I have been very fortunate to work with educators around the country over the past ten years who work in a variety of geographical areas with varying socio-economic degrees. We all agree that advances in technology have greatly aided the educational process, helping us to differentiate instruction as well as bring content to life in ways previously unimaginable. These advances have also made communication between school and home faster and more comprehensive with the seamless sharing of data. However, everywhere I go, I am confronted by the same concern when it comes to students using instructional technology at home.
“My students don’t have access to a computer or Internet at home.”
I have worked in areas of extreme poverty and have seen first-hand how it can affect access. I have visited students living in converted garages and in cars. In some cases, I visited students at shelters. However, I wanted to take another look at this issue, as on some levels it seemed to be an excuse to not pursue innovation instructional practices.
This is what I found…
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, only 13% of Americans don’t use the Internet. This number is down from 48% in 2000. Only 19% of the 13% of Americans that don’t use the Internet cited financial reason as to why they don’t have access. The majority of the remaining 81% were seniors. This research study indicates that rural citizens are more likely to not use the Internet than urban citizens. The Pew Research Center also states that 65% of Americans own a smartphone.
I understand that populations of students who do not have access to the Internet or a computer may be clustered in particular geographical areas and zip codes, resulting in communities that lack access in far greater percentages than indicated above. However, if this preceding information is correct, our students in general might have more access than we previously thought via smartphones. Furthermore, knowing what technology in our communities is being used can open doors to innovation. One smartphone in the household can make all the difference.
While I am not suggesting that we immediately force students to navigate complicated websites and conduct extensive online research with a smartphone, I do believe that we can engage all students in some forms of online work. At the very least, it should be a tool in our tool belt. Here are a few examples:
- Teachers can post screencasts of lessons and post them to YouTube. Students can utilize the YouTube app on their smartphone to access the video to get help from home.
- Post updates on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Again, these programs can be accessed via a smartphone from anywhere. Complicated websites might be harder to follow on a phone, but these tools are simple and straightforward. Chances ore, your students and their parents already have accounts. Furthermore, short posts can be easily translated into different languages quickly.
- Utilize Google Apps for Education. Apps for Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and other can be downloaded onto any Smartphone. Students can be a part of the collaborative process from anywhere.
I also hear about parents not having email addresses. Therefore, schools are not sending email updates to many families, opting for the paper flyer in the backpack instead. We all know what happens to a flyer when it gets put into a backpack. This issue begs the question …
“Have we provided training for parents to set up and check email?”
The answer is probably “no”. I have designed training sessions for parents to create, set up, and use email. It took about an hour to set up dozens of parents with an email address. We provided follow up trainings once per month for any interested parents who needed more help. The result was amazing.
It is time we look at access issues not as a roadblock, but as an opportunity.
Information on The Pew Research Center can be found here: Pew Research Center
Dr. David Franklin is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions.