Skip to main content

3 Starting Points to Address Dimensions of Digital Equity

digital equity
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Digital equity goes beyond having a working device and basic internet. Educators need to address three dimensions of digital equity to successfully support access and inclusion in teaching and learning. 

The 2021 National Leadership Technology Summit held at the National Press Club in DC, supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the National Education Association, and the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, provided the opportunity for edtech association presidents, journal editors, and emerging leaders to discuss these aspects in shaping future edtech policy. 

During the event, these subjects were explored as part of the effort to ensure that all students, families, and teachers can be properly supported in order to get the most out of edtech and learning.

1. Pay Close Attention to Biased Coding Algorithms 

As edtech continues to emerge, we rely heavily on machine learning and artificial intelligence to support teaching and learning. For example, bots are used in different edtech applications to help students navigate online learning programs, to help grade assessments, and serve as virtual advisors. 

While bots have the potential to make teaching more efficient, these programs perform based on code that was created by humans, who are flawed and bring their real-world experiences to their work. Consequently, code may have unconscious biases in regard to race, ethnicity, and gender. The 2020 Coded Bias movie on Netflix documents this, and viewing it may be a starting point to understanding that even machines can contribute to the perpetuation of stereotypes and bias. Consequently, as we work toward digital equity, the potential of bias in coding algorithms needs to be kept in mind as more schools use programs that rely on bots.  

2. Maintain a High Level of Technoethics 

As more and more students are required to use edtech devices and learn through online platforms, we must, as educators, be sure to protect their privacy, data, and personal information. 

Misuse of students’ and their families’ information for marketing and other purposes goes against the ethical standards and oaths that we take in doing no harm to students. Remember, families trust educators to not only teach their children, but to also keep them safe. Yes, this includes physical safety, but also includes their privacy and information. 

If it has been a while since you reviewed some of the laws that protect students when learning through online means, it may be time to review the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) and The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). 

Additionally, we must be responsible and ethical with our use of information from other sources, and give proper credit. If you are unsure when to use content found online from other sources, or how to cite these sources, review related laws on Fair Use and Copyright. A variety of open-source websites are available, and one in particular that may be useful is Creative Commons

3. Leverage Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices Online 

Providing students access to academic content though edtech tools and virtual spaces does not automatically equate to equitable learning experiences. In fact, the digital divide continues to grow as issues of access to strong and consistent bandwidth and internet in low-income and rural areas remain, as does the lack of digital literacy skills needed to navigate virtual spaces. Family engagement also continues to be a challenge, including issues with work schedules, learning times, and antiquated school-sponsored devices. 

Coupling these issues with the challenges of making a safe classroom community in an online context -- that takes into account the cultures, beliefs, and perspectives of all students -- only exacerbate the digital divide and equity discrepancies when it comes to online learning and use of edtech tools in education settings for certain marginalized school communities. The ways in which in-person learning environments must be free from bias and discrimination, the same must translate to online learning environments. 

Culturally Responsive Teaching Online & In-Person: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments, a forthcoming book through Corwin, has myriad pedagogical strategies and techniques to incorporate culturally responsive and equity-minded teaching practices in online and virtual learning environments. For example, leveraging virtual and augmented reality edtech tools such as Google Arts and Culture is a seamless way to digitally connect history, geography, and the arts curriculum to the diverse cultures of the students in the class. Another way to embed culturally responsive teaching into online learning environments is to make sure all edtech tools used incorporate features that are inclusive to all students. This includes having avatars, emojis, and bitmojis that come in different shades, hair styles, and facial features so they can represent all of the diverse learners in the classroom. 

These areas within digital equity must be addressed to ensure that all students, families, and teachers can experience equitable technology-infused education, and are only the beginning of what could be done to ensure inclusive access to digital learning materials. 

Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai is an associate clinical professor in the department of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum at Drexel University, in Pennsylvania. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies and K-12 teaching certifications in Technology Education, Instructional Technology and Business, Computers, Information Technology, Special Education and Elementary Education. Dr. Smith Budhai has more than a decade of online teaching experience, and has published myriad books, articles, and invited editorials surrounding the use of technology and online learning in education. Her publications include: 
Teaching the 4Cs with Technology
Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies
Nurturing Young Innovators: Cultivating Creativity in the Classroom, Home and Community
Online and Engaged: Innovative Student Affairs Practices for Online Learners
Increasing Engagement in Online Learning: Quick Reference Guide