Poverty and Programming…and Questions

My internet crashed last night.  The TV wasn’t working, my computer wouldn’t pick up the wireless, and the micro-cell that boosts the cellular phone signal was down too.  I had digital devices…but no connection at all.

I had big plans…to watch some Sunday night football, to do some online holiday shopping, to put together a blog post, and to catch up on some reading of posts made by others.  Instead, I finished my book, put some laundry away, and went to bed a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.

My internet is back up and working today…but my experience last night turned my thoughts to issues of equity and access for students.

It seems that when people think about access to technology, devices are at the front of their thinking.  If only we could put a device in the student’s hand, issues of access are solved.

But there is just so much more to access.  Last night I had access to devices…but none of them would connect me to the internet or allow me to connect in any other way (text, phone, social media, even TV).  I thought about getting in my car and heading down to the local Starbucks to have a cup of coffee and accomplish some of what I planned to do at home.  I didn’t have any hard deadlines…and I knew that I would have internet access when I got to work this morning, so I decided to stay home and do without the connection.

But what if I were a high school student with a Monday morning deadline?  What if I didn’t have reliable internet access in my home…and what if I didn’t have transportation as an option to get me to the Starbucks, the library, or even a friend’s house with internet access? Even if the school provided me with a device, there are so many things I couldn’t do without internet access.

I know there are programs to provide internet service to families with limited means, but I also know that they require paperwork be filled out…and may even require some kind of bank account or credit card to pay the nominal monthly fee.

So why am I writing about this?  I’m thinking about the amount of school work that is assigned as homework. to be completed outside of school and the role that digital tools increasing play in our lives and I’m wondering about how access impacts our students.  Can they create digital portfolios to showcase their learning?  Can they access the information they need to locate resources for research, find scholarship and grant opportunities, secure internships or apply for employment?

How does access change when connectivity is only available outside of your home?  In public spaces?  Places with limited hours of operation?

And what do we take for granted?  We ask students to blog, to research, to reply to discussion boards, to collaborate with Google docs…often outside of the school day.  Which of our students have access…and what happens to those who don’t?  Do our students who come from the poorest families see themselves as producers of technology?  Who is learning to code?  Who is primarily consuming in our digital world and who is producing?  How often do we ask those questions…and how do the answers change the way we think about access and equity?

Last week on Teachers Teaching Teachers, we were on a Google Hangout talking about the Hour of Code and about Dasani.  Two disparate topics…or are they?  Poverty and programming…and questions of equity, voice, agency… What roles do schools play?  What roles should they play? What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century?  How does “producing” change the learner…the learning?  I have many more questions than answers…and I would love to continue the conversation.  What do you think?

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