While the pandemic has caused enormous disruption and challenges, particularly for families who had to transform their homes into locations for “remote learning” there were two powerful positives that emerged from this experience, both of which depend on human connections made possible by technology.
First, parents became more involved in their children’s learning, working as partners with teachers more effectively than ever. The focus on relationships, understanding and meeting simultaneous challenges of caregiving, health and economic impact of the pandemic deepened and strengthened “whole child” approaches that had previously been found mainly in schools who have embraced a “Community Schools” model. These parents represent a source of huge potential to advance “family focused” strategies for engagement that are essential for improving learning for everyone, everywhere.
Secondly, while a large number of students (estimated at 40%) struggled to participate in “remote learning” (due to inadequate access to devices, connectivity or meaningful learning activities) those who did participate demonstrated a higher degree of agency, taking responsibility for their own learning, troubleshooting limitations and creating personal learning strategies that leveraged networking with other students and online resources. These students represent a source of huge potential for advancing personalized learning to accelerate their growth by combining the best of in-person and online learning strategies.
Our project, Datacasting Action Research Teams, or DART, is focused on telling the stories of these resilient parents, students and teachers. Our focus is on families, documenting and sharing the best practices which improve learning for families in their homes.
We leverage datacasting, a solution which solves one half of the problem: lack of access to digital resources to support learning. Families who install a datacasting receiver into their home, especially those homes without access to high-speed internet (broadband), will have access to a digital library of resources provided by school districts. Previously, only students living in homes with broadband had access to these resources; now, access to these resources will reach unconnected or underserved students for the first time. Before datacasting, these students only received paper packets of work, or thumb drives with digital worksheets.
But learning is a two-way street: the cycle of learning demands connection, for parents and teachers to communicate, for students and teachers to ask questions and get feedback. Datacasting solves the access problem, but the communication problem (known as the “return path”) still depends upon the connectivity available to the home. During the pandemic, it was common to learn of students and families who had to drive many miles to reach locations where cell phones or hotspots worked well enough for students to submit work, call or text teachers, and in many cases the connectivity to these homes has not improved, and will not improve for many months. Our project is studying what the best options are for families at every level of connectivity in the home.
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An important part of our research is understanding the internet speeds of our stakeholders from their homes. This data will help us develop a strategy on how to better serve families in our area.