Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with the Department of Sociology at McMaster University about my work on online learning. We had a discussion about best practices for digital instruction as faculty ramp up for the inevitability of an online fall semester.
There were a lot of really good questions:
- To what extent should the course be synchronous or asynchronous?
- How should we think about engagement in online classes?
- How can we protect students’ privacy in an online class?
- How can we make sure that student interactions online are appropriate?
- How, if at all, can we bridge aspects of in-person courses we care about to online instruction?
I won’t try to rehash the entire discussion, but one thing that really resonated in our discussion was the concept of appointing a student or TA to be a hype person. What do I mean by hype person? I mean someone whose role it is to keep the live chat exciting.
While you’re on camera lecturing most people simply can’t simultaneously keep track of everything going on in the live chat. How to solve that? A hype person. Someone who hangs out in the live chat to welcome everyone when class starts; shares an ice breaker; acknowledges when others make interesting comments so they feel heard; kindly reminds everyone about chat expectations when needed; and even surfaces key questions or themes that come up in the chat to the on-camera instructor.
For other ideas for online instruction, I wrote up a bit about a hybrid course I co-taught here.
Cassidy Puckett and I decided to consolidate some our thinking into a couple pieces about schools and digital inequality. First, we wrote a policy brief for Footnotes, the American Sociological Association’s newsletter. Second, we put together a column for the San Francisco Chronicle based on this brief:
How Robust Is the Global Technological Infrastructure?
Access to digital technology is the first level of the digital divide. Without access, you can’t teach. Thus, education reforms must make technology learning for both teachers and students a more central feature of schooling.
How Ready Are Educators and Students For Technology Learning?
But Cassidy, myself, and many other digital inequality researchers argue that digital access is absolutely not enough. There are *two* other digital divides that stand to disadvantage less privileged students of color if not address. The second is referred to as a digital skills gap. This gap applies to both students and teachers, and is most exacerbated at schools serving less affluent students and students of color. Thus, we must make technology learning for both teachers and students a more central feature of schooling.
How Might Students Be Unequally Rewarded?
As if two digital divides weren’t enough – there’s a third. It’s centered on “unequal reward” – and the Bourdieusians in the room will know how this applies to face-to-face learning but we know that it applies online, as well. Teachers tend to reward more affluent students who ask for extensions due to “tech fails,” and digital technologies are more likely to be for surveillance and discipline when users are less affluent students of color. These digital divisions require that we offer support to meet students’ needs without requiring them to ask for help, and recognize and amplify the efforts students make. Further, school districts should monitor outcomes in instructional use of technology and achievement to identify gaps along race, gender, and class.
I was super excited to attend and present at SXSW for the first time with Emeline Brulé, a friend and colleague who also studies digital technology use in schools. SXSW just published our little podcast on the topic:
Emeline Brule · When Punishing Tech Use Widens the Social Divide
Find the tl;dr and some bookmarks below:
- 1m40s: Outline of discussion
- 2m53s: Teacher and educator worries about tech use in school
- 4m45s: Media coverage about tech use in school
- 8m21s: Schools invest in tech, but then what?
- 12m25s: Emeline’s work on assistive tech use in schools in France
- 20m:40s: Matt’s work on disciplinary approaches to kids’ digital skills by student demographic in the U.S.
- 29m28s: Summary
- 30m24s: ‘Q&A’ – on research methods, implications for COVID-19, and more!
In a recent webinar (hosted by the American Sociological Association on March 19, 2020), I gave a brief talk about online learning and supports for marginalized students. This post is not meant to replicate the talk, but rather provide some supporting resources for those looking to make their online course more inclusive in the short term.
If you want to take a look at what was covered, you can find the deck I presented here.
Find below some additional resources organized by the themes in the talk:
Some light reading on how to set expectations for yourself and your students when as you switch to online teaching mid-semester:
Links to resources mentioned in the talk on tips to mitigate student digital divides in technology access:
Link to resources mentioned in the talk on tips to mitigate online participation gap:
- Common tools used for live chat backchannels include Discord and Slack