Illustration by Edpuzzle Staff
In an ideal world, every school would have a one-to-one tech policy and every household would have a strong internet connection. But unfortunately, teachers know first-hand the inequalities that exist when it comes to technology.
The digital divide is an extra barrier to teaching that has become even more apparent after remote learning. Teachers are working harder than ever to help keep their kids connected with the resources they have.
While we don’t know what the next couple of years will look like, we do know that technology will continue to play a central role. We’ve put together some strategies for how to tackle the digital divide and reach all of your students.
1. Assess technology access and know-how
Like with any difficult task, the first thing teachers should do is put together a plan. Start by figuring out what the tech situation looks like at your school.
If you lack technology at your school, you may consider using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). In order for BYOD to work best, make sure you have your school’s permission, good internet access, and lesson plans that are compatible with a variety of devices (smartphones, tablets, and laptops).
Next, find out what access to technology your students have at home. It’s important to know which of your students have not only WiFi, but also reliable access to a device (because they might have to share it with a sibling or guardian).
Another important step is to teach digital citizenship. Although your students might make great Tik Tok videos, it doesn’t mean they can safely navigate the internet. Now is the perfect opportunity to teach tech skills and target digital equity issues early on.
Before you plan your lesson, consider what digital skills your students have and what skills they will need for your lessons. You can have your students complete Edpuzzle’s Digital Citizenship course to prepare them for subjects such as digital research, safety and privacy, and healthy internet habitats.
Once you have this information, you can figure out how to best adapt your curriculum to fit your students’ needs and decide how technology will help you along the way.
2. Personalize learning
When it comes to addressing the digital divide, it's more important than ever to personalize learning for students. What works inside the physical classroom for some students, may not work for them online.
Try using this time as an opportunity to talk openly with your students. Strong teacher-student relationships are going to be crucial when moving content online and responding to personalized needs is a great starting point.
Remember to also look at the technology access blueprint (in step one) that you created. Ask yourself, can the student participate online? Is there a parent able to support them or are there other ways to support that student?
Also, give students some self-agency and allow them to use the resources they have available to them. If a student only has access to a smartphone, for example, give them the option of recording video as a final project. When students choose what tools they use, it helps them take better charge of their learning.
3. Balance synchronous and asynchronous learning
Sometimes teachers think that online instruction has to be synchronous, like in the form of a live lesson on a video conferencing platform. The problem is that this puts some students at a disadvantage if they don’t have access to a device, good internet, or a flexible schedule.
Online teaching should instead involve more asynchronous instruction, meaning students access an assignment on their own time. Experts recommend keeping direct instruction, for example, in asynchronous form.
Rather than giving direct instruction over Zoom, record your live lesson and turn it into a video lesson. Then, enhance your video with Edpuzzle by embedding questions as checks for understanding.
This helps students affected by the digital divide and is more convenient for teachers who can use the time they save for more one-on-one interactions with students.
Meanwhile, synchronous instruction can be used for more interactive activities like class discussions or hands-on activities where student will benefit from interacting with their peers and teacher in real time.
If your school has a limited supply of technological devices, consider using blended learning practices that balance offline and online activities. This will give students more control over the time, place, pace, and/or path of their learning.
4. Reach out to parents
Parents can have just as difficult a time adjusting to new technology as you! This is a great opportunity to build connections with families and empower student learning at home.
Take the time to call, video chat, or message parents about what they need to help their kids. Sometimes, families that need internet access don't know where to find it. Teachers can connect parents with libraries or community centers that provide these services.
Another tip is to make communication multimodal when possible. Although using an LMS is a simple way to keep your students on track, it’s also helpful to provide information in other ways. You could, for example, provide both written and video instructions for assignments. That way parents and students can choose the format that works best for them.
For parents uncomfortable with technology, try hosting a parent-teacher learning exchange on the use of technology with students. Consider flipping your back-to-school night and have parents experience exactly what their children will be doing this fall.
Remember that parents need the flexibility to alter assignments to meet the needs of their children. Give them learning objectives and ways to achieve those goals. Teachers and parents should be partners in learning, especially when the circumstances are challenging.
5. Take advantage of smart phones
Research shows that around 81% of Americans own smartphones. While smartphones are far from perfect solutions to bridging the digital divide, they do give students extra flexibility when it comes to receiving instruction or completing an assignment.
When lesson-planning, look for edtech solutions that are accessible as an app. For example, the Edpuzzle app was created with student access in mind. Students who only have a smartphone at home can watch videos wherever they have access to WiFi. If your school has a BYOD policy, students can participate in a Live Mode session at school on any device they have available to them.
In Edpuzzle, teachers also have the option of creating an Open Class. This is ideal for students with limited access to technology because they can complete assignments without having to create an Edpuzzle account! All they’ll need is a link to your video lesson and they can watch it whenever is convenient for them.
Although the digital divide won’t be fixed overnight, teachers shouldn’t feel powerless when it comes to remote learning. A good plan of attack and open communication will guide you through this next school year.