Digital equity has become more important than ever in the era of tablets, Zoom and rapid technological advancements.
The term “digital equity” refers to making sure students have equal access to technology, from the hardware (computers, iPads, etc.) to the software (apps and programs), as well as access to reliable internet.
Even if you give students free devices, issues arise when they don’t have internet freely available at home. Nearly 10 million students in the U.S. are without reliable internet connectivity at home. And in today’s world, that lack of access is a huge blow to education.
It’s not a simple problem to solve, as the issue is caused by many other societal inequities. However, teachers and schools can help by making digital equity a priority, especially in districts with less privilege and more wealth disparity.
Here are some thoughts and ideas to keep in mind in regards to digital equity in the classroom:
– Tap into the community. There may be parents of means that would gladly help fundraise, but even more likely is that your community has plenty of organizations dedicated to helping bridge gaps like this. Look for a local art and technology center, afterschool programs, foundations, etc. Some districts have also asked local businesses to offer free Wi-Fi to students, including cafes, take-out joints, and so on. They’re often happy to help.
There are national groups as well. The national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway and its Digital Bridge K-12 project offers resources to support districts in providing digital access to students everywhere.
– Teach the technology. As we all know, simply having the hardware isn’t enough—you need to know how to use it. Students today are typically good at intuiting how to use technology, but that doesn’t mean every student has that gift. You can either find time to teach tech in class or advocate for it to be taught elsewhere in school.
This also means professional development is needed for educators themselves to be able to use the tech with ease and proficiency. Without that, you risk new technology taking up more time than it saves.
– Expand in-school offerings. For some students, being in school is the only way to access a computer and reliable internet. By adjusting library hours and computer lab hours, you can create a space for students to get homework done before actually heading home.
– Offer offline options. There are apps that work great without internet connectivity, you just have to know what they are and prepare ahead of time. For example, a student could download assignments onto their device, head home, do the work offline, then come back and upload/share it once in school.
– Gift mobile hotspots. One district in North Carolina, the Rowan-Salisbury School System, received a generous donation and partnership to purchase 300 wireless routers that act as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. Those were then given to the most impoverished students throughout the district, with some kept in the media center for loaning out. You might not receive a gift this large, but even a few mobile hotspots can make a difference.
– Plan ahead. Work with your IT team and figure out what technology is coming down the pipeline that may or may not be useful to bring into the school. Before implementing any new tech, whether it’s hardware or software, make sure teachers (including yourself) are aware of how the tech works, how it can be used to teach more effectively, and how fellow educators will be using it—major differences from class to class could confuse students.
This article was written by Teach & Travel Managing Editor Josh Veal.