Leveraging the Science of Learning and Development to Combat Loneliness in Schools

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Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

In a profound exploration of the modern societal challenge, Harvard professor Robert Waldinger sheds light on the growing epidemic of loneliness in his recent YouTube lecture. He defines loneliness as a subjective experience where an individual feels less connected to others than desired. This feeling is distinct from isolation, as one can be isolated and content, surrounded by people, yet feel profoundly lonely.

The Rise of Loneliness

Loneliness has been on an upward trend since the 1950s. Factors contributing to this rise include increased societal mobility, the introduction and evolution of television, and the digital revolution. These changes have gradually eroded community engagement and personal interactions.

The Health Impacts

Research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad highlights the severe health implications of loneliness, equating its danger to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day. Loneliness contributes to physical health deterioration and accelerates brain decline in later life.

The Power of Connections

Waldinger emphasizes the importance of investing in relationships for well-being. It’s not just close relationships that count; even casual interactions with community members, like a mail carrier or a grocery store cashier, can foster a sense of belonging.

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Student Mental Health: A Guide For Teachers, School and District Leaders, School Psychologists and Nurses, Social Workers, Counselors, and Parents
  • Dikel MD, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages – 08/16/2022 (Publication Date) – W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Schools’ Role in Building Inclusive Communities

Recognizing Loneliness in Students

Schools must first acknowledge that loneliness can be a significant issue among students. Young adults, in particular, are highly susceptible to loneliness. Educators can play a crucial role in identifying signs of loneliness and providing support.

Creating Inclusive Environments

Schools can use the science of learning and development to build inclusive student communities. This includes:

  1. Promoting Social Skills: Integrating social skill development into the curriculum can help students who feel lonely and are hesitant to reach out. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can be adapted for the classroom to help students revise their assumptions about social interactions.
  2. Encouraging Community Engagement: Activities that foster community involvement can help students feel more connected. This might include group projects, community service initiatives, or school clubs that cater to diverse interests.
  3. Building Casual Connections: Schools should create environments where casual, positive interactions are encouraged. This could be in the form of mentorship programs, buddy systems for new students, or structured social time during the school day.
  4. Supporting Emotional Health: Schools can provide resources for emotional support, such as counseling services or workshops on managing feelings of loneliness and building healthy relationships.

Empowering Students

Empowering students to understand and combat loneliness is essential. This involves teaching them that seeking connection is normal and healthy and providing them with the tools and opportunities to build meaningful relationships.

Conclusion

Loneliness is a complex and growing challenge, but schools can play a pivotal role in addressing this epidemic by understanding its dynamics and implementing strategies to promote connection and belonging. It’s about creating a culture where every student feels, as Waldinger concludes, “You belong. You matter. You’re connected.”



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The Florentine Codex brings new light to Aztec culture

page from the Florentine Codex, book 12

The Florentine Codex, a 16th-century document, provides insight into the Mexica (Aztec) culture during the Spanish conquest. This detailed manuscript is now available online, making previously inaccessible information about Indigenous resistance and heroism available to the public.

This accessibility enables a more comprehensive understanding of history, fostering cultural empathy. By integrating such resources into digital citizenship education, we can develop a more empathetic and informed society.



The Eclectic Educator is a free resource for all who are passionate about education and creativity. If you enjoy the content and want to support the newsletter, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Your support helps keep the insights and inspiration coming!

Accessing Education: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Online Learning

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A recently published paper explores the challenges and opportunities for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in online and hybrid learning. The study found that online and hybrid learning both supports and presents challenges to EDI, and that pedagogy and course design must be considered as a first step in addressing some of the challenges to EDI.

The study also found that further student support is needed to facilitate equity, diversity, and inclusion in online learning.

Overall, the paper highlights the importance of addressing EDI in online and hybrid learning and offers several recommendations for doing so.

