It’s no surprise to anyone I know when I say that I love technology. I’m a bit of a geek, an early adopter and, sometimes annoyingly, quick to switch to the next new thing.
What surprises me though is how many cheap or free online tools and apps are available, yet few people I know or work with use them. So I thought I’d list a few I use and encourage you to try at least one.
I’ll start with Evercontact because they’re going to give me free stuff if I send them this post’s URL (nice). Formerly WriteThatname, Evercontact “intelligently scans your incoming email & auto-enriches contact details in your address book and CRM.”
It works with Gmail, Outlook, Salesforce and other apps. Basically it does two things: It scans your contacts and adds other details automatically. It also has a browser extension that allows you to select contact details and add them to your contacts. It has free and paid plans, but also rewards you for shouting out about it on social media.
Buffer allows you to schedule and post links to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google+. Again, it has a browser extension that pops up a posting window and you can choose to post on all or some of your networks. It also adds a “Buffer” button to Tweet windows. Founder Joel said in a blog I read somewhere that he created it so his tweets and updates were spread out consistently rather than in random bursts. It has free and paid plans – and the team keep a great blog.
Basecamp is a project management app developed by the 37 Signals team. It combines messaging, to-do lists, file storage, shared text documents, a calendar and reminders. It allows sharing by teams and you can also invite clients to let them monitor progress. It’s just had a nice redesign that has made it more intuitive and simple. 37 Signals have several other products, as well as books about how they’ve innovated in their work. I’d recommend Rework and I believe another is imminent. Once again, there are free and paid plans.
Bloglovin allows you to add blogs you want to follow and get all of their new posts in a feed or by email. You can also use it to allow others to follow your blog. I prefer its layout to RSS readers – it present snippets and images in a clean, simple layout. And it’s totally free.
YouCanBook.me allows other people to book time with you. You choose when people can book, eg. between 10am and 5pm, appointment lengths and what information you want. You can even ask people for their mobile number to send text reminders. It makes appointment-making easy for both parties – everyone should use it. It’s free or you can upgrade to add functionality. Check out mine as an example.
Other than YouCanBook.me, Baydin’s Boomerang is my favourite online tool. it integrates into Gmail and Outlook and adds functionality to emailing and scheduling. In email you can bring emails back to your inbox on a specified date, schedule emails to be sent later (so you don’t look like a nerd sending emails in the weekend) and you can request read receipts. It also allows you to embed your schedule into emails with a click, and suggest times and dates to meet for both individuals and groups. If you hate email volleys trying to make appointments as much as I do, it’s a must. Free and paid.
There are other tools that I use, such as SurveyMonkey, Xero, Workflowy, Sanebox and of course Google’s suite of apps, but the six I’ve mentioned are definitely time and stress savers. Go on, start using at least one!
The Digital Divide is a Human Rights Issue
The COVID-19 pandemic shed a glaring light on the important role that technology and access to high-speed internet play our lives. You would not be able to read this story without an internet connection and a device to read it on. How would you communicate with loved ones, do your homework or pay your bills without broadband?
Cynthia K. Sanders, associate professor and online program director in the College of Social Work, is the lead author of an article published in the Journal of Human Rights and Social Work that argues access to high-speed internet, or broadband, is a human rights and social justice issue. Lack of access disproportionately impacts low-income, People of Color, seniors, Native Americans and rural residents. Sanders joined the University of Utah in July 2021.
“Much of my work is around financial, social or political inclusion,” said Sanders. “The digital divide certainly represents a lack of social inclusion because there are so many things associated with access to broadband in terms of how we think about our daily lives and opportunities, especially highlighted by the pandemic. It creates a clear social exclusion situation.”
At least 20 million Americans do not have access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Some estimates are as high as 162 million, said Sanders. While there are federal funds allocated toward addressing access to broadband internet, Sanders and her co-author, Edward Scanlon from the University of Kansas, argue the digital divide must be viewed as more than a policy or infrastructure issue.
“When we know that the people who don’t have it are already disadvantaged in many ways, it should also be viewed as a human rights and social justice issue,” said Sanders. “And it’s also about more than just whether broadband is available in certain areas. Even if it is available, not everyone can afford it or devices available to access it. If they do have the devices or can pay for it, they may not have the digital literacy skillset to effectively use technology and broadband for many of the opportunities it provides like applying for jobs, furthering one’s education, accessing health care or medical records and staying in touch with friends and family.”
In order to reduce the digital divide, Sanders said there are community-based, grassroots initiatives that can serve as excellent models—including one here in Utah.
“The Murray School District used some federal funds to create their own long-term evolution network (LTE) and that’s something no other district in the nation has done,” said Sanders. “It’s a great example and something we can learn from in the absence of a more national strategy.”
The authors also urge social workers to get involved through policy advocacy, coalition building and program development around initiatives such as low-cost broadband, low-cost devices and creating digital literacy programs.
“From a social work perspective, we need to be part of this discussion around ways to help close the digital divide for particularly marginalized groups,” said Sanders. “We can be involved in lobbying and working with legislators and policymakers to educate about the digital divide, who it impacts and the funding needed for some of these grassroots initiatives that can truly impact peoples’ daily lives.”
