Unless you’re in a 1:1 school, or a school with a very organised BYOD policy, it is likely that you will be unable to determine what internet, and computing facilities, are available at home for your students. Yet virtually every school I know of will invest time, money and training into resources that require students to have good computer access at home. Schools, and teachers, habitually direct students to online resources, and tasks requiring a computer, at home. It’s very rare to find a school that doesn’t do this!
Even if we discover that every household has interent access, we need to remember to carefully examine what this actually looks like for the young people we serve. For example, if a teacher sets homework that requires all students to download a publisher template from a VLE, and to edit it at home, we’re making a lot of assumptions. We’re assuming that the student can gain dedicated access to a computer, which runs Microsoft Office with Publisher. This may have been more taken for granted ten years ago when a traditional Windows computer was often the primary computing device for the majority of students. In an age of tablets and smartphones, this is no longer the case. I’m sat right now on a train typing into a Chromebook! If an e-mail attachment ends with .pub I’m in trouble!
Teachers also habitally direct students to educational resources that run in Adobe Flash. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a wealth of good educational content, that is made in Flash, even if a lot of it is old! However, if the primary computing device for a student is an iPad that won’t support Flash then this throws up a new headache.
What you need, before The Survey
The survey that we designed analysed a lot of factors. What we wanted to discover was:
(1) How often do students have access to the interent and online resources?
(2) When do students have the best access to the internet and online resources?
(3) What is the primary computing device that students use at home?
(4) Do students have problems accessing online resources if they’re in large families?
(5) Do our disadvantaged pupil premium students have better\worse internet access than other students?
You can click here to see a full version of the survey that we carried out.
Findings and Implications
While our findings take up a 20 page report, the three most interesting findings, and implications for us were:
1. A long held assumption by members of staff was that we had a significant group of students with no interent access at all, at home. When we finished surveying the whole school we discovered that this was only the case in 16 homes. Given that 46.6% of our students are disadvantaged (pupil premium), this statistic shocked us. Internet connections seem to be as basic as gas, phone and electricity, at least for our students.
2. We discovered extremely high levels of tablet ownership in Year 7. This was a very interesting statistic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it means that a 1:1 tablet deployment programme would have very limited impact. If students already own their own tablet, even if they all have different specifications and a mixture of types, we could have immediate classroom impact, at no cost, with a BYOD programme. However, if we want to go 1:1, a lack of access to a device with a keyboard is a major issue for Year 7. Therefore we may wish to address this issue in the future by thinking about purchasing devices with a keyboard.
3. There’s a hidden “digital divide”. When we talk about a digital divide, we often run the risk of creating very clear cut off points. For example, there’s homes with the interent and those without. There’s homes with computers and those without. In reality, this isn’t so simple.
We discovered a lot of homes where interent and computing tools exist but these tools are not optimised for learning. For example, some students struggle to gain dedicated access to a device, or their home has WiFi but they mostly access their interent through a smartphone. This is hardly ideal as students will struggle to carry out a lot of tasks on a small screen that is primarally optimised for content consumption. Therefore, the priority for schools should be to ensure that these students have optimal devices for learning at home, as we now know that nearly all students have good interent connections.
4. Smartphone ownership is incredibly high. 80% of our students own a smartphone, and this is the most widely available device fotr students to access. Therefore, the ways in which we purchase educational resources should change dramatically. If we give students electronic resources to consume, we should ensure that these work on smartphones. This is the easiest way for our students to access the content so it should be a priority for schools.
After surveying students, you get some very powerful data that you can share with staff and that can immediately start informing decisions and classroom practice. This data will certainly differ between schools, and I suspect quite radically, so it is worth schools collecting.
At a teacher level this will help staff to know how long to give tasks that require students to have access to a device with a keyboard. At the level of middle to senior leadership, it will help to guide the purchase of educational technology. For example, a product should be considered more seriously if it is compatible with devices that students can readily access at home. At a more senior level, before embarking on a 1:1 device deployment programme, you can see what devices students already have access to and consider if BYOD is a more sensible option, or not. If you do want to go 1:1 it’s worth considering which device will provide students with something new and useful. For example, if all your students have a tablet, but limited keyboard access, then a fast Chromebook with a keyboard would be a more sensible and flexible option for your school.
The data we gathered was so powerful, if I could, I’d make every school do a survey like this before I allowed them to buy a single online resource, or a single computing device to give to students!by