Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.
Educators are getting more creative in reaching digital equity. They see new opportunities to expand the digital equity equation beyond internet connections and devices. Many are charting new paths that consider edtech design, technology use outside of the classroom and community involvement.
I recently spoke with some educators who are taking new paths to minimize the digital divide. Collected below are some of the most promising ways they are expanding the definition and strengthening digital equity in their schools this year.
Examine edtech design for digital equity
Educational technology has tremendous power to improve the classroom experience. But when edtech is introduced without careful evaluation or intention, it can exacerbate challenges for students who already face barriers created by unjust systems.
Understanding the gaps in edtech design requires educators to conduct evaluations in a new way. Typically edtech is assessed from an educator’s vantage point — asking questions about teacher usability, classroom durability or price point. But educators can also consider edtech from the perspective of their students or collecting student feedback via surveys to uncover built-in elements that hinder rather than helping equity.
Another overlooked roadblock might include the grip of a stylus. While developing the Logitech Pen, input from over 100 students led to the addition of an extra-long silicone grip to ensure comfort for all students regardless of where they are in developing handwriting skills. When adults identify roadblocks and build alternative technology with those problems in mind, it’s an important step toward digital equity.
Share edtech beyond classroom walls
Over the last three decades, technology has upended the idea that learning is place-bound. Educators can extend the learn-from-anywhere approach to boost digital equity by going beyond the school building to give students — and the community — more opportunities to use and understand classroom technology.
In North Carolina, school districts are finding unique ways to move technology outside of the classroom. Mary Hemphill, Ph.D., a leadership development coach and chief academic officer for North Carolina, recently shared her underpinning philosophy with me.
“The confines of a building are not where connectedness starts and stops. We’re human beings, not human doings, so learning doesn’t always happen from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Sometimes it happens at 8 p.m. or 6 a.m.,” Hemphill said.
States across the country are taking creative steps to expand edtech adoption and awareness. One district is reaching students during out of school time programs. Beaverton School District in Oregon introduces technology resources at sites that provide free meals or literacy interventions to students. The technology could be new tools that support learners or the same edtech used in classrooms.
Bringing technology to places where students receive other services creates the opportunity to reinforce the value of edtech. Other innovative steps toward digital equity include setting up edtech stations at community events or parking connected buses in schools or public areas that provide free device and internet access.
Creatively use technology to connect with families
Family engagement has always been core to student success. As schools increasingly integrate technology into classrooms, it’s now also an integral part of digital equity. To keep families involved, educators need to center communications around families instead of the school.
One place to start is language. Parents and guardians receiving information in their preferred language are more likely to engage with communications and gain deeper levels of understanding about technology access and use at the school. Educators can use translation software to translate outgoing messages and help simplify the process.
Another strategy is to adapt to the technology parents and guardians use. Some districts and schools have recognized that many families primarily use their phones to access the internet. In those cases, educators have favored technology that is mobile-friendly and taught family members how to access grades, attendance and school portals that way.
Schools can also use technology to connect with parents in more modern, flexible ways. Webcams give educators ways to connect with families remotely for parent-teacher meetings. Moving to virtual meetings makes it easier for family members who can’t attend in person due to a lack of transportation, job schedules or other reasons to stay engaged.
Center the student experience
Technology can facilitate student-centered environments, increasing equity by providing students more choice and voice in their own learning. The combination creates excitement and has proven an effective way to adopt technology for teachers like Matt Hiefield from the Beaverton School District.
“When I’m about to employ new edtech, I picture students at home talking to a parent or guardian and having to answer, ‘What are you excited about learning?’ There probably isn’t a student who is going to say, ‘I’m really excited about filling out this worksheet.’ Instead, their answer is going to have something to do with creativity,” Hiefield said.
Pairing technology and creativity is an incredibly effective strategy for educators. Technology can help teachers introduce projects with fewer parameters, where the lesson is about reaching an end goal, not how to do it. Options such as virtual tours, makerspaces and interactive textbooks can create organic opportunities for students to express learning in ways that are relevant to them and their own lived experiences. Providing different ways to develop skills increases equity by shifting teachers from drivers to facilitators of learning and giving students agency in how they demonstrate knowledge in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Digital equity is complex, but there are many opportunities to advance it. By choosing strategies that magnify parent experience and student voice, educators can integrate edtech in ways that support all students.
Madeleine Mortimore is the global education innovation and research lead for Logitech.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.
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