When used effectively, technology can greatly contribute to creating equity in schools. It removes barriers to learning materials, supports students where they are across varied learning contexts and needs, and gives educators more insight into the learning environments they’re creating.
However, we can only realize these equity-centered benefits when we use technology in innovative and powerful ways. That means we shouldn’t just use edtech to replace worksheets, run “drill and kill” exercises, or crunch assessment performance numbers.
To better understand how using technology can create equity in schools, we’ll outline how technology creates more equitable situations in the classroom. And to help you better understand how you can use technology to create equitable situations in your classroom, school, or district, we’ll talk about districts who are already using technology in a powerful way to increase equity for their students.
Technology isn’t the only tool we can use to create equitable learning environments, but there are a few ways it can assist in that mission.
One of the most straightforward ways that technology contributes to equity in schools is ensuring that every student has access to learning materials, even outside of the classroom. Students have fewer barriers to learning when they can use their tablets or laptops not only to find homework instructions, read e-books, and share important information with their families, but to create and work on independent projects, research topics that interest them, and connect with subject experts.
Edtech—especially edtech with a narrow, specific focus—can help create a personalized learning experience, ensuring that, through a differentiated approach, all students can access information at their own pace and in a way that’s best suited to their learning needs. Supporting learner variability ideally means that more students become deeply engaged in their learning and fewer students are left behind.
Outside of keeping track of test scores, educators can use technology to get helpful insights and more effectively make data-informed decisions. Connecting secure datasets such as absenteeism and homework completion with formative mathematics assessments, for example, allows educators to consider why issues may be happening, decide on a course of supportive action, and then use data to determine effectiveness.
Providing access to technology is important but not a complete solution when it comes to getting rid of systemic disparities caused by issues like income inequality, geographic isolation, or discrimination. Ensuring students have opportunities to use technology in powerful ways will also contribute to creating more equitable learning environments.
Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools includes school districts who are using technology to create more equitable learning experiences. Here are some examples.
Consider this: you’ve just been handed the keys to a car, and you’re told you can drive it anywhere you want. There are so many possible destinations open to you, and you hop in ready for your road trip. But you look through the windshield to realize there’s no road in front of you. Suddenly, your trip is looking a little more difficult (and a little less enjoyable). Your car is still useful; you can still go anywhere you want. But getting there would have been a lot easier if a road had been built.
A tablet without an internet connection is similarly useful. You can use it for writing, animating, making movies, and taking photos. But once you add the internet, the realm of possibilities is wide open. And finding tools and resources to support and supplement learning becomes much easier with the power of an Internet search available to you.
Disparities in internet access are tied to geographic isolation and differences in income, among other factors. According to Census Bureau data from 2016, nearly 82 percent of all households in the U.S. have an internet subscription of some kind. However, only 74 percent of households in nonmetropolitan areas have an internet subscription, compared to 83 percent of households located in metropolitan areas. And only 59 percent of households with an annual income of less than $25,000 have an internet subscription, compared to 89 percent of households making between $50,000 and $99,000 per year.
To bridge gaps in internet access between school and home, districts are getting creative to make WiFi available to students as often as possible. Morris School District in suburban New Jersey partners with EveryoneOn to offer all district households low-cost internet access. In rural Alabama, Piedmont City School District helped provide students with internet access by installing a town wireless network in 2011 using a federal E-rate grant. The district has since transitioned to providing MiFi devices for each student to ensure their internet access is uninterrupted, even when WiFi connections remain spotty in some areas.
Providing true 24/7 access to learning means more than distributing devices and providing internet connections in the classroom. It means taking a close look at student experiences when they leave the classroom and giving them every opportunity to continue learning whenever they want, wherever they might be.
To empower teachers to use technology in a way that complements a personalized learning environment, professional development, instructional coaching, peer-to-peer teaching, or a combination of all three will ensure that the technology has significant ROI.
In suburban Illinois, Gurnee School District 56 decided to take their commitment to personalized learning one step further by offering personalized professional development to educators. Teachers have access to workshops, in-class coaching, and building-based tech facilitators during the school year. In the summer, the district runs the Summer Tech Academy, where teachers can hone their skills and learn different ways to integrate technology in their classrooms. Providing access to this type of PD not only helps teachers learn new things, but also emphasizes the effectiveness of personalized learning for educators who experience it.
Effective and powerful use of technology in the classroom should involve helping teachers feel both comfortable with unfamiliar tech, and enthusiastic about new opportunities to create innovative learning experiences that meets learners where they are.
Finally, using student data to create a holistic picture of the current state of your learning environment and a complete picture of your learners—including mental and physical health—is more effective than simply tracking assessment data. Ensure that data is carefully and securely collected and that top notch privacy practices are in place
In Connecticut, Meriden Public Schools (MPS) uses a district-created “Climate Suite” to measure, track, and improve students’ experiences in its schools. The district collects data through a School Climate Survey, a Getting to Know You Survey, and an MPS Cares self-reporting tool. Using this data, MPS is better able to cater to the social-emotional health of its students. As a result of actions taken using this data, MPS has seen a 93 percent decrease in expulsions and a 23 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism.
Access to technology alone isn’t enough. Creating true equity in schools requires a commitment to increasing access to learning tools for students and their families, equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills to use new tech powerfully, and using student data effectively to make informed decisions about improving their learning experiences.
Resources to help you use technology to increase equity in schools: