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Learning
October 13, 2021

The Other Digital Divide: Using Technology Effectively

Faith Plunkett

In mid-February 2020, our technology team sat down to make a plan for our students in the event that schools closed for two weeks. We knew that in order for our students to continue instruction, they would need not only devices, but also internet access. Decatur City Schools, the most diverse school district in Alabama, has 8,500 students — with half of those students living at or below the poverty line. At this point in time, all of our 4th-12th grade students had devices, and we had enough hot spots for about 5% of those students.

We knew that if schools closed down, we needed to close that digital divide. Our intention was not to lose those two weeks of instruction simply because a student can’t afford to have internet access at their home. Our team sprung into action. We activated enough hotspots for every student who needed it in 4th-12th grade. Little did we know that those hotspots would be the main source of internet for our students to finish out the school year. 

Access, connection, and communication

Over the summer, we realized that COVID and virtual learning was not going away. We needed to provide a way for ALL of our students to have access to the internet. In the spring, our K-3 students completed paper packets, but we needed them to have a way to access full virtual instruction. We ended up purchasing iPads with Verizon cellular data activated so that every student in our school district could have a device and internet access. This leveled the playing field so every one of our students could receive the same instruction. 

As the school year went on, there were several times where schools, and even our whole district, moved to virtual learning. GoGuardian Teacher was a beneficial tool for our teachers because it was very easy for our teachers to communicate with our students. They could use the Chat feature and check in with our students to provide academic support, as well as figure out if our students needed food and other basic necessities. As a technology coach, I was able to add students to my classroom and help troubleshoot technology issues they were having remotely. This cut down tremendously on sending emails back and forth, saving time and frustration.

Are we using devices effectively?

Now that we are 18 months into a pandemic, our biggest challenge is not who has a device or internet and who doesn’t — it’s who is using those devices effectively and who isn’t. Are the devices being used for student engagement or for compliance? I work with teachers every day on closing that divide, whether it’s for a traditional student or a fully virtual one. Here are some tips on making sure you’re using technology for student engagement vs. compliance to close that digital divide:

1. Encourage creativity with project-based learning

The creation vs. consumption argument has been around for a long time in education. The more a student is creating, the more engaged they are in the learning process. For example, are students consistently using a website for math facts for rote memorization? That is consumption with no output. How about they build a digital replica of a house on Minecraft using those math facts, and the model of the house holds the answers? “It’s not the destination, but the journey” truly is the case when it comes to project-based learning.

2. Take advantage of digital student engagement tools

Pear Deck is a fabulous tool that teachers can use to promote student engagement. In the lessons, students can ask questions, formulate answers, answer polls, have discussions, and more. GoGuardian Teacher’s Scenes feature allows teachers to limit the number of open tabs at one time, cutting down on student distractions and helping improve focus on the lesson.

3. Allow students to display their work

When students are working on a project that they know is going to be displayed or presented, their work method changes. Host a “movie day” in your classroom, where students present book trailers they’ve created. Utilize Pear Deck’s Templates for Book Club Discussions and share their illustrations and favorite moments with the class for discussion. This is much more fun than having them read a paper they’ve written on the book. 

Our whole education system has changed with COVID. Now that we have all the basics, we are working diligently to close the divide and provide innovative, engaging instruction to all of our students.

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