Can Digital Technology Bridge the Classroom Engagement Gap? Findings from a Qualitative Study of K-8 Classrooms in 10 Ontario School Boards
2. Classroom Technology, Student Socioeconomic Status, and the Digital Divide
3. Theory: Digital Technology, Classroom Interaction Rituals, and Cultural Capital
4. Research Questions
5. Data and Methods
7.1. Student Accessibility and Familiarity with Digital Tools
These technologies can help close the digital divide to an extent, because you’re providing a resource that not all students would get otherwise.(Grade 2/3 teacher, Summerville)
Technology is getting cheaper. Soon, money won’t be the problem. You can buy a tablet for less than a hundred bucks. Bring your own device (BYOD) is changing access. They have programs for kids in need where cops will come and bring them computers. Technology access is becoming less of an issue.(Grade 6 teacher, Summerville)
… [F]or our kids, most of their home situations don’t allow for the extras. They aren’t the kids that are doing this in summer camp. For a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen anything like this. They’re just really excited to be working with robotics.(Junior teacher, Robotics Project)
Teachers commented that their students were acquiring digital skills quicker than they would have with traditional forms of print:… if you really think about it, none of the kindergarten students have used a smart board before, but there’s almost zero learning curve when they come to school. They just say, “oh okay” and go with it. It’s not like they say “no, I don’t want to try it”. Whereas you give them a book to read, and they just look at you with blank eyes sometimes …(Full Day Kindergarten [FDK] teacher, Summerville)
I had a student with no technology at home, but she just picked up tech skills immediately. She became the most fluid, despite never using it before. I’m not sure I could say the same for a child with no books at home learning to read.(Grade 1 teacher, St. Helena)
Bobby is a student with Autism Specturm Disorder (ASD) who is nonverbal and illiterate. Despite his diagnosis, he flourishes with technology—using his tablet to “speak”—to tell staff he was “hungry” or “finished”. Other times, he used his tablet to watch his favourite YouTube videos, or play educational apps without any probing. Sometimes he’s asked to guide “morning calendar” on the smart board or select a daily video. He had little difficulty demonstrating his knowledge on devices.
Students understand that if they don’t know something, they can use technology to find answers. When I first started teaching, if students couldn’t read or go to libraries, they were stuck. They had to wait until the next day to come to school or ask a teacher or their parents. Now, they are accountable for their learning inside and out of school.(Support teacher, SDSB)
Technology gives students greater independence and the ability to self-teach. You can give them a push, but they really take off with it and appreciate that level of freedom. They often end up leading many tech lessons.(Grade 7 teacher, St. Helena)
With robotics, you can explore possibilities and build things. Even when you’re not following instructions, you can make your own creation, and then teach others.(Student, Robotics Project)
7.2. Emergence of Classroom Rituals and Cultural Valuations Associated with Digital Technology
There are jobs today that didn’t exist ten years ago. The goal of schools was to prepare students for factory work, but that doesn’t apply anymore. Earlier hands on experiences with technology is what will really prepare them for future jobs. Even without home support.(Grade 7 teacher, SDSB)
Robotics helps us think about the kinds of jobs we can be doing in the future, like engineering or programming and other new jobs for the 21st century.(Student, Robotics Project)
Robotics helps prepare us by doing steam-based activities, because that is where jobs are going to be available.(Student, Robotics Project)
7.3. Connections between Rituals and Students’ Peer and Home-Based Leisure
Students can’t wait to go home and try some of the tools we use at school. You show them one thing with technology, and the next thing you know, they are telling me “check out my YouTube channel” or “look at this neat thing I learnt”. Sometimes they even teach themselves at home and show off to classmates the next day. There is overlap between home and school that was non-existent before technology.(Librarian, St. Helena)
There are so many different tools students can use during the day or at home. I encourage them to check out Khan Academy or games like Prodigy to further their learning at home. I give them the tools at school so they can continue with it on their own time.(Grade 8 teacher, Summerville)
The teacher is instructing his students to check the classroom website (or virtual learning environment, “VLE”, as it is known). He has uploaded their upcoming assignment. He mentions there are additional links available for students to explore. He encourages them to take advantage of online tools which he suggested can be accessible on any device.
Digital technology was used throughout the day as students planed their own activities—some used it to watch educational videos, to read interactively, or log on to websites like ABC-YA for math or language activities. Many of the students were continuing activities that they started the night before at home.
Most kids I’ve worked with, including my own, are literally doing the exact same things with technology—they are using it to do what their friends are doing. Whatever that may be.(Grade 7 teacher, Summerville)
Very few restrictions are placed at home from the students in my class. I know because when they come to school, they are talking about the same games, websites, and apps they use at home. Even those who I know for a fact are coming from poorer families. It’s part of kid culture now.(Grade 8 teacher, St. Helena)
Parents might suggest educational apps, but I think the teacher sets the tone. They are the ones who will tie it into their teaching or get the class excited to follow through with something online. If that interest is sparked in class, it carries into the home. I’ve seen that happen when I introduce something in class. They do it at home.(Grade 2/3 teacher, Summerville)
I think more emphasis is placed on screen time for toddlers. But once they get to a certain age, there is less control from parents. Parents aren’t monitoring their children 24/7. It’s just a reality of our busy lives today. Children are using technology to do what their friends are doing and interact with them in this new way.(ESL teacher, St. Helena)
Most people assume middle class or professional families monitor screen time. But, as a teacher and parent, I’m concerned if my kids have fun, and maybe how often they are online, but in terms of what they do, I don’t bother. I see my kids and students in class jumping on whatever bandwagon their friends are doing. It’s in students’ hands now, but they can surprise you. I found two students in my class just last week trying to create an app on their own—with no probing from me or their parents.(Grade 7 teacher, Summerville)
8. Discussion and Conclusion: Towards a New Research Agenda
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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All school and board names are pseudonyms.
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Rizk, J.; Davies, S. Can Digital Technology Bridge the Classroom Engagement Gap? Findings from a Qualitative Study of K-8 Classrooms in 10 Ontario School Boards. Soc. Sci. 2021, 10, 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010012
Rizk J, Davies S. Can Digital Technology Bridge the Classroom Engagement Gap? Findings from a Qualitative Study of K-8 Classrooms in 10 Ontario School Boards. Social Sciences. 2021; 10(1):12. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010012Chicago/Turabian Style
Rizk, Jessica, and Scott Davies. 2021. "Can Digital Technology Bridge the Classroom Engagement Gap? Findings from a Qualitative Study of K-8 Classrooms in 10 Ontario School Boards" Social Sciences 10, no. 1: 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010012