As a former middle school teacher who taught in a lower-income, majority-minority school equipped with lots of “high tech” tools, I often wondered about digital equity. For me, students’ access to tech at school wasn’t the issue. However, I knew that things were a lot different once students left my classroom. Because the majority of my students lacked internet access at home, I never assigned homework that required technology.
But that was over 10 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Today, using tech for teaching and learning–both in class and for homework–is a lot more common than it was. Nevertheless, many teachers and students are struggling to adapt to a world where it seems like everyone is connected, yet not everyone has the same access.
A number of key findings in Common Sense’s recently released research report, The Common Sense Census: Inside the 21st-Century Classroom, speak to this disconnect. According to the report, nearly a third of teachers said it would limit their students’ learning “a great deal” or “quite a bit” if their students didn’t have access to a computer or the internet. Yet, nearly a third of teachers also shared that they assigned homework online at least once a week–although those teachers who said they did assign digital homework were more likely to teach in affluent, non-Title I schools. Together these findings highlight the importance of understanding that, while access to technology may be nearly universal today, using those same technologies for learning isn’t always equitable.
Curious to learn more about digital equity and its implications today, I attended a local community roundtable focused on how digital inequity affects schools and their communities. I wanted to know more about what students, educators, and community leaders think about leveling the playing field when it comes to edtech. At one panel, a distinguished group of experts, from city officials to district tech leaders, discussed what they saw as the most pressing issues. Solutions they proposed ranged from providing free citywide broadband access to giving students cellphones with preloaded data plans.
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