These recommendations include:

  • Prioritizing the implementation of policies that support equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Considering the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to ensure that course materials are accessible to all learners.
  • Providing training for instructors to use UDL principles to design and deliver courses that are inclusive and accessible to all learners.
  • Providing support for learners who face challenges related to access, such as those with learning differences and/or disabilities, or those who live in underserved, remote/rural communities.
  • Engaging with reconciliation, decolonization, and Indigenization as part of the pursuit of EDI goals.
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UDL and Blended Learning: Thriving in Flexible Learning Landscapes
  • Novak, Katie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 232 Pages – 05/29/2021 (Publication Date) – Impress (Publisher)

The paper also highlights the need for further student support to facilitate equity, diversity, and inclusion in online learning, and encourages readers to engage with reconciliation, decolonization, and Indigenization as part of the pursuit of EDI goals.



The Eclectic Educator is a free resource for all who are passionate about education and creativity. If you enjoy the content and want to support the newsletter, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Your support helps keep the insights and inspiration coming!

Asking the Right Questions about Educational Technology

What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question. — Jonas Salk

When we make decisions about the technology we use in our classrooms, we very often ask the wrong questions.

We think about how we can use the latest, greatest, coolest tools and gadgets available to get students in a desperate attempt to engage them in learning while ignoring what we should be focused on in education.

I was the world’s worst offender of chasing the cool factor. Whatever came down the edtech release line, I was there for it. I would watch the Twitter stream during the yearly ISTE conference waiting for new announcements from old favorite companies or to see what the hot, new tool would be this year.

This was a time when every educational technology conference was filled with “60 apps in 60 minutes” sessions that were not unlike the opening of floodgates upon unsuspecting teachers as a skilled pitch person wowed them (most often a classroom teacher themselves) dazzling them with what you could do with kids with this new fandangled whizbangadoodle.

What a time to be alive. And what a sad time to look back upon.

The problem was that there was so much new technology appearing from seemingly nowhere and being adopted by teachers far and wide that we weren’t really sure what to do with all of it.

And no one was asking any questions. If they were, they were shouted down by the cheers of the edtech Illuminati.

If one doesn’t watch the introduction of new technologies and particularly watch the infrastructures that emerge, promises of liberation through technology can become a ticket to enslavement. 

— Ursula Franklin
Photo by Daniel Josef on Unsplash

The failure to seriously consider how new technologies might be weaponized reveals a stunning degree of either naivete, hubris, or recklessness.

— LM Sacasas (@LMSacasas) June 1, 2021

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s be clear: I don’t think that educational technology is being weaponized. But I think that we have serious questions to consider before we implement new tools.

The technology we use with our students isn’t just about the tech. It’s about the environment that is created by using technology. Technology usage changes the world around it for either good or not-so-good.

But once a given technology is widely accepted and standardized, the relationship between the products of the technology and the users changes. Users have less scope, they matter less, and their needs are no longer the main concern of the designers. 

— Ursula Franklin

As the number of devices in our schools continues to increase and our reliance on technology to complete even the most mundane tasks in schools increases, we should ask better questions about the technology we use and how we use it.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Yes, our questions about technology usage need to be about how these tools are used to support student learning outcomes. We need to know what students will create with the tools we provide them.

We need to ask about issues of access and equity. Not just access to devices and programs but to qualified teachers with the training and support to appropriately leverage any technologies.

Technology distributed and used equitably enables opportunity and voice, dismantles barriers around learner exceptionalities, democratizes access to information, and disrupts racial and economic privilege hierarchies. 

— Ken Shelton

We must ask questions about how we use devices in our classrooms and shift the focus from low-level digitization of paper activities and ineffective repetition of skills practices for intervention to deeper learning activities that provide personalization and student-centered learning.

But we should also ask questions about how our technology usage affects us as humans.

LM Sacasas has compiled 41 questions concerning technology that would be excellent conversation starters among teachers, administrators, and students.

Here are the first five of those questions:

  1. What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
  2. What habits will the use of this technology instill?
  3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
  4. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?
  5. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?

