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Digital Equity: Urban, Suburban, Rural Districts Weigh In at #TLTechLive Leadership Summit

Tech&Learning Leadership summit with illustration of three people planting flag on mountaintop
(Image credit: Future)

Educational Leaders from various US districts gathered in New Orleans, LA on December 2019 to discuss current trends in education and technology and share how each of us have been working to solve some critical problems. At the top of the list was digital equity.

Leaders from urban, suburban, and rural districts were challenged to consider what digital equity looked like and discuss pain points and solutions. 

Home access

Access at home was a pain point for several districts, however, this included both ends of the spectrum:  

Pain point: Home WiFi

  • Teachers perceive students DON’T have internet access at home, but they do. 
  • Result: They are not integrating work that includes the internet.
  • Teachers perceive students DO have internet access at home, but they don’t.
  • Result: They are integrating the internet even though many students don’t have access.

Possible solutions: 

  • Survey students so expectations are based on reality rather than presumptions.
  • Determine ways to provide home internet for students who need it. 

Technology Integration

Across districts, even when there is digital equity, adults often get in the way of student learning because they are not integrating the technology students know and want to use. Ensuring teachers are comfortable using digital content was a challenge for several reasons:

Challenges

  • Time is not allocated to provide professional learning opportunities
  • Teachers are not evaluated on tech integration
  • Veteran teachers are resistant to change 

Possible solutions

  • School and district leadership must be intentional about providing time for teacher learning
  • Work to include tech integration in teacher and leader evaluation
  • School and district leadership can model effective tech integration
  • Ensure veteran teachers understand real benefits and provide them with in classroom coaching and support
  • Include technology leadership in the central and cabinet level

Device damage

Another issue for districts is intentional damage to devices. This was most likely to happen in cases where devices are not being used in meaningful ways. When teachers don’t integrate technology or understand it’s value the students respond accordingly and are not respectful or responsible with their devices. 

Access points

In rural communities, access points are a pain point. Ways this is being addressed ranged from hotspots on activity buses to mifi and other hotspots to take home, some points;

  • On buses, many start with activity buses and then expand
  • Buses can be parked in neighborhoods
  • Provide Verizon hotspots
  • Should added costs be pushed to families?
  • It needs to be metered so you know how it is being used 
  • Companies provide grants for this 
  • Access must be filtered, otherwise it becomes mom and dad’s device for the household

Digital Accessibility for Families

Urban districts discussed the problem of families not understanding anything that is happening in schools because they are unable to access content due to language barriers or disability. This led to a discussion of the importance of ensuring staff understand how to create accessible content written in plain language so it is easily translatable by a machine and can be perceived by those with disabilities. Most districts have yet to take on this challenge. However, the Office of Civil Rights is approaching more and more districts requiring them to ensure content adheres to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.  Many website platforms are not up to the challenge. However, companies like eChalk and Edlio do support content accessibility. There is a desire for eRate funding to help cover the cost of using such solutions. 

Resources

  • Kajeet provides innovative WiFi solutions.
  • Waterford Upstart provides four-year-old children access to the highest form of academic support in their early education at no cost to participants: personalized family education and coaching, a new computer and Internet if needed, and adaptive educational software.

cross posted at The Innovative Educator 

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several booksand her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times,The Wall Street JournalTech&Learning, and T.H.E. Journal