The use of digital resources without forethought creates concerns for student learning in regards to privacy, accessibility, and the digital divide.
Educators must not rush into the use of virtual conferencing tools without proper training on how the tools work and what the privacy settings are.
It is important that all educators evaluate the accessibility of the digital tools they plan to deploy to ensure that all of their students are able to use the tool.
The proliferation of remote learning has expanded the digital divide, which is the gap between students with access to technology and those without access.
Districts must focus their efforts on solving the problems associated with the digital divide, privacy and student data, and accessibility.
This transition to remote teaching has left educators trying to figuring out how to use digital tools associated with distance teaching. Many educators are underprepared to design remote learning experiences. Although the abrupt shift to remote learning has made teachers adapt quickly to new technologies, it is important that districts carefully evaluate and explain how to use them.
In her article on EdSurge, The 3 Biggest Remote Teaching Concerns We Need To Solve Now, Torrey Trust describes the issues that could arise regarding the digital divide. Torrey is an associate professor of learning technology in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her article is published on Edsurge’s Remote Instruction blog.
Using tools without due diligence leads to privacy and student data concerns
The sudden change in teaching environments is leading many educators to develop new skills in technology at a rapid pace. Districts are providing their teachers with a distance learning plan while some teachers are curating parts of that plan on their own. Many education technology businesses and organizations are providing free access to digital tools to facilitate increased virtual learning. THE Journal has provided a great list of Free Resources for Schools During COVID-19 Outbreak.
Although one benefit of this quick shift to virtual learning is the speed at which teachers are learning new technologies, Torrey details that it is possible they are diving in too fast. According to Torrey, educators need to review the privacy policies and understand how to use the technology properly before unveiling it to their students.
Common Sense Media hosts a directory of privacy evaluations for popular edtech offerings.
Evaluate accessibility to ensure all students can use tools
Effective teachers are able to provide varied instruction to their entire class regardless of each student’s skill level. Just because most education has moved online does not change the need for differentiated instruction and accessibility. This includes students with learning or physical disabilities and students who speak English as a second language.
It is extremely important for districts to set the tone for this accessibility issue. In her article, Torrey states that school leaders must invest in proper training and support for designing accessible learning environments for all students.
We must narrow the digital divide between students with or without technology at home
The issue of technology equity as it relates to the access of resources at home has been exacerbated given the COVID-19 circumstances. Some districts are giving Chromebooks to students in need while big internet providers are offering free internet access. However, other districts are actually restricting the use of technology because they cannot solve this equity issue. Torry, along with other educators, are adamant that this will not lead to positive results for students.
The process that Torry advocates for starts with districts determining the technology their students have access to. Then they can use the Universal Design For Learning principles to produce creative assignments based on each of their student’s needs. Listening to a podcast, reading printed material, and watching a video are ways that students can access content. Educators can give their students both high-tech and low-tech choices based on what works best for them.
Although many educators were not prepared to complete distance learning experiences, that does not mean that these experiences cannot be improved for students. According to Edsurge’s Torrey Trust, districts and school leaders must focus on solving three underlying problems with distance learning. They include reducing the digital divide, evaluating the accessibility of digital platforms, and investigating the privacy policies of these tools.
Like what you’re reading? Check out a recent article in this series about Facilitating virtual learning.