Lauren Williams, a fifth grade teacher in California, works in a predominantly Latinx and Black K-5 elementary school, where almost half of the students are designated as English Learners (ELs). When shelter-in-place orders went into effect in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her school district gave her two weeks’ worth of “one-size-fits-all” curriculum that needed to be adapted to fit a wide range of communities, classrooms, families, and students.
Williams fears that the nature of her school’s digital learning is insufficient for ELs and that it has widened the gaps for students with disabilities. Moreover, her district’s data shows that Black families in the district do not have consistent internet access to engage in digital learning. While the schools are doing the best they can, Lauren noted the hardest part of digital learning was that everyone was learning how to do it at the same time.
Williams’s story is all too familiar in schools across the country, as COVID-19 forced educators and learners into a space of discomfort, fear, and inequity not conducive to learning. Her story highlights a few realities:
Digital Promise developed the Transitioning to Digital Learning micro-credentials stack to support educators across the country in a successful transition to digital learning, while rooting the designs in inclusion and equity.
The Verizon Innovative Learning Schools network, a collaboration between Verizon and Digital Promise, has worked to address the challenges outlined above to successfully roll out digital learning in under-resourced communities across the country. Digital Promise has identified critical elements of inclusive and equitable digital learning ecosystems by working with school leaders, teachers, and families over the last seven years. These learnings informed the five competencies in the “Transitioning to Digital Learning” stack, outlined below.
While it is tempting to jump into the design and development of a digital learning ecosystem, conducting a needs assessment is a crucial step to better understand what motivates your learners and their wants and needs, and how to address an educator’s potential biases or preconceived notions. This information will inform all decisions about digital learning and addressing gaps in digital equity.
Being organized is about more than easily finding what you need—it also includes equitable access to materials. A virtual desk is an online space where learners find and access learning materials. A carefully selected and well-developed virtual desk can promote engagement, foster open communication, and support developing content that can be accessed by all learners.
This micro-credential supports educators in considering their own needs, as well as those of their learners and their learners’ families, when designing synchronous and asynchronous instruction. It also discusses digital classroom culture and management, and how to develop community agreements to support families’ and caregivers’ roles as partners in this work.
Developing a regular schedule to communicate with learners and their families outside of synchronous learning sessions fosters a strong home-school connection, builds authentic relationships, ensures open and transparent communication, and creates a strong community of support for learners.
In this final micro-credential, educators evaluate the effectiveness of digital learning to support all learners, reflect on their practice, and use the data to develop goals and pursue relevant professional learning opportunities for continuous improvement.
Underlying issues of equity in education became glaringly evident in this pandemic. Due to the various levels of preparedness of schools and districts for digital learning, the old disparities became an even wider chasm for students of color, students with disabilities, ELs, and the thousands of students living in households that lack internet connectivity. While completing the “Transitioning to Digital Learning” stack, educators will collect evidence of using data to make informed decisions and take action that specifically supports these populations of students.
No one knows what the school year will look like this fall. We do know the challenges of transitioning to digital learning do not exist in a vacuum, and we must continue to push for federal support to connect all families to the internet.
But, in the meantime, we can prepare; digital learning has the potential to be a space of inclusion and equity if we plan for it. The first step is making sure every educator has the skills to transition to digital learning with a lens toward equity and access for all learners and their families.
Begin earning the Transitioning to Digital Learning micro-credentials today on the Digital Promise Micro-credential Platform.