According to Davis, Fuller, Jackson, Pittman, and Sweet (2007), the definition of digital equity is “equal access and opportunity to digital tools, resources, and services to support an increase in digital knowledge, awareness, and skills.” With that in mind, school leaders are working to strategically close the digital equity gap.
In a recent edWebinar, Sarah Thomas, educator and founder of the EduMatch movement; Nicol Howard, assistant professor in the School of Education at University of Redlands (CA); and Regina Schaffer, technology specialist at Middletown Township School District (NJ), embrace this definition and explain that school districts need to consider four critical components in their drive to close the digital equity gap that is widespread in K-12 districts and classrooms.
Related: 7 reasons why digital equity is a social justice issue
It is essential that edtech leaders engage in candid discussions with crucial district stakeholders to identify critical digital equity barriers such as access, connectivity, and opportunities.
These conversations have the potential to shift mindsets about digital equity by focusing on changes that will better support students’ access to their education. At the district level, culture and tone that support honest conversations is essential to the digital equity process to ensure that all stakeholders feel comfortable and supported during those difficult digital equity conversations. At the classroom level, modeling and encouraging innovation extend those digital equity conversations through reflection and reevaluation of best practices.
When we think about professional learning in this new era of education, it is not a linear process. Multiple levels are happening simultaneously at the district, school, and teacher/coach levels. Strategic planning and implementation, while extremely vital to district digital equity plans, are a long-term solution. Schools and teachers/coaches cannot wait for months and years to do their part to close the homework gap. Schools need to create a sense of urgency by supporting the professional learning of their teachers and coaches. Through edtech conferences such as ISTE, coaching programs such as Digital Promise, and DigCit, teachers and coaches can be trained to teach in innovative ways that include critical components in digital learning and digital inquiry.
Related: Study highlights plight of students with only one home device
When it comes to overcoming digital equity barriers, CoSN Digital Equity Toolkit is a crucial resource packed with digital equity options for school districts. As edtech leaders and stakeholders work to eliminate the homework gap, solutions such as mobile hotspots, low-cost broadband, private LTE networks and even wi-fi on buses have the potential to ensure that students have 24/7 access to their education.
It is recommended that school districts assemble a digital equity team that can tackle the arduous tasks of accessing digital equity resources and leveraging those resources. By engaging and partnering with community stakeholders and organizations such as service providers, cable companies, and software companies and seeking grant opportunities, school districts will have access to digital equity resources and possible subsidized funding.
School leaders, coaches, and classroom teachers need to pay attention to all of the needs of students by bringing the districts’ innovative approaches for closing the gap into the classroom. It is essential to understand that closing the digital equity gap is more than just ensuring that students have access to the internet.
It is also about opportunities that can be possible when students are introduced to innovative lessons and activities in the classroom. Coaches and classroom teachers need to evaluate their current practice and determine the best tools, devices, and software that is appropriate for each student. We may think that an innovative approach will benefit all students in their learning process but only through the evaluation and looking beyond the classroom use can innovation narrow the digital equity gap.
Looking forward and closing the digital equity gap
History can be the best teacher when we talk about providing high-quality access to opportunities for learning to students. The K-12 Horizon report and the rapid influx of innovation in our society in the last 15 years have all played a significant role in education. Artificial intelligence (AI), social media, and the affordability of devices for learning are shaping what we can expect as the future of learning. We as educators need to embrace and deliver transformational opportunities that ensure digital equity for our students. Even some U.S. senators are committed to digital equity in school districts with pending Digital Equity Act of 2019 legislation. Although this is not funding that will directly go to the school districts, it will address the WiFi connectivity issues that rural communities are struggling to solve. If the bill passes, it would significantly impact the homework gap for our students and school communities.
About the presenters
Sarah Thomas, Ph.D. is an educator and the founder of the EduMatch movement, a project that empowers educators to make global connections across common areas of interest. She has presented internationally, participated in the Technical Working Group to refresh the 2017 ISTE Standards for Educators, and is a recipient of the 2017 ISTE Making It Happen Award. She is also a national advisor for the Future Ready Instructional Coaches Strand.
Nicol R. Howard, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Redlands in California. She has served as co-chair for ISTE’s Digital Equity Network. Her research foci are equitable uses of technology in K-16 classrooms, STEM education opportunities and achievement, and teacher education concerns. Her writing has appeared in the Corwin Connected Educators Series Standing in the Gap: Empowering New Teachers Through Connected Resources, Urban Education, International Journal of Educational Technology, EduCause, Edutopia, and eCampus News.
Regina Schaffer is a technology specialist for the Middletown Township School District in New Jersey. She was recently selected as a National School Board Association’s 20toWatch, as well as a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator. She is a Google Certified Innovator, Common Sense Media Certified Teacher, Discovery Education DEN Star, Remind Connected Educator and Brainpop Connected Educator. Connect with Regina at on Twitter @reginaschaffer.
About the host
Colin Murcray is the director of book and journal publishing at ISTE and an online instructor of English at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He has close to 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, most of it leading publishing operations of nonprofits, and has been teaching college English courses for over 10 years.
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This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by ISTE. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.