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).

 

 

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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

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A Different Kind of Learning Experience

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 11, 2016

SU15Report_finalEvery year Project Tomorrow releases findings from their Speak Up Survey. I am always amazed at this research and how I can use it with different stakeholder groups to move technology forward.  The project’s wide participant base helps!  Over 500,000 people participated in this year’s survey, which includes 415,686 K-12 students, 38,613 teachers and librarians, 40, 218 parents, 4,536 administrators and technology leaders, and 6,623 community members.

This year’s report is a bit different from previous ones.  Instead of focusing on changes around technology use, it focuses on what the Speak Up Surveys have documented over many years: “…the emergence of pixel-based digital tools, specifically, videos, games, animations and simulations, as legitimate vehicles for learning”  (emphasis mine).

Trends

How is this happening and what were the results from students, parents, and teachers?  Some significant trends are highlighted below.  Each is accompanied by a link to an infographic you can use to begin a conversation with your groups.

  • Students are learning via YouTube:  38% are finding online videos to help with their homework.  Infographic
  • K-12 Parents are on board with technology from using it at home to receiving text messages.
    • Tech use in school is important to student success. (85%)
    • Parents are concerned that technology use varies from teacher to teacher. Infographic
  • Teachers are using more and more digital content in the classroom with flipped learning growing rapidly.  Videos (68%)  digital games (48%) online curriculum (36%) online textbooks (30%) an animations (27%).  Infographic

The disruptive nature of technology has brought about change in our schools.  Today’s leaders are more on board with technology than ever before, but we recognize some road blocks to moving forward. The top barrier, according to 57% of principals, is “lack of teacher training on how to integrate digital content within instruction.”  Interestingly, 35% of teachers say they are interested in professional development on implementation, and are open to online instruction as well.

Key finding

The key finding of Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up Survey?

“Students, educators and parents agree—we need a different kind of learning experience for the future.”

Certainly, it is a changing instructional world.  I hope these nuggets from the report will pique your interest and lead you to want to read and share the full report, From Print to Pixel: the role of videos, games, animations and simulations within K-12 education.

 

 

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Books fall open, you fall in

Posted by Leslie Miller on April 28, 2016

The author's daughter shares a story on her iPad.Like many educators who are also mothers, I dreamed of reading to my children every night before bed.  I saw myself reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, gently tucking them in, and watching them drift off to join Aslan in Narnia.  I managed to fulfill that dream when they were small and loved picture books.  Yet somewhere around the time my eldest wanted a more challenging reading experience than The Very Quiet Cricket, I realized nightly reading was a road block.  What with homework and nightly routines, I just couldn’t do it!

Smartphone apps

So, I turned to my smartphone.  I found two apps I really liked.  One was the for-pay site Audible.com which, like so many Amazon products, offers a wide range of books to choose from for adults and children.  The other site I chose was Overdrive.com which allowed us to connect through our local library card to a wealth of free audiobooks, e-books and movies.

I downloaded Beverly Cleary’s collection of Henry and Ribsy to my phone. One particularly hot afternoon in the car, when my brood was fighting and my internal temperature was starting to rise, I turned it on.  Magic happened!  They listened. In fact, when we got home, we sat in the driveway listening because they did not want the story to stop. They were like camels crossing the desert to an oasis.  They drank deeply.  I knew we were on the right track.

As research has taught us, listening to adult readers builds in a child the value of becoming a successful reader.  It allows children to learn how to read at a natural pace and grows the enjoyment of listening to spoken words of a story.  If we think of oral comprehension as the foundation of the development of reading and vocabulary, then it is easy to see how listening and reading comprehension are interlinked.

Matthew Effects

In the primary grades a student’s maximum level of reading comprehension is predicated on the child’s level of listening comprehension.  Students exposed to stories with increased vocabulary will inevitably have a greater depth of knowledge and more developed academic vocabulary.  Keith Stanovich has described the so-called “Matthew effects” in reading—the wider the variety of reading, the more cumulative the child’s vocabulary and early acquisition of reading skills become, while the child not exposed to the cognitive exercise of tiered vocabulary can have gaps in her schema and will likely become a poor reader.

The beauty of online stories is that no longer am I the gatekeeper of reading more complex text.  At any time, my daughters can pick up a tablet, pop on their headphones and listen to stories unfold. The tablet becomes more than a screen to watch a movie or play a game; it becomes a way to connect with the library. With the current additions to Overdrive.com, children can enjoy hearing the story read aloud while following the text on screen.  While reviewing one particular Star Wars story, I noted how the inclusion of John William’s theme music, the rich voice of the narrator and high interest text invited the reader to become enthusiastic for the story.   Our smart devices become living books that unlock the reader’s imagination.

“Books Fall Open

Books fall open,
you fall in,
delighted where,
you’ve never been.
Hear voices
not once heard before,
Reach world through world,
through door on door.
Find unexpected
keys to things,
locked up beyond
imaginings….
True books will venture,
Dare you out,
Whisper secrets,
Maybe shout,
across the gloom,
to you in need
Who hanker for
a book to read.”

David T.W. McCord

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Makerspaces: Re-making education

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on March 26, 2016

Photo of a makerspace in action.Makerspace has become one of the new buzzwords in education.  A Google search of makerspace will return approximately 400,000 results.  Makerspaces are showing up in schools across the country—but what is a makerspace and how does it impact education?

A makerspace is simply a do-it-yourself place where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In schools, it’s a hands-on way to encourage students to design, build and invent.  Many think of these labs as technology centers focusing on robotics and high-tech fabricating, but a makerspace could include activities such as woodworking, cardboard construction or even sewing.  Materials to stock can range from simple items like craft paper, markers, crayons, glue, modeling clay,  and Legos to be more high-tech items like wires, circuits, batteries, resistors, switches, and motors.  Tools might range from sewing machines to 3D printers. (Here’s one example of an inventory list for your makerspace.)

Planning your makerspace

Before you start building your space, you need to first consider what types of activities and projects could be done there.  Administration would brainstorm with staff (preferably including math, science, art and technology teachers) who will or possibly could use the space.  Once it is determined who will be using the space, the next item to discuss is which tools are needed.   Depending on the ideas and activities brainstormed, the space required for materials and project storage can be firmed up.  Will you need a new structure or can you use existing space? Consider renovations such as updates to electrical systems, plumbing and safety equipment you might need.

Another key topic for discussion is who will have access to the space.  Will you have the community using the space and if so, who is staffing and managing it in off-school hours?  If you are focusing your makerspace on students only, you then need to decide if the space is open all day or perhaps students will visit in a dedicated class time with their teacher.

But why?

So, we have discussed how to create your space, but let’s look at why you would want such a space to begin with. That goes back to what a makerspace is: a place to “create, invent, and learn.”  In this environment, you will see students creating open-ended projects and collaborating with each other.  They will be engaged in creative expression and reflect on what they have created.  This curiosity and interest create the type of youth-driven culture for learning in your building that all administrators strive to create.  These spaces promote experimentation with a cross-disciplinary focus that engages multiple staff members.  Students see how the very same tools, techniques, and process skills are found and required in the physics lab, art studio, and auto shop.  Makerspaces are a powerful way to move from a “winners and losers” mentality to one of “every student succeeds!”

 

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