Historically, the term “digital divide” has referred to the gap in technology levels between developing and first world countries; however, it’s truly the divide between the more affluent and the underprivileged. While the divide has a worldwide reach, it’s important to remember that the gap is growing in America, too. Improving technology in schools – and how it’s used in learning – is an important topic because it offers students a more effective way to achieve, fully preparing them to be skills-ready for a successful future.
Today, the majority of schools in America have computers of some kind. Still, many schools, particularly rural schools and those with a high percentage of minority students, lack reliable Internet access or have old computers that aren’t compatible with current software. Concerned parents, teachers and educational leaders are rallying for change.
Providing students with modern, mobile computers and access to the Internet at school and at home promotes hands-on learning that engages students. When children are interested and excited, the learning process comes naturally. Across the country, one-to-one programs – meaning one computer is supplied for each student – are gaining interest and receiving funding. Some districts have even approved BYOD programs, or bring your own device programs, that allow students to bring their own technology (i.e. laptops, tablets, smartphones) from home to use in the classroom.
These technology enhancements are creating a 21st century classroom environment that focuses on today’s students’ needs. Rather than the teacher lecturing at the front of the classroom, students are taking the lead by exploring different topics, answering their own questions, and interacting with peers and their teachers by accessing information through technology. Benefits abound: According to Project RED, an education research organization that analyzes technology in the classroom, schools with one-to-one programs have higher test scores, better graduation rates and fewer discipline problems.
Students aren’t the only ones that come out ahead – teachers benefit from technology, too. It actually enhances the teacher’s ability to connect with students, expands access to instructional material and allows the teacher to facilitate a richer, more meaningful classroom experience.
For all the benefits of better classroom technology, funding can be an issue. While adding computers, maintaining hardware and software, and funding ongoing technology support can be costly, there is also the potential to save money through improved efficiency. In fact, according to Project RED, adding effective classroom technologies can result in increased efficiency and cost reductions – even when maintenance costs are included.
For example, instructional materials contribute to this cost savings. Traditional paper textbooks can be costly and become outdated quickly. Digital content offers one effective solution to this problem by giving students and teachers access to the most up-to-date materials online, bringing the world into the classroom and often at a fraction of the cost. Online courses, assessment and professional development are additional areas where cost savings can quickly add up.
How to spearhead a technology change in the classroom
Whether you are a parent who wants computer access in your child’s classroom or you’re an educator who wants to enable an improved learning experience through better technology, here’s how you can start the conversation and make a difference:
1. Use the K-12 Blueprint. Found at www.K12blueprint.com and sponsored by Intel Corporation, this website is a free resource for planning and implementing technology initiatives in districts. You’ll find a plethora of useful information, including practical guidelines, funding advice, curriculum considerations and real-world success stories.
2. Involve the people who care. Start discussions with fellow parents, teachers, principals and even the educational board to create a vision and plan. Discuss specific reasons for the technology improvements and benefits for the students as well as staff.
3. Explore professional development opportunities. How we teach with technology is just as important as having technology in the classroom. Ensure teachers in your community have the professional development opportunities they need so their students are learning with technology in the most effective way possible.
4. Be patient to overcome challenges. Technology isn’t a one-time investment – computer maintenance, software upgrades and continued professional development are important. Providing teachers training and creating a support network can be a time commitment. Patience and persistence are key to the success of eager students.
Technology in the classroom can help close the digital divide within the U.S., but it’s up to parents, grandparents, teachers, schools and entire communities to work together to make change a reality. When used properly, technology can provide students with a stronger education, paving the way for future innovations and research.