As I’m sure for all, the pandemic has exposed the digital divide in our schools and communities. With the uncertainty we face for next school year and the possibility of potential distance/online learning continuing next school year, I’m trying to start planning possible changes in instruction for my students.
My issue is the digital divide we have in my school district, as I’m sure is the case in many other places as well. These last few weeks during the pandemic, instead of continuing lessons online, my district had to resort to sending home paper packets every few weeks that the parents had to come to the school and pick up.
The issue is not access to devices–I feel like my school/district is pretty close to being able to provide, if not for all students, at least a device for each household that can be shared among a family of students. Our issue in our area is lack of internet access. Much of the more rural areas only have satellite internet available, which is expensive and unreliable. Access is also available in rural areas with mobile hotspots, but those rely on cellular data and many areas don’t have reliable cellular data either. For example, I can’t look at Facebook, play YouTube videos, or even send or receive messages on my cell phone reliably when I visit my parents home which is in a rural area. Many of my students are in the same situation. Most of our devices that our school would have available to distribute to students and families are Chromebooks, which I know can do some things offline, but I feel like it is kind of limited.
Our state is discussing ways to try to expand access, but it will take time. One short term possibility that has been discussed for next year is to have drive-up wifi hotspots, either at the school or out in the communities. In the case that we have to do distance learning next year, the thought process is that students/families will drive up and park and use the wifi to download all content needed for lessons, go home to work on the lessons, then drive back later to upload their assignments. So many of the resources needed for computer science instruction seem to require a “live” internet connection. I know one of my students lost part of their code in AppLab this year when they didn’t realize that their internet connection cut out, causing AppLab to not save the latest changes to their code.
code.org is awesome, but if my students can’t adequately access the online lessons to experiment in the simulators and learn programming skills in AppLab, what are some possible ways I can try to help my students learn from home? My absolutely dream-world solution would be if there could be offline access to code.org, but I realize that may not be possible.
I was lucky this year in that I was able to continue online learning with my APCSP class, but only after I verified that all students had devices and internet access. But please, everybody hit me up with ideas in case this is an issue next school year as well.