Unplugged Academics

As devices become increasing prevalent in the classroom a CHS student, faculty members discuss the challenges for students with limited access to technology

Armaan Goel

It’s the passing period between SRT and period G3 and students shuffle into Laura King’s German IV class. As they enter, many are quick to pull out a smartphone, bouncing between apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Reddit. However, as junior Hope Stauffer enters the room, she simply takes her seat and sits quietly. This is because, unlike the majority of CHS students, Hope’s main device is an old slide phone, one she said is not even available on the market anymore.

“I pull it out and (other students) are like, ‘is that your phone’ and I’m like ‘yeah it is,’ ” she said, recalling frequent reactions to her device. “They are like, ‘oh cool can I play with it’ because they just like flipping it up and sliding it and stuff like that.’ ”

According to David Stauffer, Hope’s father, although cost was a factor in his family’s decision, the Stauffers chose to limit technology use mainly out of personal preference.

“I have a completely different philosophy on (smartphone use), I don’t think anyone needs to have that much technology in their hands at any time,” Mr. Stauffer said. “I certainly don’t (own a smartphone), I have a phone from work that I utilize, (but) my personal phone is an old flip phone.”

In an increasingly technology oriented classroom, however, Hope felt that avoiding technology is no longer a viable option. Although she still uses a slide phone as her main device, her family recently purchased her an iPod Touch due to the academic pressures of not having a smart device. These pressures, Hope said, were more than just a simple inconvenience — they often increased her workload outside of school.

“Before I got an (iPod Touch) teachers would be like, ‘alright, we’re going to go on Canvas,’ and so I’d be like, ‘oh, dang it I can’t do that,’ ” she said. “I’d have to either do (the in-class work) at home, which would put more homework on me, or I’d have to ask my friends if I could use their devices, or just (use) the teacher’s computer sometimes.”

Hope is not the only student that faces these limitations. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, students with limited access to technology still make up a surprisingly large demographic. Even in areas like Carmel, where the average household income is above $75,000, 22 percent of teens are not smartphone owners. These students may face increasing academic challenges, like Hope does, as education becomes more and more device oriented.

However, Elizabeth, Catt, technology coordinator and chemistry teacher, believes the number of students in this demographic is dwindling.

“I think it’s been a decreasing minority in recent years as the cost of smartphones and tablets and things have decreased and they’ve become more accessible to families,” Catt said. “There definitely are still some students that either chose to or don’t have the opportunity to use their own technology.”

For these remaining students, Catt explained that there are many resources at school which can help students make up for technology limitations.

“I have had some experience with students with limited access to technology, which can be a lot easier combatted now that we have many different device carts that teachers can use throughout the school,” she said. “When I know students are going to need technology and internet use, I try to make sure that most of the work can be done in the classroom itself. If not, there’s always SRT time where students can be written a pass to either a classroom with a (computer) cart or to a (computer) lab to finish up the work that they need to do.”

However, Catt also feels that one of the challenges in assisting these students is that faculty are not always made aware of who faces technology limitations. Therefore, for these students, she believes having an open dialogue with teachers and practicing self advocacy is the best way to overcome challenges associated with limited access to technology.

“I think the biggest thing would be to be open and honest with your teacher, to let them know that you don’t have access to technology and to work with your teacher,” Catt said. “We want to figure out what kinds of accommodations you would need.”

Assistant Principal Brooke Watkins also added that counselors can provide additional help for these students, such as  refurbished devices for use outside of school.

“I would encourage them to talk to their counselors because they have access to various resources that might be able to provide some tools for them,” Watkins said. “It might not be necessarily the latest (technology), but it does provide access and provide some options.”

However, outside of academics, Hope feels her limited use of technology is also a social hindrance at school.

“I guess it would be more like connecting or relating to stuff like that because I also don’t have any social media and so in terms of that and not like having any group chats,” she said. “(She said she missed out on) that connection with people that they have through social media, so I would have to get that information or connection face to face at school or outside of school.”

Additionally, she believes the school’s current solutions for the academic problems are not quite enough to help students like her.

“The school doesn’t understand (that) not everyone has a smart device and so I think that can be kind of a hurdle sometimes,” she said. “It’s assumed that everyone has (devices), and I totally get why, because I mean they are everywhere, (but) I think the school could provide (better assistance). I mean, I know we have the Chromebooks and stuff like that, but making it known to the teachers that not everyone has a phone or that not everyone has a smart device would be helpful.”

  Assistant Principal Brooke Watkins, however, ensured that the school district also keeps these students in mind when creating technology policies.

“The district did some research (on students with limited technology) probably five or six years ago now looking at it from a district scale, which is what lead us to our technology integration plan that we had in the last couple years.”

Katherine Hallett, technology coach and biology teacher, added to this, stating that, though the district has strongly pushed for technology implementation in recent years, the school’s core philosophy in education has not changed, meaning students with limited technology shouldn’t be completely alienated anytime soon.

“We’ve advocated, especially with the training last year, that technology enhances the learning process, it doesn’t drive the learning process. We know that good learning involves a lot more than just typing stuff on a computer,” Hallett said. “We still like to color, and handwriting is better for learning than typing, so we still believe in blending the best of both”

Despite the limitations associated with a lack of a smartphone, Hope still believes that there are actually academic and social advantages that some may not consider.

“Honestly, I prefer not to have (a smartphone) just because I don’t like to be glued to that,” Hope said. “I like personal connection and actual face-to-face talking more so I feel not having (a smartphone) has actually helped me more with school and focusing.”

Additionally, Hope also feels that students with limited access to technology shouldn’t use it as a crutch.

“Don’t always say, ‘oh I can’t do that because I have a slide phone,’ ‘oh I can’t do because I don’t have a phone,’ ” she said. “I would embrace it because it’s kind of fun because people are always freaked out that you have it, and they are like, ‘woah wait this is 2017 and you still have that.’ ”