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So there I am, right in the middle of a presentation on HyperDocs, showing a group of teachers how they could use this online framework to build all kinds of interactive lessons, differentiate instruction, get students caught up after an absence…I was basically touting it as the Swiss Army Knife of ed tech tools. I’m all, “You can do this, and this, and even this…”
And then it happens. One teacher raises her hand and asks, “What if we only have two Chromebook carts for the whole school?”
Hear that Debbie Downer sound? Yep, that was my brain.
The teacher went on to describe her situation. Far too often, the Chromebooks at her school sat unused, because it was too much of a pain to sign them out and plan for short-term use. Teachers certainly couldn’t use anything like the hyperdocs or self-paced learning on a consistent basis, because students could only get online every now and then.
While some schools have already gone 1:1—with a device for every student—others don’t even have reliable Internet access, let alone enough devices for students to use, even if they share. This issue has a name: It’s called digital equity. Just like with books, science equipment, extracurricular options, and healthy, fresh food in the cafeteria, technology is now another resource that’s abundant in well-funded schools and lacking in underfunded schools, creating one more way low-income students will fall behind their more affluent peers.
When that teacher described her situation, I brainstormed a few possible solutions with her, but I knew better ones had to be out there. And they are: If you’re in a school where the technology is in short supply, and you believe your students are falling behind their peers because of it, you have options.
I’m going to share eleven specific solutions you can choose from to start improving students’ access to tech in your school. You can pick just one or mix up a few of them, but in this list, there’s definitely something that can start to make a real difference in giving your students more of the opportunities technology has to offer.
Two Important Questions to Consider
Before we get into the specific solutions, ask yourself these two questions:
First, Does a regular classroom teacher have the power to give students more access to technology in a whole school?
I ask this one first because I suspect this is the thing that might be holding you back, the reason you haven’t done more than shake your head at your school’s lack of tech. You’re “just a teacher.” You have no control over the school’s budget. You can’t change the tax laws in your community.
I think you have more power than you realize. Your administrators are doing the best they can with the knowledge and money they have, but technology is just one small piece of all the stuff they’re responsible for. If you and a small group of your colleagues committed yourselves to improving your school’s tech infrastructure, to identifying which changes would make the biggest impact and figuring out how to fund them without cutting into the existing budget, your administrator would be crazy to turn you down.
I think it’s definitely worth a shot. A serious, carefully planned shot.
Which brings me to my second question: Will having more technology automatically improve student learning at your school?
The answer to this one is definitely NO. Simply boosting your school’s Internet bandwidth or adding more devices will not magically improve the education you offer.
You need a better plan than that.
Start by getting very clear on the learning goals you’re hoping to achieve with more technology. What is the end goal? What will teachers and students be able to do with more tech that they can’t do now?
Here are some important things technology can do to improve learning. Consider whether your plan embraces some or all of these:
- Technology increases opportunities for students to take ownership of their learning through self-paced models, inquiry-driven projects, and authentic tasks that allow them to engage with content in ways that reflect how it is used in the real world.
- Technology allows teachers to assess student learning more efficiently and effectively in order to differentiate instruction and challenge every student appropriately.
- Technology provides students with more flexible options for learning, so they can learn at school and at home, developing habits that will allow them to become lifelong learners.
- Technology gives students tools to create original products and share them with the world. Rather than simply doing tasks “for school,” they can pursue their talents and passions and share their work in communities of real artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, journalists, scientists, historians, designers, and engineers. (See some of these here.)
If your plan for increased technology doesn’t allow for much of this, you may want to rethink things first. These standards for educators and students, put out by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), would be a good place to start when crafting a vision for your school.
So let’s explore some of the creative ways schools are addressing the digital divide. I’m putting the solutions into three groups: work-arounds, fundraising ideas, and off-campus solutions.
These are the fastest to implement: Rather than attempt to change the amount of tech your school has, these work-arounds will help you make the most of what you do have.
