad Access in Mind
The capabilities and learning styles of every student and every classroom are different, so teachers already are familiar with the need for customizing assignments to fit this variability. Helping students who have inadequate technology access requires also adjusting for the digital divide among students.
Each homework assignment should be assessed through the lens of technology access. Think carefully when assigning online research, lab simulations and writing assignments that might require technology resources not every student possesses. If some in your classroom don’t have proper access, consider open lab times in your classroom or longer deadlines that enable students to get the access they need through their library or the computer of a friend.
- Teach Digital Literacy
Students who suffer from the digital divide not only lack adequate internet access and technology resources, they also have lower digital literacy. This is a huge problem, but one that teachers can address by building digital etiquette into their classroom assignments even if the subject matter is not technology-related.
“It may be sexy and exciting to put a laptop or iPad into every student's hand,” noted Michael Obel-Omia, head of school at the Paul Cuffee School in Providence, Rhode Island. However, “skilled adults are needed in the lives of students to make an iPad more than a toy.”
Build digital literacy training into assignments early in the year for students who need the help. This can include tasks in word processing, web browsing, creating PowerPoints and YouTube videos so the entire classroom is up to speed, not just those who have regular access and high levels of digital literacy from the start.
- Help Provide Access
We all know that libraries can serve as an equalizer for students who lack adequate technology access. Yet, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that only 21 percent of those who lack proper internet access at home use their library for access instead.
Teachers that want to help bridge the digital divide must go beyond the assumption that disadvantaged students know their options and how they can use available resources to compensate. Often, helping students bridge the divide requires educating both students and parents on how to get proper access.
You might try providing students and parents with a guide on basic library information such as location, policies and hours, as well as how to maximize the technology already in the home. Get proactive.
- Advocate for Better Tools
Finally, help your students by advocating on their behalf for resources and technology within the school system that can alleviate the digital divide.
“Schools often roll out programs meant to help students but neglect basic issues such as poor internet connectivity,” noted Tony Zhao the CEO of Agora.io, a video chat solution that overcomes poor connectivity and can be easily embedded in e-learning portals. “By using the right technology, schools can overcome poor internet access and better serve students who might otherwise not be able to take part in digital school initiatives.”
Teachers can play an important role in making sure that their school supports students who lack good technology access by making sure these students are not neglected. You can help your disadvantaged students by advocating for technologies such as Agora.io’s embedded video solution for e-learning apps and web portals offered by your school, and by push equalizing technologies such as the Kajeet SmartSpot for mobile broadband access that can be loaned to needy students.
Teachers can’t singlehandedly solve the problem of technology access for equal education. They can, however, make a big difference.
JT Ripton is a freelance education, technology, and business writer out of Tampa. He loves to write to inform, education, and provoke minds. Follow him on Twitter @JTRipton