6 Strategies to Engage Families of Digitally Limited Learners

By Community Manager posted 01-13-2022 11:31 AM


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers, administrators, and school personnel from across the United States came together to ensure that students were able to continue their education. Although many schools and districts took actions like sending home digital devices, they were often unable to prevent other learning disruptions, such as students having limited experience with digital learning at home and school due to a lack of technology or not having adequate access to the Internet (Burgess & Anderson, 2020).

Failure to recognize the needs of digitally limited learners and their families may lead teachers to misinterpret students’ lack of engagement online as a motivation issue, when it’s actually due to inability. Teachers and administrators need to equip families with the skills and resources to increase their digital competence and confidence to serve as co-educators with remote or hybrid learning.

1. Partner with businesses and organizations.

Be proactive and assess the technology needs of the students you teach. If you require technology devices for some of your under-resourced students, research community partnerships with companies and businesses that may have resources available for the families you serve. Additionally, establish relationships with local organizations, nonprofits, and corporations that had donated technology devices to students’ families who needed them before and during the pandemic.

2. Implement onsite tutorials.

Schedule families to arrive for device pick-up with enough time to give them a brief orientation on the technology and its use. Offer guidance on the main features of the devices that their students will use throughout the semester. Teachers who are not bilingual may want to have a translator available in case you have non-English-speaking family members. Be sure to provide a printed copy of the information in English and Spanish for families to reference later.

3. Bookmark digital resources on devices.

Make sure that information and resources for families are easily accessible or just a click away. Bookmark resources on students’ devices prior to distributing them to support families’ digital literacy. Websites such as the Northstar Digital Literacy project will help families improve their digital competency by providing free online basic digital literacy training and skills tests.

4. Develop a list of digital terminology for families.

Teachers should comprise a list of basic digital terminology and meanings to serve as a guide for families to navigate in the online environment. Understanding the affordances of language use in different spaces is important when developing your digital terminology list. Dividing the list categorically by social media, online browsing, and email correspondence may contextualize the relevance of certain terms.

5. Upload how-to videos on YouTube.

Support families of digitally foreign learners by incorporating familiar apps like YouTube. Teachers should create a playlist of how-to videos for families and students on how to use digital technology. You can email links to these videos and put them in a document. This platform is beneficial to non-English-speaking family members, as YouTube allows videos to be translated into multiple languages (Almurashi, 2016). Be sure to include captions on videos so your content is accessible to all students.

6. Create hard-copy back-ups.

When in doubt, print it out. Leave a number of these copies in the front office for families to pick up as they need them. Make sure you let families know to exhaust all provided resources and use hard copies only as a last resort.

Concluding Thoughts

We did the very best that we could amidst a global emergency. This year, it’s time to be better. As an educator, administrator, or school staff member, you have an opportunity to ensure more a successful school year. Let’s support families as co-educators of digitally limited learners as part of our new normal.

By Erin L. Harden, Jimmeka Anderson, and Keith Burgess

Erin L. Harden is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at UNC Charlotte. She also serves as an adjunct instructor at UNC Charlotte and supports national educational organizations with professional development facilitation and instructional design. Erin completed her B.A. in English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina and went on to teach Language Arts in high needs Middle Schools, while pursuing her M.A. in English at UNC Charlotte. Her research interests include College and Career Readiness, Multicultural Education, and Gifted/Advanced Education for Students of Color.

Jimmeka Anderson is a doctoral candidate at UNC Charlotte. She is the Founder of I AM not the Media, Inc. Her research interests include Critical Digital Media Literacy and technology inequity among historically marginalized students.

Keith Burgess teaches science at a Title1, K-8 school in Charlotte, NC. He is also a Kenan Fellow for teacher leadership through North Carolina State University. In Spring 2021 Mr. Burgess won the Burroughs-Wellcome Career Award for Science and Math Teachers (CASMT) for his distinguished service as a science teacher in North Carolina. Mr. Burgess was voted 2019-2020 teacher of the year by his colleagues.


Almurashi, W. A. (2016). The effective use of YouTube videos for teaching English language in classrooms as supplementary material at Taibah University in Alula. International Journal of English Language and Linguistics Research, 4(3), 32–47.

Burgess, W. K., & Anderson, J. L. (2020). Leveraging community partnerships to engage digitally foreign learners in response to COVID-19. Middle Grades Review, 6(2).