I don’t write this article to overly criticize my fellow educational technologists. Several great things are happening in our schools that are directly related to the recent influx of technology and the support that continues to be offered by experts in the field.

We’re doing good work. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better work or that there are things we haven’t thought about in our race to improve.

It’s sometimes important to take a breath, get perspective, and ensure we’re on the right path.

The decisions we make with students make impacts that we may never see in our time on this planet.

Let’s be sure we’re asking the right questions.

Bridging the Digital Divide: Access is Only the Beginning

While we can blame the COVID-19 pandemic on many things, we can’t blame it for the “digital divide” among students across the United States. That divide was in place long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.

However, the pandemic did shed more light on the inequities of digital access across the country.

Three primary obstacles faced by students from lower-income households when trying to complete digital homework during the pandemic:

  • Had to complete work on a cell phone
  • Had no computer access at home
  • Had to use public wifi to complete work

These obstacles disproportionately affected lower-income families and Black teens. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Black teens faced these same issues. In fact, they were more likely to have no home computer access than any other group.

But what does the digital divide look like across the US? When we talk about the digital divide, how do we define it? What areas do we need to address to close the gap? And what do we have control over at the local, state, and national levels to initiate change?

Equitable Internet Access at Home

First, let’s take a look at internet access at home. While you may think you have great internet speeds, I can promise that you likely don’t when compared to other countries. And the number of people in the US with internet speeds slower than the FCC minimum is disturbing.

For now, let’s embrace the fact that 27% of adults in households earning less than $30k/year access the web only through smartphones. No cable internet, no fiber, no DSL. Just whatever they can get through their smartphone or hotspot.

And it’s not just adults. One in five children also lives in these households. That number is even higher for Black and Hispanic kids.

What does this mean for digital equity and equal access to education? It means that a lot of students are starting at a disadvantage. They’re trying to do their homework on a phone, with patchy service and no guarantee of privacy or quiet.

They may not have reliable transportation to get to a library or other public wifi hotspot. And they certainly can’t afford to pay for data overages each month.

This digital divide has serious consequences for students from lower-income families. They have less access to the internet and are less likely to have a computer at home. This means they have fewer opportunities to do homework, research projects, and develop 21st-century skills.

How do we think about designing instruction when we know that over a quarter of students in low-income homes will either do their work on a smartphone or connect to the internet through a smartphone hotspot?

When we think about equal access, it’s important to consider the digital divide and how students from low-income families have less access to connected technologies. This impacts their ability to do any homework assigned on a computer or participate in remote learning if needed.

Issuing school devices is helpful and needed for many families but is not the final step in ensuring equitable access. Planning for the type of access students have at home is a prime consideration when designing technology-infused instructional activities. Even if they have a school-issued device, they may not have a stable, high-quality internet connection.

I live and teach in Kentucky; a state with very urban and very, very rural areas. I know plenty of my teacher friends who have difficulty accessing high-quality high-speed internet access from their homes simply because of where they live.

Yes, if you live in a large city like Louisville or Lexington, you have the opportunity to access decent internet speeds. But, if you live a few miles outside of town, your choices quickly disappear.

It’s not just about location here in Kentucky. Kentucky claims three of the top ten counties in the US with the lowest median family income as of 2020; Owsley County at $25,997 (number 2 on the list), Clay County at $28,886, and Bell County at $30,202. The median household income for the United States was $67,340 in 2020.

How much do you think a family making $25k a year will spend on internet access? I feel certain it’s not a high priority.

We must provide better internet access to more people. At this point in our country, it’s a moral imperative. Children and adults who don’t have equitable access to the internet are at a disadvantage. It’s time to treat internet access like a utility.

Equitable Access to Devices

Currently, Chromebooks rule the world of student devices. Somewhere around 60% of student devices are Chromebooks. No device has become so associated with education more quickly than the Chromebook.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 30 million Chromebooks found their way to the hands of students, ready to use them for various learning needs.

