Like many school districts, Brunswick School Department in Maine suddenly has a lot more laptops and tablets to manage than it planned for. School officials in the seaside town scrambled to purchase enough devices for all their students to learn online last year after the pandemic hurtled kids out of buildings.

As the district prepares to reopen for full in-person learning on August 30, teachers are attending training sessions and figuring out just what role technology will play in their classrooms. There’s a simmering sense of anticipation about how far educators have come with technology, and its potential to enhance student learning.

“I am excited,” says Brunswick kindergarten teacher Stephanie Lucas, who describes herself as slow to get on board with technology, but more experienced after teaching remotely. “My goal for this year is to see how I’ll make [digital tools] effective in the classroom.”

As teachers develop lesson plans, they also face lingering questions, in Maine and nationally, over the possibility of a return to remote learning and concerns about ensuring all students have access to the devices and high-quality broadband they need to do classwork and homework.

Nationwide, significant progress has been made since March 2020 on closing the digital divide – the chasm between those K-12 learners who have access to reliable internet and computing devices at home and those who don’t.

Efforts by states and districts in the first nine months of the pandemic closed 20 percent to 40 percent of the gap between K-12 students with and without broadband internet, and 40 percent to 60 percent of the divide between students with and without devices like laptops and tablets at home, according to a January 2021 report from Common Sense Media, Boston Consulting Group, and the Southern Education Foundation. Researchers say there’s likely been more progress – and some steps backward – since then, as they watch for the results of new federal programs established this spring. For some educators heading back to school, though, the change is already clear.

Read the full article about the digital divide by Chelsea Sheasley at The Hechinger Report.