Having taught at a Title 1 school, I discovered that for many students, technology ownership is not a reality. Teachers cannot assume that all students have access to a smartphone, laptop, tablet, printer, or other devices that may be ubiquitous to us.
A strategy I used to address the digital divide (or at least attempt to) was to start the school year with a survey. One of the questions asked students if they had access to technology at home and if so, to what devices. The first year I gave this survey I thought I did a great thing. But I soon discovered that I had many students without access to technology. Those who did have a device in their home may not necessarily be able to use it regularly–something I didn’t consider when creating my survey.
For instance, there might be three students in a household sharing a single computer. Obviously, that is not enough of a resource for everyone to get their assignments completed. In other cases, a student had the technology but they had very limited or no access to Wi-Fi. Not everyone can afford unlimited data for their smartphones, so that didn’t work as a solution either.
At my school, the vast majority of students did not have reliable and consistent access to technology. Therefore I was forced to consider my homework assignments and whether it was absolutely essential that they be digital. This is where consideration of the SAMR framework came into play. If a paper assignment is merely being substituted for digital one, there’s no reason you can’t give students the option to do it on paper.
This gets a little bit more tricky when you’re doing projects where technology is augmenting, modifying, or redesigning the task. For those type of assignments, I needed to find a creative solution. What I ended up doing was opening up my classroom after school for students who needed to use technology (and it didn’t even need to be at for my class).
Another resource that I utilized was the community learning center which offered several dozen computers and Chromebooks for the public to use. While not all schools are lucky enough to have such a place within walking distance, we did. The school developed a partnership over time with this community resource. Students were allowed to open an account on their own with fewer rules in place than they would with the traditional library card. Students had access to technology and could use it to complete projects for school as needed.
Something else for teachers in the same position to consider is creating a list of local shops that offer free Wi-Fi. It would probably be a good idea to talk to students about purchasing a drink or something small at the location in order to not create a problem but this can be a creative solution.
Ultimately it’s essential for teachers to understand the community in which they teach and the unique advantages and disadvantages that exist.