The Homework Gap—Latest Wrinkle for Resolving the Digital Divide

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 16, 2017

cartoon of a chasmHistorically, the term digital divide referred to a lack of access to hardware and Internet connectivity. Basic technology access is less of an issue today; however, as we have increased the numbers of available devices and Internet-connected schools, we are discovering that solving the digital divide challenge is more complex than making ‘stuff’ available. We are discovering that, in addition to connectivity issues on campus, we also must address students’ use of technology outside the traditional school day, especially as technology-supported homework activities become increasingly common. Failure to attend to this challenge results in a phenomenon called the Homework Gap—a situation where, for a variety of reasons, students lack sufficient connectivity to complete assignments and then, in some instances, are penalized for not getting their homework done. What do mindful educators need to think about as they consider the current status of the digital divide off-campus and how it might be impacting teaching and learning?

False assumptions

It’s not uncommon for educators to form false assumptions about students’ access to technology at home based on information provided by parents and students themselves. This often happens when students and/or parents are asked questions in surveys or other data collection activities that fail to get at the information educators actually need. For example, it’s not enough to know that a student has home access to a tablet device that is used 30 minutes daily. It’s also necessary to know what type and model of tablet, what operating system it is running, how it connects to the internet, its screen size, if there are peripherals (e.g., a keyboard) and if the student is sharing the device with one or more other people as well as what the student is doing while using the device. The same is true for laptops, desktop computers, and smartphones. These specifics are needed to fully understand the quality of students’ off-campus connectivity.

There are similar concerns related to Internet connectivity. If there’s home access, what type and how robust is the network? If there’s no home access, where do students need to be to get online and is it possible for them to get there? If they are relying on a data plan for connectivity, can the plan support the required work and what is the monthly data allowance? Is the plan shared with other devices?

Equity concerns off campus often result in students not being able to complete homework as assigned or in them having to go to extreme lengths to keep up with their work. Students who are sharing a device with other family members or who have limited or no Internet connectivity at home may want to do their work, but not be able to due to circumstances beyond their control. Not only does this hurt them academically, but may have detrimental impacts on family relationships.

Quick fixes aren’t the solution

What can educators do to resolve Homework Gap concerns? Arriving at solutions requires effort and flexibility along with a recognition that quick fixes may take care of problems in the short-term, but are not ongoing solutions. For example, you may have heard about schools that enter partnerships with companies that will provide tablets with free 3G or 4G connectivity for one year or some type of WiFi hot spot. This is a generous offer that may immediately address lack of Internet access at home, but what happens at the end of the year? Typically, schools that take advantage of this kind of donation cannot afford to assume the cost of these accounts at the end of the year. With no back-up plan, users are reduced to relying on limited WiFi connections resulting in little or no use of the devices off campus.

Ongoing solutions require a lot of work and ingenuity. One way to begin might be to seek out agencies, organizations, and schools within the community that might be willing to partner with you to design long-term solutions. For example, Next Century Cities supports mayors and city leaders who are willing to partner with local businesses and schools to bring affordable Internet to local residents. Another possibility may be to work with local your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to learn about affordable options for families that cannot afford expensive Internet packages. It may be necessary to negotiate short-term immediate connectivity solutions such as access to WiFi networks at the public library or an after-school program, but if this is the case, be clear from the beginning that it is a temporary solution and plan for how you will follow-up with a more permanent solution.

Given the information above, how does the Homework Gap impact your students and what permanent solutions can you identify that could help your student bridge this new aspect of the digital divide?

N.B. The information provided above originally appeared as part of a longer article on digital divide issues in Today’s Catholic Teacher Magazine (Winter 2017).

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Communicating with Parents

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on November 13, 2017

School-to-Home Communications inforgraphic
Click image for article and full-size infographic.

Oh, how the times have changed.

I remember when I was a first year principal. Every Friday, I’d send home a flyer with all of the school events, and celebrate student and teacher accomplishments. I had envelopes full of little pieces of clip art that I would tape on (remember how to do that so the edges didn’t show?), print on a color of my choosing, and mass produce 600 copies.

Yay for technology! Now, the hours I’d put in each week back then can be reduced to a matter of a few minutes per day, but figuring out where and how to communicate with parents takes a little more thought.  There are so many communication channels!  We know the importance of parent engagement—not least of all for our Local Control Accountability Plans—but to get parents into our schools and involve them in decisions, we have to get the information to them in the first place.

