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The Digital Divide and My Students

The digital divide has been a talking point for years now but has anything changed?
Sammy White shares the obstacles her students have had and how she’s made it easier for them.

SJ White Digital

Writing this as a recent budget is announced, furlough has ended and Brexit continues to play havoc with supply chains, which means that I already have many political and financial issues at the forefront of my mind, but why should I care about the digital divide?

The digital divide is the term used to cover the lack of devices or lack of adequate internet access members of society experience. For any active member of society, it is worth delving into. This from the UK parliament gives a great insight; https://post.parliament.uk/covid-19-and-the-digital-divide/

But why should I, as a teacher, care?

As a teacher I want all my students to have equal access to everything. From task creation to setting work, I build in opportunities and make adjustments for all. When writing tasks for classwork, I don’t make them prohibitively challenging for students to access. I make sure that there is an appropriate starting point for all. Photocopying in multiple shades of green for students is the norm, likewise so should be the inclusion of considerations for the digital divide too.

Now when I am setting out of classwork, I begin with one key question, is it web based?

Web based wherever possible comes from feedback from my students on being unable to access work outside the classroom. How often do we find homework incomplete because the app wouldn’t run on students’ devices at home? Previously I could be found writing lengthy instructions with screenshots of images only to find that even my best pdf support didn’t work for all students to be able to access my chosen app.

Before my approach switched to web based, my students were telling me that not only were their devices different to the ones I used at college or school, but that they struggled due to storage to access the apps I was asking them to use. One student explained to me that they had a phone that had limited storage as they shared it with their brother. Another student disclosed that they had a really old phone and although it ran the latest operating system, this then meant it had no capacity to install apps due to lack of storage again.

These are the students sharing, I felt there were and I assume there are still more unheard device issues. Include in as well the fact that we know that there are students who lack access to a device at all. The article referenced above cites one in five students eligible for free school meals lacking access to a device at home. Switching to web based, where possible, means, no apps need to be installed and, hopefully, regardless of device storage status and age, if we can get online we can access the material, website and learn.

Devices though are just one part of the digital divide puzzle. Switching to web based where possible still requires internet access. Citing the source above again, over 10% of teachers based in deprived schools believe that a third of students lack internet access. Like we are not in student homes to help with device issues, we are also not present outside the classroom to learn of connectivity or access issues also. Combine this with some apps that we ideally need installing, I’m thinking Teams or Google Classroom and our digital divide accessibility issue is impacted even more.

There is a wealth of information online on steps to reduce mobile data usage and I would encourage teachers to check out both Microsoft and Google’s tips for reducing the impact on data streaming when accessing Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom.

We can, and will do more, but for now, I would like to begin the conversation. We have a long way to go before we become accessible to all when setting work digitally. But if we begin to include it in our plans we can begin to ensure we are accessible for all.

‘Ways to reduce bandwidth in Teams’ https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/topic/use-teams-for-schoolwork-when-bandwidth-is-low-5c5675f7-1b55-471a-9daa-ec1e6df38262

‘Even without internet at home, students can keep learning’ https://blog.google/outreach-initiatives/education/offline-access-covid19/

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The author

Sammy White

Sammy is an FE maths lecturer now consulting with colleges across the country on developing their use of education technology and advising on their strategies for teaching and learning. Sammy has taught across secondary, vocational further education, adult further education as well as secondary alternative provisions. Sammy was the first female Google for Education Certified Coach in Europe. She is also a Google innovator and trainer. Sammy has recently been delivering her own workshops on using GIFs to model and bridge the digital divide to UK colleges and schools. You can connect with Sammy and read more of her work at bio.link/Whatthetrig

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