In today’s digital age, it’s no surprise that students need daily access to technology devices and connectivity after school to complete homework assignments.

In today’s digital age, it’s no surprise that students need daily access to technology devices and connectivity after school to complete homework assignments.

But many students, particularly those from low-income households, don’t have reliable internet service at home. In fact, more than nine out of 10 teachers in high-poverty schools say their students don’t have access at home to the digital resources needed to complete assignments, according to a research report from the National AfterSchool Association (NAA).

Unfortunately, the lack of technology is contributing to a growing “homework gap,” which leaves millions of students to fall behind. This also means that fewer students learn to interact with technology in ways that develop the skills needed to succeed in today’s digital economy.

 

How Afterschool Programs Can Achieve Equal Access to Digital Learning

Afterschool programs can serve as a catalyst for closing the gap and enhancing access to digital learning for participating students. Through engaging, real-world learning experiences, programs can transform students from “digital consumers” to “digital creators” through deep digital learning opportunities. And, since nearly half of all students enrolled in afterschool programs are from low-income households, afterschool programs can play a significant role in closing the gap.

However, to successfully close the digital divide, the report states that “afterschool professionals will need more tools and training to become effective facilitators of digital learning.” NAA shares the following three recommendations for increasing digital learning opportunities for students after school:

 

Examine the barriers and possible solutions to increase access to technology-rich afterschool programs.

Ensure that there is sufficient access to a reliable internet connection plus individual student access to internet connected devices. For school-based afterschool programs, the report suggests establishing agreements that ensure access to technology resources in classrooms and digital media labs. Community-based programs can leverage partnerships or make room in the budget to offer access to mobile or on-site technology labs.

 

Create targeted professional development resources that promote the effective integration of digital learning in afterschool.

Afterschool professionals bring different levels of expertise with technology. For afterschool directors, the report recommends that professional development tools offer clear guidance for:

  • Developing a vision for creating access to technology.
  • Planning for effective use of digital learning across content areas.
  • Developing strategies for continuous improvement.

Professional development tools for afterschool educators should:

  • Articulate the distinction between facilitating the “consumption” of technology through passive activities and the “creation” of digital content through activities that help students build critical 21st century skills.
  • Provide concrete examples, strategies and links to resources to enable educators to facilitate this active approach to digital learning.

All strategies should be flexible to fit your students’ needs and to adapt to your program’s vision and settings.

 

Develop plans for collecting and disseminating new knowledge.

Technology changes at a rapid pace, and educators must learn how to use new devices and resources as tools to engage students in meaningful learning experiences.

Use new professional development resources to determine training needs based on educators’ strengths, experience and settings; what professional development approaches work best and the most efficient ways to share new knowledge about digital learning within the program. In turn, program directors will develop an effective system for adopting digital learning practices for afterschool professionals.

With reliable access to technology resources and the right professional development strategies in place, afterschool programs are positioned to effectively promote digital learning outside of school hours. Read the full NAA report for more insight on ensuring that all students have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities in afterschool settings.