A recent infographic about home to school communication brilliantly lays out a comparison between various tools principals use and parents’ perspectives about the effectiveness of each one.

Personal emails? Bingo!  Both agree: effective and specific.

Text messages? Only about 50% of both agree.  Hmm, and here we are in my current district looking to invest in a system to quickly text to communicate with parents. Maybe the regional competencies and expectations might be a little different? After all, here in the Silicon Valley, parents are letting us know they want more, more, more; but I digress.

App message updates to phones? School portals? Auto phone messages? Parents are saying not as effective. Maybe it’s because the survey focused on parents and teachers. I’m not sure. But the startling piece of the infographic that stands out to me is the effort we put into social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Parents think this is a much less effective way to get information about their school or district.

In my district, we recently encountered an interesting scenario. At middle school release at the end of the day, we “heard through the grapevine” that a fire had broken out less than a mile from the school. Multiple times we reached out to the local agencies for updates, but little was available. We had no information to rely on to make decisions about contacting parents or releasing students. In an era of information at our fingertips, we could find nothing.

Within a few hours, our district was getting slammed by a number in our community regarding our lack of sharing information (that we didn’t have, by the way). We wanted to be responsive, but also knew that accurate information was essential. In a subsequent debrief with other agencies, we were told they were communicating via Twitter.

Twitter

We could not get a person to give us information in an emergency. We were supposed to rely on Twitter updates. Welcome to the 21st century.

Don’t get me wrong. I use social media.  I love Twitter and Facebook. They are quick and effective for disseminating information. But perhaps a survey to parents in our own communities about what they prefer to use would benefit us in our communication plan. In this day and age, there is no catch all, but finding that healthy balance in a way that enables us to respond in an informative, timely, productive manner is certainly the way to go.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time?

Posted by Michael Simkins on August 21, 2017

Elementary school students look at a tablet together.

In this article from the Dallas News, UT Austin professor Joan E. Hughes compares active and passive uses of technology.

Research has shown these passive uses of tablets are about as effective as a teacher’s lecture. Innovative, progressive teaching with tablet technology requires creative solutions.

She also highlights the issue of inequitable use—especially the tendency noted in some research for students of color, those from low-income families, or those who are low-achieving primarily to use technology in school to passively receive information while their more affluent, gifted, or advanced peers have more opportunity to use technology for active, creative and social learning activities.  Hughes encourages schools to take a look at how technology is being used in different classroom and instructional contexts and to be alert for such discrepancies.

This is a nice article to share in your school newsletter or with parent groups.

Source: Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time? | Commentary | Dallas News

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Is the Digital Native a Myth?

Posted by Michael Simkins on August 1, 2017

The younger generation uses technology in the same ways as older people — and is no better at multitasking.

That’s the assertion of a recent opinion piece in Nature. It caught my eye, partly no doubt, because I tend to agree, at least to a point.  The article was prompted by the release of a paper by European academics Paul A.Kirschner and Pedro De Bruyckere, “The myths of the digital native and the multitasker.”  Highlights from the paper include:

  • Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.
  • Learners cannot multitask; they task switch which negatively impacts learning.
  • Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.
Infographic: Digital Native does not mean tech savvy
From “Does not compute: the high cost of low technology skills.”

A key point is that being immersed in digital technology does not automatically equate to being technologically savvy.  I have observed this in students in online courses I teach.  They use technology constantly, but they can be quite naive about it.  They use technology the way I drive a car—I know how to make it go and how to make it stop, but I have only vague ideas about how a car works.

What do you think?

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

Protecting Your Digital Data Privacy

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 6, 2017

PrivacyRecently, I went to a local jeweler to get a ring repaired. The sales associate used her tablet device to complete a work order for me. When she requested my address and phone number, I didn’t give it a second thought. Then she asked for my birth date. When I questioned why she needed to know, she shrugged and mumbled something about sending me a birthday card. I decided not to provide that information. Next she asked for my wedding anniversary date, glanced up at me and said, “Oh, I guess you won’t want to tell me that either.” I smiled and shook my head. Not a huge deal, but it did get me thinking about all the times we give people personal information without asking why it’s needed or how it might end up being used.

