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Speak Up Survey: Students, teachers get creative to address digital equity

By Julie Randles
October 26, 2017
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Addressing digital equity requires input and commitment from everyone in education. That said, research shows that students and teachers are often the solution-finders.

Take the homework gap, just one aspect of digital equity. Students and teachers are taking it upon themselves to create clever workarounds and to keep this particular aspect of digital equity front of mind, according to Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow and lead researcher for the Speak Up Project for Digital Learning, a national research project and free service for schools.

At the same time, principals and districts are more aware of digital equity than ever before, but that doesn’t mean the issue is being fully addressed, Evans notes.  

Here’s a look at what the 2016 Speak Up Project uncovered about digital equity through its survey and focus groups.

Students are problem-solvers

Seventeen percent of students say they are impacted by the homework gap – they can’t do homework because they lack internet access outside of school. But within that number, students are counting all kinds of access including using mom’s smartphone or a laptop that dad brings home from work sometimes.

“We think that needs to be consistent, safe and appropriate for doing school work, so mom’s phone may not be the most appropriate or consistent access for that student,” Evans says.

Regardless, kids are problem-solvers when it comes to digital equity. “Students who are impacted by the homework gap are highly resourceful and are not passive about it. They seek ways to get online,”  Evans says.

How? According to Speak Up data:

  • 48 percent go to school early or stay late (up from 35 percent in 2015)
  • 32 percent do homework in fast food restaurants or cafes (up from 19 percent in 2015)
  • 30 percent go to the public library (up from 24 percent in 2015) 

Teachers create workarounds

For teachers, digital equity is frequently front of mind, Evans reports. “Teachers are sensitive about not putting students at a disadvantage. They come up with all sorts of solutions, but it’s an overlay for them.”

Teachers are constantly thinking about the lessons they love and how to use them if they require digital access. They also want to be sure any homework they assign doesn’t exacerbate the equity situation.

Forty-four percent of teachers say they need confidence that their students have access to consistent and safe internet outside of school in order to effectively use technology for learning.

And that’s why teachers are getting creative, putting content on USB sticks (44 percent), giving longer due dates on homework that requires internet access, making digital homework more project-based or not assigning digitally based homework (40 percent) at all and instead reserving online work for the school day.

Principal, districtwide awareness is improving

Principals are much more aware of digital equity than they were five or six years ago, according to Evans, but there’s wide variance in the sophistication of solutions schools provide to address the homework gap.  

Forty-nine percent of principals say ensuring student access to technology outside of school is a major challenge today, compared to only 30 percent in 2010.

The most common solutions are: allowing students on campus before or after school to access the school network (67 percent); encouraging libraries and other public internet locations to give students priority access (54 percent); providing Wi-Fi access in school parking lots (34 percent); equipping school buses with Wi-Fi hotspots (8 percent); and paying for home internet for low-income families (3 percent).

“We continue to see growth in (technology) access and adoption, but the number of students and schools still struggling with digital equity should concern everyone,” Evans says.

Speak Up 2017 is open! It’s time for students, parents, teachers, principals, librarians, technology leaders, superintendents and more to share thoughts and experiences on education issues like digital citizenship, equity, mobile learning and more.

Download digital citizenship defined, a free guide for teachers and other educators.