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Distance learning on a smartphone: How can we make it easier?

The lack of equitable access to technology is a challenge that many educators around the world are facing. A recent UNICEF report found that 1 in 3 students worldwide misses out on their remote education classes for reasons including lack of time, a poor learning environment, and limited technical support for their distance learning curriculum.

This article will explore the factors that affect students’ access to online learning and highlight some steps educators can take to bridge the gap.

The technology challenges to distance learning

Equal access to education has always been a challenge, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the last global pandemic in 1919, a group of high school students in Long Beach, California, used a small network of telephones to communicate with their teachers, a system that was later known as ‘teach-a-phone.’

More than 100 years later, some North American students’ only access point for distance learning is their smartphone, as they cannot afford another device or are waiting for one to arrive. Many school boards ordered devices like laptops and tablets early on in the pandemic. However, as of October 2020, it was estimated that there was still a shortfall of about 5 million devices in American schools.

The internet conundrum

In addition to devices, many students in North America, especially in rural areas, have struggled to access education through unreliable or unavailable Wi-Fi.

In response, many cities and schools have partnered with telecom companies and internet providers to set up mobile hotspots or make existing coverage inexpensive or free for students and their families. Students in Baltimore successfully lobbied Comcast to improve the network speed for low-income communities as they were struggling to complete their school work. However, consistent adequate internet access is only one facet of the technology gap students face.

Bridging the remote education technology gap

While schools and governments are working diligently to bridge the technology gap by purchasing new devices and making the internet more widely available, the reality is that there are still students working with minimal resources. As we’re trying to reach every student, what can we as educators do to make the wait less of a challenge?

In addition to these outreach measures, individual teachers and educators can take steps to ensure that their lessons are still accessible, even to students with limited access to technology. Here are some examples:

  1. Record classes: If you use Zoom or another video conferencing platform for classes, it’s easy to make a recording. Press the ‘record’ button before your class starts, then post the recording online to ensure it’s accessible to students who may have to use a phone for a class or share their device with a sibling.
  2. Encourage students to call in: Another benefit of many online conferencing platforms is that they give phone numbers so that attendees can call in if they don’t have internet or cell service.
    This makes it easier for students to use their smartphones or even a home phone, allowing them to scroll through reading material even as they listen to the class’s audio in session.
  3. Keep resources available online: Many teachers use slides, images, videos, and other resources in their online classes and share their screens to ensure that students can watch it together.
    To help accommodate students using a phone for their distance learning, post all of these resources in one central place after the lesson is over. That way, if students had a hard time seeing the shared screen, they can pull up the resource on their own time.
  4. Use electronic grading software for class assignments: Instead of requiring students to submit homework differently for each teacher, schools can help facilitate easier online learning by investing in electronic grading software. These tools give students one centralized place for homework submission that students can access on any device.

Support students with electronic grading software like Crowdmark

Electronic grading software like Crowdmark makes it easy for educators to support students who may have trouble accessing technology. The simple platform is mobile-friendly and designed to make it easy for students to complete and submit homework and other class assignments.

Want to try it in your classroom? Get in touch with us today to start your free trial.

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