How to Implement Digital Learning When Students Have Limited Access to Technology
We hear so much about the perils of too much screen time for kids that it's easy to assume they're all up to their ears in the latest and greatest technology. While that may be true in some locations and for some socio-economic classes, not every student has what he or she needs to fully engage in digital learning.
According to Schoology’s 2018 Global State of Digital Learning survey, lack of access to technology at home is the number one obstacle when it comes to student learning. This is up from last year, when a lack of access came in fourth among things holding students back. Overall, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 6 percent of students in the United States don't have a computer at home, and 39 percent lack internet access.
The reality is that access to technology is crucial for students in this age of digital learning. Without a computer at home, students quickly fall behind their peers in skills like fluent typing and understanding how to interact with an operating system. Their research skills can suffer when they aren't able to master the basics of Google or evaluating the validity of a source. As they grow, these deficits snowball, making it harder to apply to college, get a job, or interact with a whole host of government agencies, banks, and so on.
5 Ways to Bring Digital Learning to Students With Limited Access
If you have students in your classroom who don't have regular access to a computer or a robust internet connection at home, it's absolutely critical to find ways to make sure they can develop their computer skills and keep up with their peers. Try these ideas to level the playing field:
1. Know Your Students
Ideally, administrators should know their population and be able to identify which students don't have access to technology at home. Go beyond the general survey to partner with families whenever possible. Teachers can get involved during conferences to better understand what students have available and probe for ways to get kids what they need. Is there a grandparent with a laptop? Is there free Wi-Fi at a nearby coffee shop? Staff should also be educated about community resources so they can pass recommendations on to their students.
2. Incorporate Technology Into Learning Stations
Within the classroom, you can make sure your students get access to tech time by including computers and tablets in self-paced learning stations whenever possible. Have students rotate through different activities, or just make sure that students who don't have computers at home are steered toward tech activities during periods of differentiation. Giving them extra time can help fill the gaps.
3. Start a Tech-Savvy Homework Club
An after-school program aimed directly at students without technology is an easy way to help students complete their tech-based homework. The school library makes a great hub for this type of work. The club can be a casual place to gather and take advantage of technology, or it can be more formal, with staff available to teach some internet lessons and offer homework support for kids who need to build skills. For high school students, make sure the computer lab or library are readily available during the day and help students organize their time to maximize tech access during the day.
4. Advocate for Additional Resources
If you're struggling to provide enough computers in classrooms to create equal access and make up for deficits at home, it's time to reach out for help. Administrators and teachers can lobby the school board for additional funding, write grant proposals, and reach out to local businesses to develop technology partnerships. Older students can participate by writing proposals and speaking out in their communities through project based learning as well.
5. Focus on Digital Literacy
Your students may play video games and use social media on smartphones, but those without a computer and/or internet probably don't have much experience with online research. Whenever research projects come up in your classroom, be sure to incorporate some lessons about evaluating appropriate sources and learning to tell the difference between advertising and information. This is a learned skill that everyone can benefit from, but explicit instruction will be of special value to the students who don't get many chances to practice digital citizenship at home.
Technology is no longer just a "nice to have" extra in education. It's an integral part of how we learn, communicate, and do business in the modern world, so it's imperative that all students have the chance to master the digital skills they need for success. It may take some creativity to get the job done, but a skillful group of educators should be able to help level the playing field for their students so no one falls behind in this important life skill.
What are your thoughts on student access to technology and how to deal with digital learning? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology