As “online learning” has begun in Alberta - for some as an available option for some time, for grades 7 to 12 students until Christmas, and for all students K through 12 for the first week of school in the New Year - it may be an opportune time to (re)visit the topic of equity, with a focus on the digital realm.
What follows are some questions that might be worth consideration as students engage in learning from home.
Access to Devices
How many devices are available in the home compared to the number of learners expected to use the devices? How might additional devices be made available? How might connection times be scheduled in shorter time periods to alleviate the need for all learners to be connected on a device every day all day?
Access to Internet
How reliable is internet access for families? How might having multiple devices connected at the same time impact the quality of the internet service available? How might expected video viewing and downloading/uploading of content impact data caps (and therefore costs for families) for cellular and internet services?
Access to a Quiet Space to Learn
Do all students in the home have a quiet space in which to connect their devices so that multiple online sessions are not competing with one another? Might headphones be made available to reduce the distraction of other sounds in the home? Are microphones necessary to participate, or might students be able to engage in a different way (e.g. chat window, collaborative document, etc.)?
Access to Technology Support
Is there someone in the home who can immediately help the student troubleshoot if their device is not working as anticipated? Do all families have access to someone outside of the home if the skill within the home cannot resolve technology issues?
Access to Learning Support
With respect to students asking questions, sharing ideas, or talking about their learning, is there someone in the home available? Will office hours be provided for those students who want/need to connect for additional assistance with their learning?
Access to Learning Materials
While the idea of online learning is primarily associated with a “paperless” experience, what materials might be needed to ensure and/or enhance the learning activities? Are these materials available in the home (e.g. printer, paper, writing utensils, calculators, manipulatives, reading books, whiteboards, etc.)? How might the materials become accessible to families who may not have items readily available?
Access to Differentiated Support
How might the day be structured so that those students who benefit from small group or one-on-one interaction may still have access to these structures? When creating learning activities, assignments, and assessments, how might the needs of students be addressed? What online and/or tangible tools might students access to have their learning needs met? What activities may best be served synchronously (students logged in at the same time) compared to those that may be better provided asynchronously (students can attend to them on their own time)?
Access to Timely and Transparent Communication
When contemplating staying connected with students and families, how might you best leverage the four possible types of remote contact (email, text, phone, video conferencing)? Will there be one expected platform for communication, or might you have to distinguish your approach to ensure everyone is in the know?
Access to Digital Citizenship Lessons
At times we may take for granted that our students, for the most part, are digital natives; however, does this mean they have learned how to leverage their digital experience for the purposes of learning, as individuals or as a class? What intentional learning might need to be planned to support students and they navigate this realm?
Access to a Community Where They Belong
For some students, school is their safe place: without the brick and mortar structure, what might be put in place to create a sense of community: welcoming, accepting, belonging, caring, respectful, safe? What routines and rituals might be established to maintain a strong structure in which students are able to regulate themselves? What might be some ways to check in with students who would benefit from the connection with an adult or to create an opportunity for students to connect with their peers for those who need the socialization?
Access to an Enthusiastic and Energetic Educator
A shift to online learning may be an entirely new phenomenon for some educators: what practices might be refined to avoid feeling overwhelmed or burned out? What opportunities might exist for structures and processes to be defined to ensure collaboration with colleagues as well as to maintain one’s own wellbeing? What professional learning might be available to build one’s capacity and enhance one’s efficiency with digital tools? What reflection may be beneficial in reminding ourselves why we do what we do?
These questions are asked not in a rhetorical fashion, nor do they come with perfected responses. They are posed for further consideration in the context where providing online learning is taking place; there is not a “RIGHT” way to engage students in learning online. There is only considering best practices where the best interests of students are at the heart of the decisions being made.
Below are some additional resources that may provide insight as you delve deeper into the various domains of the online learning framework.