1. Create centers or stations where students take turns using single devices. These might be permanent centers that students can access at any time, or centers that are part of a specific station-rotation model. You might have devices set to specific sites or programs or create a physical menu of options students can use during their time at that center. Even if your classroom only has a single computer, you can get a lot out of it by setting up guidelines and routines to make sure students know how and when to use it. These resources can get you started:
- Blended Learning with Catlin Tucker: This 7-video series by McGraw-Hill Education provides an excellent overview of how to set up and run a blended learning environment in your classroom. Tucker walks the viewer through specific stations so you can get an up-close look at what students are actually doing at each one, along with how tech is integrated into some of them, which will help you imagine how you might do the same in your classroom.
- Spruce up Your Centers with Technology: This blog post and video by Tony Vincent focuses on the specific things you can do to set up technology-driven centers, including which programs and tools you can use to create videos, provide instructions for stations, and give students opportunities to be creative.
2. Implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program that allows students to bring devices from home for use in school. This can quickly increase the number of devices in your school without the need for any increased funding. If you choose this route, do it carefully: Without a clear plan in place, a BYOD program can cause lots of problems. Two resources that can help are listed below. They include advice on getting buy-in from parents, creating an acceptable use policy, and making sure your school network can handle increased use by more devices.
- 9 Best Practices for Getting Started with BYOD published by Edmentum
- BYOD Guidebook published by ClassLink
3. Use Minimum-Tech Tools that only require the teacher to have a device:
- Plickers allows teachers to scan responses that students hold up on paper sheets; only one device required.
- GradeCam lets teachers create paper answer sheets that can be scanned with a single device.
- Skype in the Classroom offers some incredible programs that only require one Internet-connected device.
4. Create a Tech Hub at your school where most devices are kept in one central location. Students then go to the hub to use the devices, which ensures they are put to maximum use and rarely ever sit idle.
- Check out our story about the Learning Center at Big Walnut Middle School. What was once an underutilized library turned into an essential, active part of the school once tech resources were centralized and a system was created for teachers to send students there to work on specific tasks.
5. Raise funds through crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose. With this approach, teachers often target specific hardware that they’d like for their classroom, such as a collection of Chromebooks. See more examples of successfully funded projects here.
6. Partner with local businesses and organizations to raise funds and provide better access.
- This Cincinnati high school partnered with the local phone company to get devices and tutoring for students.
7. Apply for grants: This is one of the more difficult ways to go about raising funds, but if you learn how to do it, it can be a great source of funding.
- This guide from Education World offers good advice for successful grant writing.
- eSchool News maintains a list of grants you can keep an eye on.
- also see this list put together by Dreambox Learning.
When technology is limited at school, it is often limited at home as well, which can put students at a further disadvantage. When addressing digital inequities in your school, think beyond the boundaries of your campus.
8. Portable Wi-Fi hotspots can be checked out by students, giving them Internet access in homes that otherwise wouldn’t have any. Kajeet offers the SmartSpot, which can be filtered so that students can only access educational content. This Wisconsin high school uses Kajeet with students, and this public library in Prince George’s County, MD, checks them out to the public.
9. Wi-Fi enabled school buses, also offered by Kajeet, allow students to get work done on the ride to and from school. This California district installed these systems on its buses, and has many of them park right in students’ neighborhoods, so they can get access at home.
10. Summer device check-out programs allow students without devices to check out school-owned devices and continue their access over the summer months. Read about how this Kansas school district did it.
11. Build community connectivity. Districts can work toward setting up Wi-Fi kiosks in local neighborhoods. Organizations like EveryoneOn work to get low-cost Internet, refurbished devices, and computer literacy training to unconnected families. If you pull resources from everywhere in your community, like this North Carolina town did, you’ll not only build greater capacity for student learning; you’ll create more opportunity for everyone. ♦
Want to make smart tech choices for your classroom?
The Teacher’s Guide to Tech is a user-friendly encyclopedia of tech tools, organized by category. Thousands of teachers have used it to quickly find just the right tools for their students. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the choices out there, this guide will be a game-changer for you.
Learn more here.