Washington Governor Jay Inslee released his budget proposals for the 2017-2019 biennium in December (find them here), and I’ve been hung up on this section ever since:
The gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet, and those who do not — dubbed the digital divide — continues to affect students’ ability to gain essential skills needed to do well in school and to use technology productively. The governor’s budget funds grants for curriculum development, teacher training, technology purchases and digital access for historically underserved groups, including girls and students from low-income, rural and ethnic minority communities. The governor’s budget triples the state’s current investment and will be matched by the private sector. (This program is funded in the budget of the Office of Financial Management.) ($4.0 million Education Legacy Trust Account).
No one understands the digital divide better than teachers. The fact that it’s a budget priority may have even brightened your day, like it did mine. Even if the budget gets tumbled around the state legislature and comes out the other end looking substantially different from its first iteration, I’m comforted to know that our state government is having the critical conversation about classroom technology that educators and schools are having every day. Our state expects teachers to fully integrate technology into our classrooms, most teachers WANT to use technology that improves instruction and amplifies student voice, and every teacher has stories about technology that didn’t live up to their expectations. Here’s mine.
Before teaching in a large, urban public school, I taught in a small, rural private school. Our technology was largely donated and repaired on an inconsistent schedule. A staff of nine shared one smart board, a set of feedback-y plug-in speakers, and an overhead projector with washable transparencies (this was in 2013). Teachers had tablets that worked well most of the time but tended to malfunction when we needed them most (when taking and uploading pictures for use as anecdotal evidence). We used a project-based, thematic, experiential learning model, so I didn’t miss the technology as much as I thought I would – I was too busy cleaning up glitter (there’s no good way to do this, by the way) and taking my class on field trips.
I immediately noticed a difference when I started working in a public school – for one thing, I had a phone in my room. A phone that could call other phones (what a revelation!). I had access to not one, but six different copy machines. I had a laptop with a dock that connected to speakers in the ceiling, a projector paired with a Smart Board that worked as it should, and access to knowledgeable and helpful IT support staff. However, even in my current school (which I love), my experiences with classroom tech leave something to be desired on a semi-regular basis: a janky printer that runs off hundreds of blank pages, limited access to computers for more than three students at a time, and media policies that ostensibly protect students, but limit badly needed teacher communication options (example: restrictions on third-party apps and inconsistent guidelines about social media for classroom use). Overall, my lot has improved, but I often think about how classroom tech could be better for students and teachers.
In order to understand and articulate how the digital divide effects real educators and their students in Washington, I’m collecting stories. Here are the assumptions under which I’m operating as I gather them:
- Classroom tech is a piecemeal affair. It varies widely from building to building and district to district. The state seems to have a unified vision for closing the digital divide, but we can’t adequately address the problem until we know what it looks like on the ground.
- The digital divide is an equity issue. For more information, look here, here, and here.
There are so many layers to this tech-y onion:
- What does one-to-one computing look like in your building or district?
- Does your building have computer labs or COWs (computers on wheels) carts? If so, can you access them easily and often?
- Do you have classroom computers for student use? Are they in good repair?
- Do the students you serve who have IEPs for reading and/or diverse reading needs have access to appropriate assistive technologies (ex: Snap&Read)?
- Is your library a technology hub? If not, where does technology “live” in your building? Is technology well maintained?
- Does your school district respond quickly to staff software issues? To hardware issues?
- How is your instruction impacted by testing? Do you have to adapt your instruction to compensate for a lack of technology in “testing season”?
- What is your building’s cell phone policy? What role do cell phones play in your classroom? Do you ever ask students to use cell phones in the place of computers for internet access?
- Do you have opportunities for meaningful professional development around technology?
- Do you feel well prepared to use district systems and software?
- How does your district make sure that technology is safe for student use? Does your district provide tiered access to internet technology?
- Do you use third-party apps to communicate with students and families? Has your district put any limitations on your use of third-party apps or specific social media platforms?
- Do you ever use your own money to pay for or supplement technology in your classroom?
Every teacher has a classroom tech story – share yours in the comments, either by responding to one of the questions above, or by reflecting what you’ve been through in your teaching career when it comes to technology.