The reasons for this are many and varied, but the most important factor is price. A Chromebook can be had for as little as $149. That’s a price point that schools can afford. It’s also a price point that families can afford. The tight integration with Chromebooks and Google’s Workspace for Education tools makes purchasing a Chromebook the perfect choice for many schools.

Chromebooks have been a game changer regarding student access to technology. But equal access is only the beginning. The real challenge is using these devices to create student-centered learning experiences. And that’s where we have fallen short.

When traditional learning was disrupted by the pandemic, many teachers didn’t change how they taught, even though the learning environment looked nothing like the traditional American classroom. Students were forced to sit in Zoom meetings for hours and were flooded with work as teachers tried to keep them engaged in learning. Meanwhile, parents struggled to help their learners, and everyone realized that simply giving a student a device did not equal instantaneous learning.

And let’s remember the all-important internet access issue. Just because we gave students a device didn’t mean they could use it. It certainly didn’t mean that their home internet connection could support five children on video calls at the same time.

And parents were given little to no support or time to help their children use the devices they’d just been handed. How were they supposed to know how to set up Zoom, Google Classroom, or any other tools their child’s teacher used? It was all very overwhelming.

Acknowledging what we didn’t do well during the pandemic gives us a chance to change how we do things in our classrooms right now. Not because we are trying to prepare for another pandemic but because we realize that what we were doing before the pandemic wasn’t working. And it hadn’t been working for a long, long time.

The Shift to Student-Centered Learning

We’re beginning to tackle the digital divide with school-issued devices. While we’re not buying as many as we did during the pandemic, our schools are forever changed concerning student access to technology.

We need to keep pushing for better internet access for everyone. While we can’t do much at our schools, we can take up the cause in our communities and work with companies and our local, state, and federal governments to make quality internet access affordable and accessible for everyone.

The next mountain we have to climb is rethinking what we do in our classrooms daily. We can’t exist by focusing on inert learning because we live in an age where most students now have the access and the device to learn any bit of information or knowledge we might have shared.

Our focus must shift to creating deeper learning experiences for our students, focusing on authentic work and student choice. The days of the teacher being the arbiter of all knowledge are over. We must now be the facilitators of learning and provide our students with experiences they can take with them long after leaving our classrooms.

To close the digital divide, equal access to technology is necessary, but that’s only the beginning. Schools must shift their focus to student-centered learning for students to truly benefit from using connected technologies. Too often, teachers try to keep teaching in a traditional way even though the environment has changed, which isn’t effective. Student-centered learning allows for more creativity and deeper engagement with the material.

Our students frequently obtain only a superficial level of understanding that fails to equip them for more complex problems in school and beyond. Rethinking our lesson design with tools like the 4 Shifts protocol can allow every teacher to make small changes that can benefit students.

When we make the shift to student-centered learning, we provide our students with opportunities to think critically, solve problems, and create something new. All these can lead our students to deeper learning that will last a lifetime. And when we integrate technology into our lessons in meaningful ways, we help close the digital divide for good.

Infrastructure, devices, and content are three primary ways to bridge the digital divide. Infrastructure includes ensuring that all students have access to high-speed internet at home. Devices include providing students with a laptop or tablet they can use for schoolwork. And content includes creating digital resources that are accessible to all students, regardless of income level.

Lastly, we must help our teachers prepare for this new world of deeper learning supported by technology. We need instructional coaches and technology coaches to work with teachers in the field to provide ongoing, job-embedded, and content-aligned professional development.

The digital divide won’t close overnight, but we can make strides by focusing on equal access to technology, student-centered learning, and quality professional development for teachers. It’s time for us to take up the challenge and provide all students with the resources they need to succeed in school and in life.

If you’re looking for more ways to move away from inert learning and toward deeper learning in your classroom, be sure to sign up for my free newsletter. I’ll update you weekly on the latest deeper learning strategies supported by technology integration. I’ll also include links to helpful resources and provide tips for making the most of your teaching time.