Learning at Home While Under-Connected and the Role of Public Media

On October 26, 2021, the Cooney Center hosted Learning at Home While Under-Connected and the Role of Public Media, a discussion about learning at home and digital inequality, and how public media stations can help within their local communities. 

Vikki Katz (Rutgers University) presented key research findings from Learning at Home While Under-Connected: Lower-Income Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which follows up on 2016’s Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families to uncover the perspectives of lower-income parents with children ages 3 to 13. Published by New America, the report delves into the experiences that these families had while many children were learning at home during a time when many school buildings were closed.

  1. There has been a dramatic increase in home broadband access, so there are fewer un-connected families than in 2015—but millions remain under-connected for a number of reasons including cost of internet plans or too many people needing to share devices.
  2. Educational media (including PBS content) has helped to keep kids learning and growing during the pandemic, especially among the lowest income families— 41% of children in household with incomes below the federal poverty line often watched educational videos online
  3. Families learned to engage technology as digital learning teams, with parents and children helping each other learn how to use tech together.

Lisa Guernsey (New America) then shared highlights from discussion groups that were held with lower-income families in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Santa Clara County. These families reported that they relied on local organizations and teachers for support, not just for remote learning but for materials that helped with mental health and wellbeing. These conversations provided rich context to the survey data covered in the report.  Families often cited the value of resources that were created to help community leaders engage with parents and collect data about local needs, and how educational media was really helping children to cope with some of the challenges of the pandemic, such as the need to wear a mask.

Debra Sanchez (Corporation for Public Broadcasting), emphasized the importance of thinking about the different kinds of communities that public media stations serve with their educational media content. In the early days of the pandemic, CPB conducted a survey with public radio and television stations across the US, and found that more than half had developed a new partnership with a local or state education agency. Public media stations leaned into all of their resources to support families, from broadcasting educational content during the school day and even hiring more internal staff.

Georgeann Herbert (Detroit Public Television) then discussed the launch of the Michigan Learning Channel in January 2021 as a collaborative effort between the six public television stations in Michigan and educators with content like Read Write Roar, Math Mights, and Extra Credit, a program geared towards 4th-6th graders. The Michigan Learning Channel is reaching beyond its early roots in K-3 education to launch a professional learning series to support literacy with teachers, and will produce material around coding and digital skills this winter.

Similarly, Jamie Annunzio Myers (PBS SoCal) shared how quickly PBS Learning Media came about as a collaboration with LA USD and the 14 public media stations in California. They began a deeper collaboration with the California Department of Education to create more intentional partnerships to respond to the needs of local communities. As they listened to community needs, they began to put more resources towards supporting Latino families across Southern California with bilingual resources, and engaging them in co-designing content around math.

Public media stations have historically been committed to providing rich educational media resources to viewers, but as the media landscape continues to evolve and audience needs change, it is heartening to see the investments that they are making today to forge deeper relationships within their local communities in order to leverage their resources to benefit children and families.

The full event can be viewed below:


The presentation for the event can be downloaded here.

Resources shared during the event include:

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