Friday, August 5, 2016

Turning online possibilities into real opportunities

How much time do you spend online every day? It's not a rhetorical question. Think about how much time you spend starting at an illuminated screen--computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Okay, now. How are you spending that time? Facebook? Instagram? Checking out the latest celebrity stories? Researching something? Going through your email?

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has a new report on how the digital divide continues to widen between rich and poor students, and more so in some countries than in others.

If you live in the US, don't bother looking for the United States because we're not even on the chart. I suspect that means we didn't participate in the study, but I imagine most of us can guess our results.

You should review the actual report rather than read only what the World Economic Forum surmises about the report; however, there is a particularly telling quote: "'They may not have the knowledge or skills required to turn online opportunities into real opportunities,' the report says."

And that's true. Disadvantaged students may not be savvy about the extent of the possibilities or even how to find out about MOOCs or Lynda.com or anything else, providing they know what a MOOC is or that there is such a thing as an online course.

There is no doubt that students can find these things on their own provided they look for them, provided they know to go look for them. That's a big "if."

Another part of the equation for more disadvantaged students is what their parents and teachers know about online possibilities. If teachers and/or parents don't know about online learning, online job possibilities, etc., then how are kids to begin to figure that out? And maybe the kids are mostly focusing on online games because they don't know about anything else. Or maybe games attract most of their attention because those ads are better and more compelling. Or maybe because they don't have much hope about changing their situation.

So how do we help disadvantages learners anywhere in the world learn to take hold of the power of online and find the opportunities or make their own opportunities? Well, it might not hurt to partner with some of those games in which kids are so interested and create some ads or teasers that are compelling enough for a click. But that isn't all. Check this out.

It's a quote appropriately at the bottom of the OECD report. Is the issue internet access? Is it the device? Nope.

It's reading. Because when kids know how to read, they can find what they need and want to find. They will begin to learn more when they read so they can ask questions.

I don't think reading is the end of the story though I firmly believe it's an important part. Not only do students need to know how to read, they need to know how to think critically. And their teachers need to be sufficiently trained to know how to help their students find resources online OR their teachers need to know how to go online to the entire edtech/learning network of educators--and that's millions of people--to help their kids find what they need and want to find and learn. Only then can students--and their parents and teachers--begin the hard work of turning online possibilities into real opportunities.

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