We live in a society where the boundaries of privacy are pushed every day. Educators are increasingly aware of the need to safeguard student data privacy, but what about protecting our own? Given that Congress recently repealed the online privacy rules designed to limit the ability of Internet service providers (ISPs) to share or sell various kinds of customer data as well as the requirement that ISPs notify customers when a data breach takes place, responsibility for protecting personal data now appears to lie squarely with individual consumers. What can we do to protect our own private information?

Passive vs. Active Data Collection

There are two general methods used to glean data from individuals. The first is called passive data collection. Passive data collection may involve use of slick online tools that collect and record data without an individual’s knowledge, but it can also be as simple as a customer service representative or data entry clerk entering information gathered during a phone call or office visit into some type of customer data base. As a result, it’s the rare person who has no online presence these days.

Here are a couple of examples of passive data collection. Do you make online purchases? Virtual shoppers seldom realize that they are leaving a trail of data in their wake as they browse for a new dining room set or an article of clothing. Using cookies or other sophisticated programming strategies enables merchants to compile a wealth of information about individual shoppers based on which items are reviewed, how much time is spent looking at each item, how the site is navigated, etc. In turn, this information is shared with other online platforms people frequently visit. This is what makes it possible to go from virtual window shopping to Facebook only to discover a personal newsfeed is now filled with ads featuring the very same items reviewed elsewhere just a few minutes earlier.  Even individuals who don’t own Internet-connected devices don’t get off scot-free because personal information about them is being stored online by someone else—medical records, school records, and virtually all public records for example. Hopefully medical and school records aren’t publicly available, but if they are online, they are vulnerable. In addition, online aggregators pull public records from a myriad of resources to create readily accessible individual profiles that include very personal information. Check out Intelius  for a taste of what I’m referring to.

Active data collection requires a little more cooperation on the part of an individual. This type of data collection happens when someone completes a registration form to download a white paper or responds to a survey from an airline or hotel about a recent trip. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that by filling out a product review or questionnaire they are providing valuable marketing data to whoever requested the information and whoever they may opt to sell the information to. For example, have you ever logged into a site like Amazon.com or Netflix and seen recommendations for products or movies you might enjoy based on previous searches and purchases or rentals? These data are used to build a personal profile for you and may be shared across platforms to aggregate information you’ve provided in various locations. Much of these data are easily manipulated by changing the information in the Preferences area of an account. Try it! And speaking of profiles, every social media platform and most online stores ask users to complete lengthy profiles under the guise of making it easier for other like-minded users to find you. That may be the case, but it’s also true that the more complete the profile, the more marketable your information becomes.

What Can You Do?

There are various steps you can take to help protect your privacy. For instance, avoid leaving an easy-to-follow online data trail by using private browser windows or learn how to block cookies and location data. Natasha Stokes offers tips on how to browse anonymously. Her suggestions range from employing a web browser’s incognito feature (easy to do and most browsers offer this capability in Privacy) to using something called a VPN or virtual private network which is more complicated and usually requires a subscription fee.

Another way you can protect personal data is to visit one or more data aggregators to read what’s been recorded there about you. These website collect public information about individuals, pulling it all together to create personal profiles. Some are quite extensive and invasive, but there are nearly always ways to have the information removed. Visit piplintelius, and spokeo as a start. Some of these sites will remove your data on request. Others direct you to do to the data source. For instance, I was surprised to see that my LinkedIn profile is a source of a great deal of the data showing up in these aggregated summaries.

Think about the data requested when any type of purchase is made. Ask why a company needs your zip code or birth date before providing that information. The day after I gave the jeweler my phone number for the work order, I received a sales call from them, but also learned they failed to call about another repair that will need to be made soon and which could have been done at the same time, had I been notified! Decide if a warranty registration or chance to win a raffle merits handing over personal data. Pass on responding to surveys or requests for product reviews, no matter how persistent the merchant may be. Maximize privacy settings on social media accounts.

The Circle, a 2013 book written by Dave Eggers and now a movie starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, is a dystopian tale about technology, transparency, and privacy in a society where “secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft.” In this narrative, the fight between good and evil boils down to whether or not there is a need for privacy in the digital age. I’m not suggesting that readers should back away from using the Internet, but it’s time for everyone to think about what data are being collected, how, and why. Only then will individuals be in a position to start taking back control of their personal information.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblr