Last week we covered five reasons we have yet to close the digital divide. This week, we want to look at some of the progress that has been made toward closing that divide—and at the growth of new opportunities.
Solving the problem of the digital divide requires coordinating the efforts of many constituents and working within the confines of often outdated and underfunded programs. Despite the challenges, we see glimmers of hope as private enterprises partner with the public sector to bring technology and technical skills to kids, parents, and teachers:
- Connect to Compete. Teaming Best Buy, Microsoft, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), this program offers classes in Internet skills at schools, libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs, and more. Plus, the program will provide low-cost broadband access to low-income families in parts of all 50 states.
- Internet Essentials. Comcast is working with the FCC, school districts, and community organizations to provide low-cost Internet service, computers, and digital literacy training.
- Shape the Future. This Microsoft program is helping to build public/private partnerships that lead to greater employability, economic recovery and a better future through technology access. Partnering with the FCC, the National Federation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and others, we are working to ensure access to technology for youth from low-income households.
- CenturyLink Internet Basics. This program will offer low-priced broadband and free digital-literacy training to those who normally qualify for the FCC Lifeline program.
In addition to public/private partnerships, the federal government and some state governments are making important policy changes that allow districts to use money allocated for textbooks to purchase devices instead. With support from the Obama administration, we are moving closer to the goal of ensuring that every student has a digital textbook in the next five years.
Other issues facing us include a lack of comprehensive and holistic solutions and a number of uninspired models of technology in education. Strides are being made. Many districts are testing bring your own device (BYOD) approaches. Students can bring their own mobile, tablet, or laptop devices to school, where the curriculum integrates them. The same technology that students use at home is then incorporated into their school day.
In addition to providing teachers with laptops, districts such as the Fresno (California) Unified School District have implemented one-stop-shop technical solutions for teachers to accomplish all their administrative and teaching duties. Teachers complete their administrative work using the same technology they use in the classroom, thus becoming more computer literate through daily use of computers.
Innovative teachers and schools are finding intentional, practical ways to introduce technology in the curriculum. Rather than just supplementing learning by adding technology classes, these innovators are integrating computers and the Internet into the way they teach non-technology courses. For example, at the School of the Future in Philadelphia, students must take an Introduction to Music class. Teacher Frank Machos makes it interesting for all his students by using technology to teach them about the way music touches them every day through marketing. Ultimately, the kids are required to develop their own marketing campaign, making extensive use of computers and online resources.
Other teachers are finding ways to leverage technology, social media, and online games to teach critical thinking skills, collaboration, and cooperation. Teacher Joel Levin, from New York City, uses the popular game Minecraft to get second graders to collaborate on complex projects. In downtown Milwaukee’s Escuela Vieau School, middle schoolers build robots to accomplish tasks, such as putting together s’mores. Part of Project Lead the Way, students find they need to incorporate mathematics, science, engineering, and problem-solving to create their robots. The projects are interesting and fun for kids and provide the intermediate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) knowledge and hands-on experience that manufacturers today are seeking in employees. In these ways, teachers are taking advantage of kids’ natural passion and playfulness to encourage them to dig deeper and learn both STEM and critical-thinking skills.
The digital divide may remain, but it is under attack from all sides. With educators, policymakers, and businesses combining their efforts, we can get to 100-percent broadband coverage and make technology an integral part of every student’s learning experience. The future of digital access looks bright. Next week, we will explore it further.