Access to Student Devices
Every high schooler at T.C. Williams carries a Chromebook with them from classroom to classroom, along with the requisite chargers, thumb drives, and other accessories. Middle schoolers, however, have a spottier experience. According to New America’s 2016 survey, only 38 percent of teachers in the middle schools said they had a device for each student in their classroom. The other 62 percent of reported a wide range of access, from one device for every two students (1:2 ratio) to just one device for every five students (1:5 ratio). Many reported relying on computer carts that are shared across teams or grade levels, noting that the devices are not always available when teachers want to use them for instruction. (Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, ACPS middle school students all received their own devices.)
Device access across ACPS’s elementary schools varied the most. About one third of PreK–3 teachers reported having a device available for every student. Many of these teachers reported that they have one or a few desktop computers or other devices in the classroom, with shared laptop and iPad carts available to check out as they become available. In a handful of the 12 elementary schools, fourth and fifth graders also have their own Chromebooks in class. Nearly 75 percent of fourth and fifth grade teachers who completed the technology survey reported that each student had his or her own device. (All of the division's fourth and fifth graders now have access to their own devices for the 2016-2017 school year.)
Perhaps because their students have consistent, daily access to devices, high school teachers and fourth and fifth grade teachers were most likely to report that students use their devices at least once every day. Middle school teachers were least likely to report students using devices daily.
Device Use in ACPS Classrooms
According to survey results, 80 percent of teachers indicated that two of the most common uses for student devices are to add variety to daily instruction and to tailor learning experiences for each student. Nearly the same amount indicated that these tools allow for more self-directed learning, with students using devices to view lessons online and practice independently. A little less than two-thirds of respondents also reported using devices to support student collaboration. Teachers noted a range of other uses, including formative assessment: checking for understanding, quizzes, and classroom tests were noted by several respondents. Others reported having students conduct research online, write and edit papers and essays, and extend learning into the home by assigning videos and tutorials for homework.
In responding to a more open-ended question about technology use in the classroom, teacher answers reflect their work to integrate technology with curriculum and instruction. English language arts teachers describe students practicing with sight words and new vocabulary, accessing books at their reading level during stations work, and creating multimedia projects like digital stories and online writing portfolios. Math teachers are using a wide range of student resources for math practice, assigning online lessons and tutorials, and identifying a range of online games that reinforce key concepts. Science teachers are integrating virtual lab tools in their classrooms and social studies and government teachers are curating online news resources for students.
New technologies are not just being integrated into core academic subjects. Special subjects teachers are leveraging devices and digital tools in their classrooms as well. Music teachers are playing recordings of musicians and instruments for reference, teaching students to use digital tuners and metronomes for practice, and arranging sheet music for different ability levels. Art teachers are having students photograph their final products to create digital portfolios of their artwork, while dance teachers are helping students record performances to identify areas for improvement. Digital tools have been used to push the arts in many new directions, and teachers are helping students experiment with different methods and tools.
Connectivity Issues in Classrooms
Providing adequate broadband for the incredible range of activities students and teachers are completing daily is not a light lift, and slow or unresponsive internet can be an enormous challenge. Overall, 38 percent of teachers reported experiencing internet issues at least once a week. For teachers in one-to-one classroom environments, 44 percent report experiencing internet issues at least once a week, while an additional 15 percent report daily connectivity issues—so over half of teachers report experiencing connectivity challenges either weekly or daily.
Overall, 38 percent of teachers reported experiencing internet issues at least once a week. For teachers in one-to-one classroom environments, 44 percent report experiencing internet issues at least once a week, while an additional 15 percent report daily connectivity issues.
Teachers have devised a number of strategies to deal with the connectivity challenges in their classrooms, many of which will sound familiar to those who have spent time in classrooms. While students are able to work offline on their devices, one teacher highlighted the need for creating alternative lesson plans in case connectivity issues arise. Teachers pointed out that students lose instructional time due to connectivity challenges. These challenges can deter teachers from fully leveraging student devices for online learning.