How do we address the have-nots?

I attended a leadership summit on Monday (it was actually pretty good stuff, with concrete plans, goals, and generally more than you get out of your average bit of professional development) and, not surprisingly, a serious focus was on technology.

I attended a leadership summit on Monday (it was actually pretty good stuff, with concrete plans, goals, and generally more than you get out of your average bit of professional development) and, not surprisingly, a serious focus was on technology. I think people are finally realizing that, while technology is no substitute for highly-qualified teachers, careful and well-planned used of technology can seriously drive student achievement, offer remediation opportunities, and more easily differentiate instruction.

We're actually looking at a number of ways that kids can access materials at home, not only becoming discerning users of technology in independent settings, but also improving achievement and reinforcing skills with tools that can guide students in the absence of teacher or parent involvement (obviously, the first isn't possible at home and, unfortunately, the latter can be hard to come by).

This is where we get ourselves into problems, however. The very kids who often need reinforcement and remediation beyond school hours and who lack the necessary parental involvement to be really successful with homework are often those who can't afford a computer or broadband. Even in many cases, dedicated, hard-working parents can still sit on the wrong side of Digital Divide. So what do we do for these kids? How do we equitably provide access to the wide range of tools in which we are investing?

One easy step that we took was to roll out OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office at the elementary schools. This free suite introduces kids to the same office productivity concepts as Microsoft Office, but more importantly teaches them about a free alternative that they can use at home on a variety of hardware. It may not be the speediest, but it will run on just about anything.

We are also looking at opening the computer labs around the district for after- and before-school hours and evening hours. While not everyone can walk to one of the schools, many people can find transportation if we rotate the location of these "open labs." Parents also have the added assurance of content filtering in a setting like this.

Municipal and rural wifi is a much harder sell, with major projects failing across the country. However, there are a variety of cheap ways to share a wifi connection across a decent range. This is the perfect opportunity for public-private partnerships, partnerships between towns and schools, and other bits of resource sharing to take any of a variety of cheap PCs that kids can get a hold of (or have donated) and get them online.

What else have you seen that bridges the Digital Divide in your community?

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