Digital access and digital equity are not the same thing. While digital access is having the physical access to an adequate computer and Internet access, digital equity goes further and explores the experiences and opportunities that students have in those digital spaces. It also prompts us to ask some important questions: Are enabling conditions, supports, and systems in place beyond infrastructure to make sure that schools and teachers can implement rich learning experiences for students? Do these experiences honor students’ needs, interests, and motivations?
During our conversation, we unpack this topic with Dr. Beth Holland—Partner of Research and Measurement at The Learning Accelerator, a national nonprofit organization. She shares insights around digital equity that go beyond basic access. She also describes powerful tools and resources schools can use to help teams come together and have actionable conversations that lead to measurable change.
It’s no longer a luxury. This [the digital divide] is serious. It’s really a social justice issue. It’s a 21st century civil rights issue.
Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, former Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Kansas City Public Library and advocate for closing the digital divide
The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:
- Become Information and Media Literate (article collection)
- Design for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Learning (article collection)
- Design With Accessibility in Mind (article collection)
- Empower Students Through Creativity and Choice (article collection)
- Empower Students With Digital Study Skills (article collection)
- Engage Students Through Inquiry Learning (article collection)
- Help Students Take Ownership of Their Digital Lives (article collection)
- Using Technology to Amplify Student Voice (podcast episode)
- We Have 1:1 Devices: Now What? (podcast episode)
- Leveraging What We Have Learned This Past School Year to Reimagine Education Moving Forward (podcast episode)
What Is Digital Equity, and How Can We Support It in Our Schools?
While the pandemic has stimulated a lot of growth in the area of digital access, digital equity often lags behind. To take advantage of the incredible growth in technology comfort and skills we’ve seen over the past two years, we need to continue to explore the who, what, and how of tech integration. Who are our students? What do they need, and how can we best help them meet those unique needs?
To answer these questions and bring more clarity to the concept of digital equity, Dr. Beth Holland frames her insights around the core philosophy of The Learning Accelerator. The Learning Accelerator believes that every child has the right to experience an effective, engaging, and equitable education and that every educational experience should be focused on the whole child, be personalized, and be mastery-based. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:
- The Foundation of Digital Equity: Digital equity is more than digital access. It means exploring the kinds of creative learning opportunities that students have once they have access to devices and the Internet. These experiences should be highly engaging and personalized while honoring students’ talents, interests, and needs.
- Digital Equity Guide: The Learning Accelerator has developed a digital equity guide to help teams come together and have actionable conversations that lead to measurable change. The work is based on the previously mentioned core belief that learning should be focused on the whole child, be personalized, and be mastery-based. The free guide is available on The Learning Accelerator website.
- Homework Gap: This occurs when students do not have the same quality of technology access at home as they do at school. This leads to learning and opportunity inequities. This inequity prompts us to ask questions about the enabling conditions, supports, and systems that need to be in place beyond device access.
- Different Experiences: Schools need to make sure that students in poor and less privileged systems have access to the rich experiences of more affluent districts. Do all students get to create and explore, or are they simply using basic drill-and-skill practice programs?
- A Gateway to a Conversation About Educational Equity: Conversations about digital equity can make conversations about equity, in general, a little bit easier for people who are not quite ready to have those hard conversations. A focus on technology provides a safe, concrete entry point into this conversation and, because we can’t separate digital equity questions from overall equity questions, deeper conversations about overarching equity issues will unfold in the process.
- Pandemic Impact: The pandemic led to great growth in technology access while also highlighting existing inequities. These inequities include access to technology, quality professional learning for teachers, at-home support systems, digitization of curriculum, and access to quality instructional materials.
- Keeping It Going: As schools return to more traditional learning settings, we need to continue exploring how technology can empower students and classrooms. How can we leverage tech to open up different worlds, connect students, personalize learning, and free up teachers to offer more personalized instruction? How do we move less cognitively-demanding tasks like basic knowledge acquisition into a digital space, so we can bring more creative experiences into the face-to-face environment? How can we allow students to create collaboratively?
- Three Key Questions: Three key questions drive The Learning Accelerator’s digital equity guide: who, what, and how. The guide prompts us to ask, “WHO needs WHAT to learn HOW?” The answers to these questions can lead us to a more personalized, empowered, and impactful learning experience for all students.
If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What is the difference between digital access and digital equity?
- How has the pandemic impacted digital access and equity in your school or district?
- How would you describe the learners in your district and their unique learning needs?
- How might technology be used to meet those unique needs?
- Do all students in your district receive an equitable digital learning experience, and why or why not?
- As classrooms return to more normal face-to-face models, how might you ensure that teachers continue to build upon the technological confidence and growth they have acquired during the pandemic?
- How might your school or system begin, or continue, to improve digital equity?
- What are your next steps?