Moving Towards Digital Classrooms
As school districts and teachers transition to e-classrooms, many teachers are aware that not all students have the same access at home. Of course, not having broadband access at home can make life extremely difficult for students — especially when teachers use LMS platforms like Google Classroom, Canvas, or Schoology (to name a few) to push out homework. Additionally, teachers are integrating projects which require digital collaboration, online research, and peer to peer digital feedback. All of these developments can help engage and empower students, and when technology is used thoughtfully, it can be a real game changer.
It isn’t easy, however, to gauge the connectivity of students as it can be seen as a sensitive socio-economic issue. In a classroom of 30 where outwardly it seems like most others are connected at home, it can be hard for students to come forward to say that they have access issues. Some students manage to use library or restaurant wifi networks after school hours, but this solution is not appropriate for all students due to transportation, family commitments, and simple geography.
What can make this more complicated, though, is the fact that there are different types of access as each student has a unique situation. Last year, for example, I worked with 3 students who were having academic troubles and submitting/accessing their work. When I asked if they had internet access, they all said yes. As the year continued, I noticed that their academic performance was not necessarily improving. They generally did fine in class, but any work outside of class was not up to par.
Finally, in one on one discussions I discovered that their definition of being connected at home was having access to a parent’s cell phone browser. Earlier when I had asked if they had home access to the Internet, they honestly said yes. However, this type of access wasn’t really robust enough to engage in some of the online readings/discussions/projects that were a part of the class.
Another student split time between parents and noted that her mother had broadband access while her father did not. She did her best to get her work done at school and at her mom’s house, but when she spent a week with her dad she felt more stressed and behind.
Starting early: Being Proactive pays off
The bottom line is that each school is comprised of different levels of home connectivity, but each classroom has its own dynamics as well. As educators transition into the digital classroom and all that it has to offer, it is important to explore home connectedness issues up front at the start of the year. This informs best practice and helps teachers and students adapt to create situations that are best for both teachers and learners. It is not adequate to ask if students “have internet access at home” as this question takes on different meanings for different students. In districts who have gone 1 to 1 with devices, a better question is “can you connect your device to the internet at home.” In districts that do not have a 1 to 1 take home program, an appropriate series of questions might be
- Do you have internet access at home? (Check all that apply: ___phone ___computer ____tablet
- If there is a device at home, how many people share the device?
- Are you able to access school sites for homework and can you submit work online?
In the end, being more deliberate in asking students about access outside of school can inform teaching and lead to school wide strategies like hotspot checkout programs, longer longer school library hours, offline options that can be updated once a student enters school, community wifi maps, etc. Students’ lives are not uniform, and our approach to student connectivity needs a variety of approaches. The first step, though, is to get accurate knowledge about student connectivity outside of the classroom.