Ensuring e-learning equity takes time

Dive Brief:

  • To get students and parents used to the new reality of remote learning they’d be navigating as a result of coronavirus-related school closures, John S. Thomas, an elementary teacher in New Hampshire, writes for Edutopia that he started with some simple steps that included sending an email and video about things they’d be doing together online for the foreseeable future.

  • Thomas believes connecting with students regularly is helpful to reassure them, and while communicating about school work is key, showing children familiar things like images of their classroom can be nice to include. Educators can also encourage students to share favorite things from their home with each other, like a pet or a favorite book.

  • Educators should start this online shift slowly with students, Thomas said. That also includes assigning projects that aren’t difficult to complete to allow time to grow comfortable navigating the new tools in use.

Dive Insight:

As many schools nationwide, from elementary to upper grades, shift to remote learning amid the spread of novel coronavirus, the way students are learning is rapidly changing. While these tools have been available for some time, the shift to an online-only space is happening quickly.

This rapid shift is pushing everyone to not only learn new skills, but also, in many cases, requiring schools and districts to line up access to devices or internet that students may not have at home. 

Computers and tablets aside, educators also shouldn’t assume all students have a smartphone in their household. As these online programs ramp up, some students may still not have any devices in hand.

According to 2019 data from the Pew Research Center81% of Americans have smartphones​. That number rises to 96% for cell phones generally. While those devices can receive text or SMS messages, as well as short emails via a text, it’s all the more reason educators should think about crafting simple instructions to students, with an eye toward ensuring these messages can be accessed by everyone.

“Instructional email should be easily digestible, assignments should take only a few minutes to read through, and end with a solid, actionable step your students can take,” wrote the City University of New York (CUNY) E-Learning Center.

Teachers, too, may want to consider students may not have printers, or large screens on which to write. Handwritten responses — for all grades — may be a good solution. As some cell phones do have cameras, students could snap a photo of their work and text or email that back to teachers.

For those teaching early elementary grades, educators could also reach out to parents, asking that they spend time reading aloud with their children — an activity that can benefit students of all ages. These sessions could potentially be recorded on a cell phone and emailed to a teacher, or logs could be kept and sent weekly between parents and teachers.

Regular telephones, too, can be great resources, and educators may want to consider tapping into conference call tools, said CUNY. The key is crafting lessons in such a way they are equitable for all students, not differentiated nor tiered based on a family’s access to devices or the internet.

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