What We Learned from the IIA’s Webinar on Broadband Affordability
On Monday, September 13th, the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) held a webinar entitled Deleting the Broadband Affordability Divide: A Virtual Chat with FCC Acting Chair Rosenworcel. The event was headlined by a discussion between FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and IIA Co-Chair Kim Keenan and featured a star-studded cast of accomplished women, including:
- Joi Chaney, Executive Director of National Urban League’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy
- Dr. Dominique Harrison, Director of Technology Policy for the Joint Center
- Rosa Mendoza, Founder, President and CEO of ALLvanza
The goal of this event was to discuss the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program’s success thus far, what challenges remain, and ultimately, how the federal government and other actors are fairing in addressing the digital divide in the United States. In the following, we’ll take a look at the key takeaways and information shared in the webinar and assess the current status of the EBB Program in America. But before we do that, we must understand the context and why such initiatives are vitally important.
The Digital Divide
The digital divide has essentially been around ever since the World Wide Web emerged some 30 years ago. The problem has been widely known for decades, but action has largely remained stagnant. The issue started to gain more traction in the last ten years as much of everyday life transitioned to or became intertwined with the digital world. It became clear that Americans across the country were being left behind. Initial policy efforts focused chiefly on accessibility and availability, but we know now that the real issue lies with broadband adoption, i.e., affordability of broadband access.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the vast reliance on the digital world that has followed, it became utterly apparent how strong the digital divide is and how essential it was to ensure no one is left behind. A third of American households have worried about paying their broadband bills during the pandemic. COVID-19 also made it clear how substantial the gap is in broadband availability for under-served communities, with just 71% of African American adults having broadband access. Compared to 65% for Hispanic adults and 80% for White adults.
Given these apparent gaps and severe consequences at hand following COVID-19, the FCC enacted the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program to address this critical issue before it’s far too late.
The Importance of the Webinar
Despite the initiative at the federal level from the FCC, such programs cannot succeed on their own. That’s where organizations and coalitions like the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) come in. The IIA is a coalition that has supported broadband availability and access for all Americans for the last 17 years. They hosted this webinar intending to increase awareness behind the EBB Program and the work that remains to be done. Given the problems that COVID-19 has so clearly illuminated regarding broadband connections, it was essential to keep the momentum building on the EBB Program. And that’s precisely what the IIA webinar achieved. With that being said, let’s look at what the EBB is and what we learned about it in the webinar.
What is EBB?
The main goal of the EBB Program is to make broadband affordable to everyone and get 100% broadband access in America. It’s the most extensive broadband affordability program in our nation’s history, with initial funding from Congress set at $3.2 billion. The idea is to obviously address the affordability aspect of broadband, mainly to help lower-income households from falling behind, and thus, creating an even bigger divide in our country.
The EBB Program aims to keep those online struggling to afford it and help get those online who haven’t been before. EBB provides up to $50 a month to families who qualify, and that number goes up to $75 a month on tribal lands. The Program also works closely with providers to offer discounts on tablets and laptops. Five and a half million households have signed up thus far. But as FCC Acting Chair Rosenworcel mentioned, this is just the beginning.
Many households qualify but have yet to reap the benefits, and a big reason behind that is a lack of trust. Unsurprisingly, many Americans are reluctant to trust a new federally-run program automatically, so is the case with EBB. To counter this, the FCC has utilized more than 33,000 partners around the world to help them. Whether massive organizations or small, local groups, the FCC has entrusted their partners to help facilitate the Program and make the community connections needed for it to work.
With that being said, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the IIA webinar.
As mentioned previously, perhaps the most significant barriers to success for the EBB Program are trust and reach. However, the FCC has held over 300 events around the country and has worked with other federal agencies and even the National Football League (NFL) to help further the Program. Even so, it’s the local actors, communities, and leaders that’ll make all the difference. In Baltimore, for example, a city impeded by this issue perhaps more than any other, there are local organizations going door to door to spread the word, and the mayor fully supports the Program. The FCC hopes for more of the same in urban areas around the country, which struggle more with broadband connection than previously imagined.
The FCC has even created a detailed yet straightforward outreach toolkit to help local actors get the message out to assist in such community endeavors. The toolkit is available in 13 different languages to ensure messaging is as effective as possible. They also have a mobile-friendly app which has helped a lot of people get started in the Program.
The most important takeaway from the IIA webinar is that this Program’s success will depend heavily on local communities.
The IIA webinar made it clear that we can be hopeful about addressing the digital divide. This strong group of women, headlined by the confident and passionate Rosenworcel, are highly dedicated to this Program and evening the playing field around the country. There’s no doubt work remains to be done, but the Program is progressing steadily nonetheless. Let’s tackle this problem together to ensure no one is left behind.
