Digital equity will require so much more than additional devices and better access to wifi. Instead, it will require a fundamental shift in how we see learning. Let me explain.
There is a difference in remote learning and remote teaching. I'm not saying there isn't a place for both but we have to understand that it's the remote learning that will likely have the biggest impact on our learners. Remote learning involves the connections that are made beyond the walls of the classroom. It transfers ownership and requires action from the learner. Technology does not have to be involved in order for remote learning to happen. Remote teaching is the act of delivering information whether that is done through a video, discussion board, or learning management system. I think of remote teaching is the delivery of content from the educator to the learner.
I completely understand that technology makes communication easier and provides tools that can make learning relevant and meaningful. I'm not suggesting that it's not important to consider ways that additional devices and better connections can be achieved. However, the reality is that this is not a solution that is coming overnight. Instead, many districts will have to work toward better access and additional devices over a period of time and it's that period of time that I'd like to address.
Sitting in front of a computer being given information will not always result in remote learning. It simply means that they are experiencing remote teaching. It will be in the experience beyond that connection that has the potential to result in real learning. In our home, we have three teenagers. Consider a family with three learners that are expected to sit through remote teaching for each of their seven class periods. If there is only one device in the home, that is almost impossible. Even with two devices, someone will have to agree to learn at a different time well beyond the "school hours" in order to get it done.
However, if we can instead focus on remote learning, there is more of an opportunity for flexibility. Below are some suggestions to consider moving forward...
1. Provide remote teaching weekly rather than daily. Collaborate with other educators to stagger the teaching so that students are not being asked to sit through video teaching all day every day. Be intentional about delivering or sharing the content one day a week and designing experiences throughout the week that support what was shared. This will be helpful for learners that have to visit someone or leave their home to access content.
2. Design opportunities to learn by doing. Don't feel like you always have to "teach" something in order for your students to learn. Consider maker activities and project-based learning experiences that can be used to help learners make connections and reach a deep understanding through application.
3. Consider using technology tools that are accessible across multiple devices. In other words, if a learner can use their cell phone to complete the assignment, they are more likely to find a way to get it done. For example, delivering content through the Flipgrid App or YouTube will make it easily accessible for anyone that has access to a mobile device. If they are using their parent's phone or another family member's device, it's unrealistic to expect them to be able to do this multiple times a day or even multiple days of the week. Provide the content through a clear and concise video provided at the beginning of the week and then provide opportunities to learn both with/without access to technology.
4. When meeting with the class in Zoom or Google Meet, it might be a good idea to record the meeting to share with learners that are unable to attend. If they are unable to access a device at the exact time that the meeting occurs, they still need access to the content and conversation that happened throughout the meeting. You might even create a channel or repository in which you store the remote teaching opportunities so that they can be accessed "on-demand" when they have access to a device. I personally like the idea of using Flipgrid to house content and learning experiences simply because it so easy to access on any device.
5. Provide options. Choice boards are a great way to provide both digital and non-digital learning experiences. Being intentional about designing experiences that are meaningful both with and without access to technology will be important moving forward. If you need a template to use for a Choice Board experience, you HAVE to check out SlidesMania! It's AMAZING! Check it out and thank me later. You will be glad you did!
6. Focus on the connections that can be made in the kitchen, outside, and beyond the virtual classroom. Do not provide "busy work" such as word finds or crossword puzzles to learners that do not have access to technology. Instead, help them focus on those connections as they become intentional about learning through them.
7. Finally, be careful not to design experiences that always give those with access to technology an advantage. When providing feedback or even giving grades on work that is completed, be mindful of that access and how it may or may not affect the quality of work that is done.
8. Provide a collection of mini-lessons. At the beginning of the week, share all of the mini-lessons (probably 3-5) that are necessary for the experiences that you've designed. Make the mini-lessons accessible in a way that can that they be watched or accessed when it is convenient and realistic for the learner. This way, when they have access, they can watch the mini-lessons. They may watch one at a time, two at a time, or all of them in one day. Leaving that up to them gives them ownership of the learning and is considerate of their circumstances.
I hope this is helpful. These are just the thoughts that have been rumbling around my head lately as the digital equity conversation continues to come up in almost every conversation that I have. I'd love to hear your thoughts below. There are so many things to consider and so many things still up in the air. However, being proactive and having these conversations now will be much more beneficial than waiting until a clear solution exists.