Educational Technology Serves Equity When Used with Purpose
Published October 31, 2018
In my time as a classroom teacher, principal and superintendent, I became professionally and emotionally vested in leading and supporting a vision for educational equity, which is shared by many of my colleagues. That vision is to create the best conditions that can lead to equitable learning outcomes and to provide all students with the right resources they need to learn, regardless of race, gender, income and other factors.
I was fortunate to lead teams that shared my passion for achieving educational equity, but I was also humbled by the challenges presented on this path. Advocating for changes that would uproot the foundation of long-standing institutions, policies and practices can quickly begin to feel like an uphill battle, no matter how many educators are working for the cause. As I ventured into new roles and collaborated with policy makers, edtech developers, teacher trainers and thought leaders, my approach and enthusiasm for this vision expanded. I met new educators, witnessed the progress they were collectively making in areas that improved students’ experiences, and the fight that felt so daunting at times began to feel far more achievable from a new vantage point. With ongoing collaboration and learning, I have gained a refreshed understanding of what’s needed to achieve our goals, and I remain committed to educational equity. And while every district faces unique challenges and circumstances when it comes to educational equity, I believe there are some foundational components that can power any district-wide equity initiative forward.
A United Vision
District leaders must start with a united vision for what equity looks like in their communities – one that encompasses a thorough understanding of student needs, collaboration among stakeholders and a deep dive into the current landscape in which students are functioning, including school policies or cultural factors that influence student experiences. District leaders also should have a strong understanding of the largest barriers to student success, the greatest resources or assets available to overcome those barriers and the most effective ways to measure progress.
Access to New Education Technology and Resources
We’ve seen some incredible progress from districts over the past few years in this area. Schools understand the importance of broadband internet and are exploring ways to ensure that the new digital programs that are introduced into their schools function in a secure and seamless fashion. But despite progress, work remains: according to Future Ready Schools, 21 million U.S. students still lack the broadband capability necessary for digital learning. The students affected by a lack of digital access at school are those who need it the most. In addition, many students impacted by poverty don’t have the ability to connect to the internet at home, and therefore have fewer opportunities to use technology for the purpose of learning or to support schoolwork and studying after class.
Community Support and Outreach
Along with supporting new blended learning models in the classroom, where students are expected to engage with technology and learning outside of school walls, there are other opportunities. Access, among other factors in equity, can be strengthened through community engagement. Districts can forge partnerships with the businesses, organizations and youth centers that play a major role in student lives and work with them to extend broadband access or provide additional safe spaces for learning. Parental engagement is also central to achieving equity goals: in an era when our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse and students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, districts need to work harder than ever to get those parents engaged with their learning community in meaningful ways.
Purposeful Technology in the Hands of Talented Teachers
Perhaps the most promising movement towards educational equity is the introduction of technology into the classroom. Personalization is more scalable than ever, advanced adaptive technologies address student needs in real time, and student data insights provide educators with an in-depth understanding of students’ progress. But just as technology presents exciting opportunities, it also carries complications.
We know that technology alone is not enough to combat inequity. The technology we introduce into the classroom can only move the needle on equity when it’s used purposefully; in other words, the integration and implementation of technology is just as important as the quality of the technology itself. Researchers are seeing an emerging trend where schools in poverty use technology less effectively than wealthier schools, even when the technology utilized in each school is the same. Educators need the support of their districts, robust and ongoing professional development and a clearly defined vision for personalized learning to leverage technology with the purpose of empowering every student. Frameworks like the SAMR model, or varying understandings of personalized learning can serve as a strong foundation to set educators up for success in a digital space.
To make an impact in any of these areas will require various levels of cross-functional teamwork, creative problem-solving and perseverance that will challenge every one of us. But from all of the educators I have met over the years who have dedicated their lives to educational equity, I know that we’re capable of making our vision a reality. We must.
This article was originally published in EdSurge on September 12, 2018 and can be viewed here.