The increasing use of communications and computer technology in schools is clearly helping students learn the skills they need to thrive in today’s world. The gains that technology has brought can be further advanced by enhancing teachers’ ability to help students overcome the limitations of educational inequality and the digital divide.
That inequality is sometimes rooted in an environment where there are technology “haves” and “have-nots.” But not always. It may stem from students who lack language skills, those who haven’t been exposed to a positive learning environment, a case of the privileged versus the unprivileged, or any number of reasons.
Most teachers face a classful of 30 or more unique personalities and personal situations on a daily basis, and the better they understand the underlying factors in educational inequity, the better they can deal with them.
Once the issue is acknowledged, teachers, school leadership, and IT can work together toward a solution.
That solution can take the form of a combination of strategic planning and professional development, often aided by experienced coaches who can guide a school district through the process of tackling the issue.
Then, when teachers recognize educational inequity in the classroom, they are better equipped to deal with it, whether that involves improving their own personal skills or adapting their learning plans to adjust to the situations in their classes. It may mean adjusting the ways technology is leveraged, but it could also be a matter of supporting students with social and emotional learning.
In schools that have embraced this approach and undertaken efforts to improve, including teacher and principal training, more than 90 percent of those who participated were glad they did. The participating educators said the coaching has helped them address professional challenges and is improving their students’ learning and engagement.1
They also reported improved skills at applying technology in their teaching compared with their peers who hadn’t been coached. The results: “authentic” teaching becomes the focus, with technology as the vehicle, rather than – as so often happens – just using the technology because it is there.
The technology issues, after all, may be the ones most easily recognized. In a very rural area, for instance, the lack of an advanced broadband infrastructure may limit the use of online tools. In urban areas, there may be many students who don’t have convenient internet access. All of these combine to widen the digital divide.
Yet these issues often have an obvious solution, even if there are financial and other hurdles involved in obtaining those solutions and putting them to work. It is the problems that are less easily spotted that require a deeper understanding.
A program to combat educational inequities has as its primary goal equipping teachers to expertly and effectively assess student knowledge and student situations in order to hone their approach to educating those students. Once teachers can make those determinations, they can see whether certain technologies are the answer or if it is something in the way those technologies are being used.
Preparing for tomorrow
In a 24-hour-a-day world of information, it is critical to work with teachers to better leverage technology and the entire learning process so that we might develop students who are inquisitive, collaborative, and think critically. It is less about particular technology platforms and more about how to refine instructional practices for the best outcomes.
Efforts like this require funding, of course, but more importantly, they require commitment. Teachers and administrators need to be willing to put in the time to understand educational inequities and develop methods customized to their schools and their student population to improve everyone’s learning.
It comes down to giving each student the ability to perform at the highest level they can by giving them the same tools – technology or otherwise – as their peers. These tools will enable them to get their work done, turn in their assignments on time, finish projects, and achieve all that they can despite any negative circumstances.
The one-to-one approach
For some schools, the one-to-one approach is being implemented to reduce the digital divide. This strategy puts LTE-connected Chromebooks in the hands of every student, along with an telecommunications program that gives student’s access to high-speed internet at home.
Connected Chromebooks provide an always-on, high-speed internet connection, giving students immediate access to school email, the internet, and online school portals and resource hubs that students use for research and to collaborate on school projects.
For students, these always-connected Chromebooks foster uninterrupted learning that goes beyond the classroom. Students can load content-rich material, multitask between assignments, watch videos, run graphic-intensive scientific simulations, and do collaborative school-related video chats with teachers and fellow students.
Technology is the future of the classroom, both inside and out. Together, we can help you prepare your teachers and students for success.
1Mahsa Bakhshaei, Angela Hardy, Jason Ravitz, and John Seylar. Scaling up classroom coaching for impactful technology use: Results from year 2 of the Dynamic Learning Project.