Learning About Digital Equity from Students

Throughout the year, I have had opportunities to work directly in classrooms on digital learning initiatives. Each of those moments seemed to inform a new reality that we needed to face from 5th graders not having the foundational skills needed to simply use a computer beyond online testing tools or kids not having access to any form of learning in a connected world. Then…there was the realization that our wifi access needed a major boost on every campus because as a district that fully supports BYOD, making sure that every person could connect at least one device should be a priority.

Today, I talked to two young men on our robotics team. One of them stated that he actually started writing code when he realized that in order to make the game that he downloaded from “STEAM“, collaborative, he needed to create a server. Youtube was his teacher. He is not enrolled in Computer Science and as of now, his schedule doesn’t even permit it until junior year. On our robotics team, he decided to program because he wanted to learn more about computer languages. Six days per week…after school and all day Saturday, he does.

The other student chimed in that he has never had a computer in his home. They have wifi for their mobile devices, but he didn’t have a laptop…until he was given one as a student in our High School STEM program. Having that computer enabled him to access not only his school work, but the programs and videos needed to continue learning about writing code for the team’s robots. Having that computer meant that he was no longer limited by learning what he needed when mobile browsers aren’t enough.

As of now, we do not give every student a laptop. I hope that we can revisit this soon.

Like many districts, we collected Brightbytes data at the beginning of the year. It allowed us to see a snapshot of the access that our students had and did not have. I love brightbytes because it informed quite a few decisions on what we needed to provide for our teachers and students but the realities often fail to become real until you are actively experiencing them.

Earlier today I shared a video on Periscope of a student, Elie, designing an SD card holder for SLR cameras to be printed on the 3D printer. Elie works with Lockheed Martin as a student intern through a partnership with our CTE program. Last week, I spent some time talking to him about some of his projects and learning that he was passionate about providing computers for families in need.

He is so passionate that his eagle scout project is to refurbish and build computers for single mothers and families in need in one of our housing projects. To him, everyone should have access to a computer and I imagine that he came to understand it even more as a student surrounded by those that did not have such a luxury. (Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn how you can help his project)

To those that scream that kids can write entire essays on their mobile phones, I would like to point you to the student that I mentioned earlier who only had a phone, until his school gave him a computer. I saw his phone and let me just say that typing an entire essay on that phone would have been completely impossible. Not every “smart phone” is as smart as an iphone or the latest android. He did, however, play minecraft on that phone…so there’s that.

This evening, a student mentioned to me that he had never seen as many black students as there are on this year’s robotics team and he was excited that they were there. One of our black students, a senior, joined the team for the first time this year. When I asked him what took him so long, he responded that he had no idea that it existed until he was placed in a class taught by their robotics coach.

He wishes that he knew about it sooner. His teacher, fully aware, said…”We’re working on it”.

And she is.

Personally, I am deeply happy that he has her as his teacher. Her presence means the world to all of her students, especially those of the Lufkin HS Pantherbots.

One more thing…

If you are in a role in school where you are charged with making decisions for kids, especially on technology and digital learning, please do so only after getting involved with your schools at the core and having some conversations with kids…specifically those whose decisions you make will impact the most.

Also, read the National Edtech Plan (NETP16)

Aside from talking to kids, it’s a start.

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