Digital Divide: What Is It And How Can You Bridge The Gap?
We can safely say that, through the difficulties of 2020 and 2021, English language teachers have grown accustomed to delivering online classes and learning to use new digital tools. Some teachers may face many weeks ahead of continuing such classes if high Covid-19 cases see a resurgence, their new academic year does not start until 2021, or they have become ‘online teachers’ on a semi-permanent basis.
As a result, some teachers have found themselves dependent on the help of parents to ensure their children are online at designated times and able to access class materials. Parent support is especially important for younger students who perhaps did not originally have the necessary computing skills to act independently.
But what about our students who cannot access the internet from home, or do not have reliable electricity supplies? Not only is infrastructure an issue, but also the lack of digital equipment, e.g. when siblings and/or parents require the use of a laptop or computer simultaneously. Similarly, adult students may have to share their bandwidth and equipment with a partner, or family, who all need to work online.
These are examples of what the ‘digital divide’ is beginning to look like in many of our societies – those with an unproblematic ability to access the internet or digital equipment, versus those with regular difficulties to reliably access either the internet or the necessary equipment.
This article focuses on the two issues of lack of connectivity and dealing with the parents who have this problem.
Helping students with connectivity issues
Many teachers have had few options but to carry on delivering online classes, while being unable to meet the needs of those students who cannot get online when they are delivering their ‘live’ (synchronous) classes. Here are some practical solutions to help address some of these problems:
Upload materials to your school or institution platform that allows students to be online to download materials then work with them offline. The same can be done with a video of a lesson that you delivered. This, however, depends on your institution having a digital platform.
If you use a digital platform, don’t upload pdf documents because they require a lot of memory and can take up a lot of space on a smartphone, which may be the only device a parent can use to download learning materials for their child.
Use G-suite (Google Docs, Sheets and Slides) or Microsoft’s One Drive. These can be used to upload learning materials which you can save so they are available offline. For this the teacher, if using G-suite, needs to use Google Chrome and be online at the time of saving the materials. By adjusting the Settings, you can turn on Offline Setting, then send it as normal. Students do not need to be online to access it via WhatsApp, nor do they need to download it. If using Microsoft’s One Drive set up One Drive to Sync, and you simply drag it into a file that you have shared with your students (or parents).
While you give an online class, simultaneously record yourself so you can send the recording to your students who could not get online at the time. The mp4 recording can then be converted to an mp3, so that it is not such a large file and it will not require a student (or parent) to be online for hours, and therefore at great expense, simply to download materials. The same thing can be done with a Zoom recording to reduce memory, before making it available to students.
While doing an online class live, you can use Google Docs Voice Typing. This simultaneously types what you say and allows you to save it as a Google Doc. This way you can allow students, who could not attend synchronously, to have a transcript of what was said during the lesson. Tip: You do need to speak very clearly, which may help you be mindful about your pronunciation and clarity when you speak to your students. It is worth doing, simply to see how clear the app thinks your voice is – this is a good reflective task for any ELT teacher!
Working with parents to solve connectivity problems
Being able to help students with connectivity issues, of course, depends on the teacher setting up an understanding relationship with the parents. They are the ones who have connectivity issues. But if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that remote learning for students below the age of 18 must be in collaboration with parents. Here are some ways to help such collaboration:
Establish WhatsApp (or equivalent) contact with parents of students. You could set up a special group only for you and the parents of students with connectivity issues. Then, while you deliver an online class, call the group (but only using the audio function because it needs less bandwidth) so any parent can help their child hear the class and even participate.
If you are distributing worksheets or planning to use one in a live online class, send a WhatsApp message or email to the parents with connectivity issues the day before.
You can also print the worksheet or materials, photograph it, and send it to the WhatsApp group for parents who do not have email accounts.
Similarly, if you used Google Docs Voice Typing to use as a transcript (as described above), or any Google Doc, Sheet, or Slides, it can be saved using the Offline Setting. Similarly with Microsoft’s One Drive. Which means that the parent does not lose valuable time (and money) online accessing your teaching materials. The parent does not even require a Gmail account to be able to access any of the Google applications.
If, for some reason, you do not get on well with G-suite or Microsoft’s One Drive you could convert a document to a QR code and send the code to the WhatsApp group. (Please follow this link to a YouTube video showing you how to do this).
As we were thrust into digital teaching, there was an assumption that teachers must synchronously teach the same number of times as they had been doing face-to-face. But by doing things alternatively, as outlined above, that is not necessarily the case. I propose that this would improve the lives of not only teachers but also students and parents.