What About Students Who Do Not Have Access to the Tools that Are Needed for Online Learning?

By Katharine Davies Samway

If we have a computer, regular access to the Internet, and a cell phone with unlimited calls and texts, we may forget that our students may not have the same access to these tools, which are essential for online learning.  In some cases, schools surveyed their students about their technological needs before the schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.  In other cases, teachers have had to use time during the school closure to identify students’ needs. 

Teachers I’ve interviewed comment on the importance of surveying students and families in order to determine which technological tools they have access to.  At Laura Alvarez’s K-8 two-way immersion bilingual school, teachers polled their students by phone, text, and email about their access to a computer and the Internet (as well as their access to everyday necessities, such as food).  Alvarez estimated that she spent one-third of her time in the two weeks before spring break calling, texting, and emailing students and their families.  She learned that most have some Internet access via a smartphone, but none of her 8th grade students had solid access to the Internet.  A couple of her students had a cousin or aunt who had a computer, and some had computers at home, but weren’t sure how well they worked.  Recently, the school has been distributing Chromebooks to students who do not have access to computers, using social distancing when doing so.

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The Connection is What Matters Most

By Bridget Vaughan, an ELA and Literacy District Coordinator and teacher advocate

Recently my job has changed. I now support teachers with remote learning. As a part-time online educator in higher education for the past 16 years, and a full-time middle school teacher and administrator for over 20, I thought I had this figured out. I transitioned to teaching online classes many years ago. Back then, college students opted to take these classes and paid for them, so they were eager to learn. For many years, much of this was about helping students learn the technology. But after time, I built in every question or piece of content that was unclear, and students got more tech savvy. Of course, it never replaced face-to-face instruction, but it was pretty much smooth sailing.

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Supporting All Learners During Remote Learning

By Kathryn Nieves, a special education teacher at Sparta Middle School in New Jersey

When my school district called me on a Thursday evening, I did not have to answer to know what the message said. I knew it meant we were going into remote learning. As a special education teacher, I worried about IEPs, accommodations, modifications, and, in short, just supporting the emotional needs of my students. Although my students have 1:1 Chromebook devices and experience using them, I knew we still faced many obstacles. The following are tips for supporting all learners that I have discovered throughout my journey (so far) in this uncharted area of education.

Stick with the technology they know first

    As an advocate of educational technology and a Google Trainer, I’m the first person to dive into using a new tool. Even though I was getting almost hourly updates from different edtech companies offering free accounts or trials, I knew this was not the time for me to try out all these tools with my students. For the first few weeks, I kept it consistent. I used tools where my students had a level of comfort and familiarity. Since moving into a fully online platform was new for them, I did not want to add more novelty to the pile until they felt more comfortable.

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Tech Tips for a Smoother Telecommuting School Day

To be honest, I was apprehensive about transitioning from classroom teaching to delivering instruction entirely online. How would I connect with my kids? How would I accurately assess their learning? How would I deliver the content and still make meaningful connections with them? These questions and others plagued me as COVID-19 threatened to take more and more time away from the classroom.

So, where to begin? Fortunately, I’ve had some experience with teaching digitally, so when COVID-19 forced the closure of my district, I was already familiar with some technology that could deliver instruction to my students remotely. The following are some practical tips I have used in my transition.

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