Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Digital Divide

   I am sitting here on the weekend getting my daily dose of free professional development on Twitter and I see this tweet: 
   As a teacher in a low income school, I'm very familiar with the achievement gap, but this "digital divide" is a new bit of ed-jargon to me. It prompts me to do a bit of research.
Those with computers and access to the Internet are becoming even richer through the power of information, while those without them are becoming even poorer in comparison. From: Digital Divide -Stanford University  
   What has become clear to me is that this is a multifaceted problem. Students in low income schools don't have the access to tech at home, the schools that serve these students don't have the tools, the teachers don't know how to use the tools, and the schools don't have money to spend on professional development to train the teachers. 

   In my opinion, professional development is a major barrier to students accessing technology. I feel like a lot of teachers don't use the technology that is available because they are inexperienced with it and lack the training to use it. Teachers have to learn how to operate and integrate technology at a rapid pace. They have to continue pursuing new information to keep up with the rapid changes in technology, which means they need more professional development time than what was acceptable in previous years. I see all of the cool things that are going on in education through social media, 1:1 classes, engaging lessons with technology, 3D printing, augmented reality, gamification, coding, maker spaces, the development of apps, etc. There are so many exciting things happening in education through technology.  I want my students to experience these things, but I don't have the tools, and if I did it would take me quite a bit of time, outside of my classroom teaching time, to figure out how they can be used.
   I have an iPad to use (for myself) in my classroom, because I bought it for myself.  Most teachers in my school don't even have laptops, let alone tablets. Getting a document camera 3 years ago was such a big deal and I was filled with gratitude for our PTA for this wonderful gift. The WiFi situation has improved, and that by itself is a huge problem if it's not wanting to behave, so I am happy that it's getting better.
   I have to smirk a little when I read about all of these 1:1 classrooms/schools.  At first I thought 1:1 meant that the teacher had a device for one classroom. When I got my iPad I thought that meant I now had a 1:1 classroom. I started looking into what kinds of cool doors that was going to open up for my kids, then I realized I'd have to buy another 29 iPads for us to have a true 1:1 class.   I polled my class once to see how many of them had cell phones because I was wanting to use the Socrative app, and was thinking I could get around the 1:1 issue by having them use their own devices. Less than half of the hands in the room went up.  I've asked about Internet access at home for research writing- same thing. Students in schools like mine need to have more technology than their "rich" counterparts to make up for their limited access at home.These children lack the most basic computing skills, like formatting written documents and highlighting text by clicking and dragging with a mouse, yet they are expected to perform at the same level as their "rich school" competitors on a standardized test that is taken on a computer using these very skills.  And the achievement gap widens.
Research is finding other differences in how economically disadvantaged children use technology. Some evidence suggests, for example, that schools in low-income neighborhoods are more apt to employ computers for drill and practice sessions than for creative or innovative projects. Poor children also bring less knowledge to their encounters with computers. Crucially, the comparatively rich background knowledge possessed by high-income students is not only about technology itself, but about everything in the wide world beyond one’s neighborhood. Not only are affluent kids more likely to know how to Google; they’re more likely to know what to Google for.
 From:  Is Technology Widening Opportunity Gaps Between Rich And Poor Kids? -Annie Murphy Paul

   This isn't by any means a woe is me, my poor school post. You don't need to be in a 1:1 class to be able to do cool things in school. There are some cool things you can do with just a doc camera/projector, an iPad or smart phone, and a no excuses teacher. I just have to think harder and get really creative. That doesn't mean I am okay with my students being at a disadvantage due to their address, but I'm not going to sit back and resign myself to defeat either.

  • I can get my hands on 10 Chromebooks and we can make infographics in groups of three.  I'm going to try to get 10 of my own through because I do have to sign up to use the Chromebooks and other people want to use them too. If I had just 10 that were mine all of the time, that would open up a lot more possibilities for rotating onto a computer or using them in small groups.
  • I can design effective assessments, surveys, polls, and discussions using Kahoot! We can visit the computer lab to take a Kahoot! which is way more fun than a scantron. I can also assess prior knowledge with a Kahoot! survey.
  • I can use my iPad to make videos and enough kids have smart phones that if they are working in groups, they can make movies too. We also watch YouTube music videos from the History Teachers and write our own songs and make our own History music videos. We are prepping for a Mesoamerican Idol episode right now.
  • I can have my students analyze speeches by showing them TED talks with my device and projector.  
  • I can make a blog and have them rotate into the 6 computers in my classroom to log in, comment and post on their own KidBlog accounts.
  • I can increase family engagement by using Class Dojo or Remind.  
  • I can improve upon my own practice by seeking out free professional learning opportunities. 
  If your school lacks technology, it can be discouraging, but it doesn't have to keep you from using what you do have to the best of your ability. Are we building our own 3-D printer? No, but it doesn't mean we have to sit around complaining about the education system that continues to support the rich getting richer. I'd rather spend my time figuring out what I can do, than dwelling on can'ts. Focusing on we can't does not help to build a positive school culture. I can't change the socio-economic status of my students, but I can inspire and motivate them to break through the barriers that it creates. 

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