Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Poverty vs. Technology

Web 2.0 technologies have been around for a while. Business and bloggers, for example, have been reaping the benefits of interactive platforms on the Internet for a few years now. Savvy educators are taking advantage of unique learning opportunities provided by Web 2.0 to help their students develop critical thinking skills, and the Flipped Classroom approach to instruction is revolutionizing traditional learning methods. Some schools are lucky enough to have a mobile device for each student in a classroom.

Other schools, however, are not this fortunate. Many students in today’s schools experience food insecurity and come to school hungry on a daily basis. These same students often do not have access to the Internet outside of school, thus creating a "Digital Divide" in our country's students. So how can educators present the same unique learning opportunities to impoverished students?

This question has bothered me for the past few weeks since I work with an overwhelming amount of impoverished students every day. This school year, I have tried to blend more technology into my library lessons. I've “flipped” my library, as much as I can to a student population on the unfortunate side of the Digital Divide, by presenting lessons in audiovisual formats instead of lectures. I also created an Edmodo group for students in upper grades in an attempt to encourage book discussions, facilitate a sense of community among the students, and try to show them a few cool technology tricks, like creating an autobiographical word cloud.

But unlike my more fortunate colleagues, I can’t present my lessons solely online because of economic circumstances. The way I've dealt with this issue is to incorporate the videos into live library lessons. The videos are usually not longer than 3 minutes which gives me just enough time to check in books before the real lesson begins. Then I post the video to Edmodo after class for students to enjoy again. Before I can even get to my front door after work, the Edmodo student group is already buzzing about the newest upload or link I’ve posted. 

These might not seems like radical changes to educators who come from the more fortunate schools, but for my students the change is huge. They had never been exposed to lessons delivered via cartoons, or video demonstrations of how to download a file from the Internet and upload it to Edmodo. 

Back to the question of including those students without Internet connections at home - I had to brainstorm how these students could still be a part of the online school community. The first way I addressed this issue was extending library hours. Students can now come in to the library as early as 7:15 to use the computers or to get help with one of our “enrichment activities,” like sharing the word clouds on Edmodo. 

Another way I addressed this issue was by encouraging students to visit the public library. Many of my students had no idea they could use the computers at the public library for free. I also encouraged students to visit a school friend or a family member who has Internet access at home or to use mobile devices, emphasizing the need for parental permission beforehand, of course! Finally, some of the students have parents or much older siblings with cell phones that have data plans. I suggested this as another alternative as well. 

As a result, most students at my school have more than one option for getting access to Web 2.0 technologies. It is nowhere near the convenience of 1:1 technology, but we are doing our best, and the students are enjoying it. I look forward to the upcoming months when I’ll expose students to more cool technology, and hopefully take on some creative library projects using the tech. Maybe we will take on some blogging, too. 

I would love to hear how other educators have taken on this issue.  

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