Gaming in the Classroom to Boost Engagement
Creating engaging lessons and activities for learning is no easy task. With today’s technology, the Gen Z group has access to the most realistic and stimulating gaming graphics, digital art programs, and communication platforms. Their familiarity and use of technology is practically innate. Therefore, it is no wonder that holding students’ attention in the classroom has become more and more of a challenge—compared to the allure of the glowing screens, our books and assignments do not hold a candle to their preferred methods of entertainment. So, one way for educators to look at it is: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
Ideas for the English, History, & World Languages Classrooms
Create an Engaging Bracket
Consider taking a page from the NCAA and create a March Madness-inspired bracket to lure your students into the current novel, play, or works of poetry. This can work in several different ways. Teachers can have students rank their favorite texts, readings, or chapters from the unit. Then use Google forms to see which work progresses to the next round based on class votes. Students can also make predictions about which characters will come out on top at the end of a tragedy, conflict, or quest. This type of bracket works especially well during a Shakespeare unit and/or when teaching students about various battles during The Civil War, WWI, WWII, etc. The key for engagement is to hype up the bracket to get students invested—consider an Elite Eight winner, Final Four winner, Championship winner with school-related prizes. Teachers should also think about either creating a giant visual bracket on the classroom wall or a website for digital class brackets.
Utilize Simulations or Digital Recreation Technology
For tech-savvy social studies students, challenge them to create a digital recreation or simulation of specific historical events. For example, instead of making a typical timeline, students might choose to show Germany’s progression across Europe with a visual map simulating territory takeover. Similarly, using video programming, students can act out various historical events and arrange or splice the clips with background music, captions, historical photographs, or Google Slides. With these projects, they’re putting their technology expertise to great use while demonstrating their knowledge of the event and/or time period.
Use Social Media to Your Advantage
Students are all about their social media presence right now, so how about utilizing those platforms to demonstrate their knowledge of a major historical figure, author, or literary character. There are hundreds of websites available for classroom use involving fake Instagram templates, Tiktok videos, and pretend Linkedin pages. While these aren’t exactly games, the use of such platforms can be equally engaging for students.
Some ideas include creating a Spotify playlist for a specific character or historical figure. Songs should represent key quotes or important aspects of the person’s life. Recently, a student of mine did a fabulous “Desdemona’s Breakup” playlist using Spotify to write an alternate ending for Shakespeare’s Othello. I’ve also found that mock-dating profile templates can be a great, creative option for students to demonstrate their understanding of a character. Teacherspayteachers.com offers a free “Fiction Mingle” template for this exact purpose!
What About Escape Rooms?
Another engaging activity stems from the ever-popular escape rooms. Students with experience using gaming simulation and other digital animation programs can create and share virtual escape rooms with other students as a way to review foreign language terms and vocabulary. There are numerous websites, apps, and even options for using Google Forms to create digital escape rooms for the classroom. Teachers can create various levels of escape rooms to challenge students based on skill set, level of difficulty, and individual or collaborative groups.
Ideas for Math and Sciences Classrooms
For many students, learning new math concepts can be especially difficult over Zoom in today’s virtual learning setup. In the classroom, children have manipulatives, hands-on exemplars, one-to-one, and in–person responses from their teachers. However, in the online environment with just the screen and 30 other students, it is often daunting to engage and grasp mathematical concepts. Teachers can use technology to their advantage, however, by prompting children to practice new skills using interactive games offered on various different platforms.
Matific is one exceptional option for students in grades K-6. The website offers tutorials, called episodes, where students can interactively learn about and work through new math concepts and skills. There are also worksheets (which look more like video games than actual worksheets) where students can practice skills using visuals, animations, and feedback/support in real-time. In addition to the various lessons, students can try their hands at multi-step word problems and workshops that are self-paced.
Investment/ Money Management Platforms
For older, more advanced math courses, teachers can utilize principles of investing, money management, and the stock market to get kids engaged. Online resources and platforms such as The Stock Market Game, Student Stock Trader, and How The Market Works allow for safe exploration of the world of global finance using apps, animations, and simulations.
Another resource called ST Math, short for the spatial-temporal approach, is based entirely on the idea that visual learning, whether on a screen or in person, is the critical foundation for developing mathematical skills. This program can be used as a supplement to on-level learning, or it can act as an intervention program to provide students with the extra support that they need. Students view and review materials at their own pace through interactive resources, such as videos, demonstrations, animations, and real-world applicable practices.
National Geographic is another great way to introduce students to engaging, educational, online content. While it’s not exactly a gaming platform, Nat Geo Education can provide teachers with a multitude of classroom resources, student learning experiences, photos, videos, interviews, and more. National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom also streams live, student-centered workshops every week for children and teens. The live events involve interviews with animal specialists and scientists, tours of various habitats, overviews of conservation efforts, information about wildlife photography, real–life treasure hunts, and demonstrations of wilderness skills, etc—the list truly goes on and on. The other great thing about Nat Geo’s Explorer Classroom live events is that they can offer streaming in Spanish and American Sign Language as well.
In a time dominated by the digital world and technology, it only seems right that teachers begin to use it to their advantage. With each new generation, we can expect technology to be a bigger part of life, learning, and overall functioning. And like I said at the beginning, If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
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