Gregory Beyrer

The Digital Divide and Mobile Device Access

Blog Post created by Gregory Beyrer Champion on Aug 13, 2017

A few years ago in my face-to-face history class I started flipping my instruction. Each time the class meets there is a group activity. Students are grouped based on their interest in a course theme, as there is a theme-related capstone assignment for the class. I like to use the LMS for all assignment submissions, and doing that during class allows me to take roll concurrently. Having a mobile-friendly system like Canvas makes things a lot easier for my students. It also means I can use a broad definition of "mobile" to include any networked device a student can bring to a classroom, from laptops to smart phones. 


I am concerned about the digital divide and whether a particular group will have a mobile device in hand, so the "get to know you" form that students complete on the first day of the semester asks whether they have a device they can bring to class. I then make sure each group has at least two students who can do so. 


It would be great if I did not have to think about device availability. Last fall I applied for and won a mini-grant from my college foundation to purchase some cloud books. I would have them ready for my students to use, and so I was excited about the next semester. 


Can you guess where this is going? Last spring I again divided the class into groups based on their interest in a course theme. Even though I did not have to worry about device access because of my mini-grant, I still asked my students if they could bring a device to class. All of them said yes. 


Each class of course is different and drawing conclusions based on two classes does not make for a change in practice, even if the change was progressive over time. This is especially true for a community college, where so much diversity in every way exists. But it is always good to challenge assumptions, especially those that encourage us to treat people less empowered than they actually might be. 


*This blog entry composed on a mobile device, natch.*