Narrowing the Digital Divide Between High and Low Income Students

No-Cell-Phone-Sign-S-4979In a recent post at KQED/Mindshift, Tina Barseghian reports on the work of Michael Mills, a professor of Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Arkansas, who advocates for closing the digital divide between high and low income students.  He argues that increasing access to digital devices can play a role in empowering low income students by opening pathways to information and social media, and by proxy, achievement. Ms. Barseghian cites a recent study reported at Mashable that demonstrated a 30% increase in test scores for low income students who were allowed to use mobile devices for learning and collaborating.

However, access and usage in schools vary along economic lines. The higher the income of the student body, the greater the availability and application of digital tools. Dr. Mills argues that this trend could be a matter of expectations and perhaps even “blatant racism” in the form of adults assuming that low income (read as minority) students will misuse digital domains. Ms. Barseghian quotes him as saying,

Access is a basic right. It’s the same as roads or clean water or electricity. Those are [accessible] here in this country because we expect it. The same thing should apply to the Internet. The Internet is about empowerment. If we take away this access because we think certain people aren’t going to use it right, we’re no better than governments who take away voting rights from minorities.

Ms. Barseghian goes on to provide a list of 11 ways that Dr. Mills suggests educators can work to narrow the divide.

HOW TO NARROW THE DIVIDE

For educators who want to start chipping away at the divide, Mills listed a number of ways.

1.   GIVE STUDENTS ACCESS.
Many Title 1 schools — those in low-income communities — receive funds and grants, but don’t always buy what they need. If they have enough funds, Mills said schools should invest in a 1-1 program — a device for every student.

2.   GIVE STUDENTS PROMPTS

Whether it’s the school that provides the device, or whether students are allowed to use their own, it’s important to give them guidance on how to use those devices for learning. “Students do not generally use their personal technology for learning activities unprompted,” he said. “We have to provide them with prompts.”

Educators should also be instrumental in guiding student etiquette with devices. For students who use text-speak and shorthand when handing in assignments, teachers can ask them to proofread and resend until the assignments are up to par. “We can teach them to use mobile literacy to help themselves,” he said.

3.   PROVIDE INSTRUCTIONAL OBJECTIVES.
“We need to think about what we are teaching,” Mills said. “This is not technology — this is Pedagogy 101.” Educators must understand the dotted line between an assigned activity and the instructional objective, which should be tied to learning skills.

4.   MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE.
Just giving kids a number where they can reach you has “exponential impact,” Mills said. “Just that small gesture tells kids you’re available.” For those who don’t feel comfortable giving students their phone numbers, Mills suggests using a Google voice account, which students can call and leave messages.

5.   INVITE OBSERVERS TO YOUR MOBILE ENHANCED CLASS.
Parents, other teachers, and administrators will learn a lot from watching how kids can plug into learning by using their devices. During their visits, talk about the upward trajectory of kids you’ve noticed who have benefited from the change.

6.   INVENTORY THE DEVICES.
Keep track of who owns what kind of device (especially after the holidays when kids receive new ones). This way, you can create flexible, shifting groups to make sure there’s a good variety of devices in every group. Don’t place all the iPhone 5 users in one group — mix them up to promote equity.

7.   USE DISCRETION.
Be careful not to publicly call out kids who don’t have a device when organizing groups. Use common sense and compassion.

8.   USE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE.
If the school has 10 Kindles, find ways to use them in your class. If it has six iPods or 30 computers, don’t let them collect dust. Even the oldest computers can be fired up for basic research.

9.   REFRAME PRODUCTIVITY.
Sitting quietly doesn’t exemplify productivity, Mills said. If you have flexible processes, you can give students different ways of understanding.

10.   TEACH PROCESS NOT CONTENT.
All educators, but especially those who teach low-income students, need to be open to students’ ideas of showing what they’ve learned. If they don’t want to write a blog, but want to create a video, be open to it.

11.   VALUE COLLABORATION.
Promote group work and project based learning.

While these can make a difference at a classroom and school level, what can we do on a larger societal level to change the game for low income students when it comes to digital access and technological empowerment?

Image: SmartSigns

 

Royal Society Recommendations for Neuroscience in Education

The Royal Society, a self-governing Fellowship of scientists from around the world dedicated to “excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity,” released a series of modules in 2011 as part of their Brain Waves Project. The four modules explore the intersection of neuroscience, society and public policy with summarized analyses of research, challenges and recommendations.

The second module, Neuroscience: Implications for education and lifelong learning, is of particular importance for educators and policy makers alike. As we find that the world of neurology continues to make strides in understanding how the brain develops, changes and learns, we also find that there is a hunger for such knowledge at the classroom level. As a result there are more and more programs that help bridge the gap between research and practice.

However, there are still many steps to be made. Toward that end, the authors of the education module list four “recommendations from the emerging field of educational neuroscience which might inform educational policy across all ages.”

1. Neuroscience should be used as a tool in educational policy.

Neuroscience evidence should inform the assessment of different education policy options and their impacts where available and relevant. Neuroscience evidence should also be considered in diverse policy areas such as health and employment.

Stronger links within the reach community and between researchers and the education system (schools, further education, higher education and institutes for lifelong learning) are needed in order to improve understanding of the implication of neuroscience for education. (Empasis theirs.)

2. Training and continued professional development should include a component of neuroscience relevant to educational issues, in particular, but not restricted to, Special Educational Needs.

Findings from neuroscience that characterise different learning processes can support and enhance teachers’ own experiences of how individuals learn. These findings can be used to inform alternative teaching approaches for learners of different abilities. However, at present neuroscience rarely features as part of initial teacher training courses or as part of continued professional development.

3. Neuroscience should inform adaptive learning technology.

Neuroscience can make valuable contributions to the development of adaptive technologies for learning. The Technology Strategy Board should promote knowledge exchange and collaboration between basic researchers, front-line practitioners and the private sector in order to inform and critically evaluate the impact and development of new technologies.

4. Knowledge exchange should be increased.

A knowledge exchange network is required to bridge disciplines, this should include a professionally monitored web forum to permit regular feedback between practitioners and scientists and to ensure that research is critically discussed, evaluated and effectively applied. High quality information about neuroscience on a web forum could also be made available to the general public . . . (who) will benefit from learning about the changes that are going on in their own brains and how this can affect their own learning.

The implications for education policy and implementation are clear and transferable around the world: Learning about leaning matters, and the greater collaboration and communication we can have between researchers, educators and policy makers, the better off our students will be.

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