Make Intermittent Internet Access Normal

Make Intermittent Internet Access Normal

The digital divide need not turn your classroom into a case of have/have-nots

Written by Jeff Gerlach on Friday, 07 March 2014.

As a teacher using blended learning, I made a point of inviting parents into our online learning space. In order to push URL’s and blended philosophy, I did snail mail-outs, I called home, and Interacted with parents/students at conferences. But in the process of doing this I neglected to think of how it might be difficult for some families to get online.

Nothing will make you feel like a jerk more than encouraging parents and students, who utilize free or reduced lunch programs, to get online at home. I would say things like, “This is a great way to know what’s going on in social studies,” unintentionally insinuating that they were failing as parents if they didn’t. True you could access my course from anywhere, but that didn’t mean that all locations afforded access.

When I spoke with families, I recognized two clearly defined subgroups within the community. Families who had internet access either spoke about how they interact with my class at home or how excited they were to use this new window into their child’s learning. Families who did not have internet at home often hung their heads in shame. Feeling awkward, I ended the conversation.

In hindsight, maybe my mistake wasn’t bringing up the topic … maybe it was chickening out when it got uncomfortable to discuss it. I felt like I had trampled into a sensitive issue and decided to drop the conversation by saying, “Well don’t worry, he/she can accomplish everything during class time.” It was well intended, but I wish that I pushed the conversation into the arena of developing a personalized access plan for the student.

 

Putting a new spin on limited internet access

Last month, Teach Thought posted a really thought provoking piece entitled 6 Ways To Support Students Without Internet Access At Home. While I usually avoid anything that could potentially resemble a buzzfeed list, everything after the “6” grabbed me.

The entire thing is solid advice, but I was particularly interested in #5:

5. “Spin” Intermittent Access As A Normal Thing
Of course they know internet access is desirable, but help them understand that those with only intermittent access aren’t social pariah. Only 56% of Mississippi homes have access. While that kind of inequality will be an issue long-term, don’t make students feel like outcasts (anymore than they already might). Spin it as a statistically normal thing.

Let’s be honest; connectivity at home is an issue. Not everyone has internet at home and there is quite a bit of disparity when you look at the socio-economic geography of it all. While there are projects in the works that are slowly closing the infrastructure gap, as teachers we cannot eliminate the digital divide. Instead, we have to develop workarounds until internet access is as common as electricity.

So how do we make intermittent access a normal thing? The secret might be not expecting students to get online at home, yet still expecting them to have intermittent access outside of school.

 

Ideas to get you started

Everyone On is a program that has partnered with the Ad Council to launch a campaign of digital inclusion. It promotes digital literacy in addition to access which I think is fantastic. Most of the training sites are at local libraries and you can track one down near you using the training sites search feature. If you have a blended classroom think about contacting your local public library so that they can be aware of what you are doing. They can be a big help for supporting your students and parents.

Another thing is to take advantage of in-school accessibility. I had laptops in my room 24/7, so I offered extended class hours before and after school in addition to power lunches. You might consider running open computer lab sessions or BYOD hours depending on the resources at your disposal.

Perhaps most importantly, think critically about the time/place constraints of instructional design. If possible eliminate them entirely. Learning opportunities classified as homework in a blended setting will for sure raise digital divide red flags. If something absolutely needs to be done at home, allow for non-online completion or give students plenty of time to account for intermittent internet access. Hopefully, you can make it possible for students with intermittent access to utilize their in-class time to the fullest and get them to take advantage of school resources when they need extra time.

How are you working around the digital divide? Share your thoughts as a comment below.

 

Header photo by Sean MacEntee

About the Author

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach (@JGer1) is an instructional design coach for Michigan Virtual University. He works with teachers to design blended learning experiences for students through presentations, school partnerships, online courses and 1:1 coaching. He holds a master's degree in educational technology from Michigan State and has experience as a face-to-face teacher in the metro Detroit area where he blended his classroom for six school years.

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