What Challenges Related to Equity and Access Need to Be Addressed?
Many students, particularly those from low-income families, might have an internet connection, but it’s likely on a mobile device, Krueger says.
Students living in rural areas may also lack cellphone reception, let alone reliable, high-speed internet access at home. Some districts have partnered with vendors such as Kajeet or found other creative ways to ensure students have sufficient Wi-Fi access.
Families may also have reasons for not wanting devices in the home, says Eileen Belastock, director of academic technology for Mount Greylock Regional School District in Massachusetts.
“So how do you have an online environment and still provide education to students who are not participating fully online?” she asks.
Other potential disparities include the level of technical skill and support students have at home, Belastock says. The school-issued device may be the only one a family has, which may limit parents’ ability to help their child, she says.
Online learning efforts should also meet the needs of students with disabilities and accommodate students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) — requirements underscored in guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Educators should make sure online content is accessible and that features such as text-to-speech work correctly, says Beth Holland, director of CoSN’s Digital Equity Project.
“When adding images to things on web pages, are there alt tags so that a screen reader could read it? Are the tools being used to build online content responsive so that you can increase and decrease the text? Most platforms allow for all of that to happen,” Holland says.
Another challenge is ensuring handouts are accessible, that teachers understand how to create PDF files using optical character recognition, which makes text selectable, she says. “Not only does this help students who might be struggling readers, it also helps your language learners, and it helps students who might have some type of a language challenge.”
It’s important to think through potential technical needs for remote learning. For example, in Belastock’s district, which uses Canvas and Google learning platforms, IT staff can remotely work on school-issued laptops. They also can address other needs, such as arranging for students to pick up Chromebooks if needed, she says. The devices are “going through our strong filtering system, making sure that when students are online they are safe,” Belastock says.
It’s also important to maintain human connections, experts say.
“Every kid in our district will get an adult connection every day that they are not here,” says Joe Sanfelippo, superintendent of Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin. He says he told his staff they will figure out the best way to ensure that connection, whether by phone or text or through online platforms such as Google Hangouts.
“Whatever it is,” Sanfelippo says, “they get something every day from their teacher, knowing that their teacher misses them, that they care about them, and they want to move forward.”
In light of CoSN2020 hosting their virtual conference in May, we’re doing special coverage on remote learning. Keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing coverage. Follow us on Twitter @EdTech_K12 and join the conversation using #CoSN2020.