This three-part blog series, featuring guest authors from The Learning Accelerator and MA DESE OET, highlights the importance of centering equity in edtech selection. In this first post, the authors outline how they centered equity as they developed an edtech selection, implementation, and evaluation guide for school systems leaders.
Technology in schools can be a critical tool in advancing equity. Edtech—when purposefully selected and applied—can make rigorous and relevant instruction more accessible and engaging for all students, particularly those traditionally underserved. Teachers can leverage edtech to provide differentiated scaffolds for students, create multiple pathways for students to demonstrate their learning, and design learning experiences that connect to real-world applications.
For edtech to fulfill this potential, school system leaders need to better understand how to center equity in edtech-related decisions. Schools often think about digital equity in terms of access to devices, the internet, and tools. While this basic level of access is an important starting place, it’s time to move towards a more intentional—and equitable—system for selecting the right tools to meet student needs.
A recent report from LearnPlatform showed that during the 2021-2022 school year, school districts accessed an average of 1,417 edtech tools each month. This is up from an average of 703 edtech tools during the 2018-2019 school year, representing a more than 200% increase in just three years. While much of this increase may be attributed to pandemic-related technology needs, many school systems appear to be maintaining these increased levels of technology use since returning full-time to brick and mortar classrooms. In the midst of this sudden uptick in edtech, many school systems have struggled to pull teams together to review, revise, and/or build edtech processes as they work to meet the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. While there are still many challenges that remain, schools have an opportunity now to review their processes in order to make them more equitable.
In the fall of 2021, we at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Education Technology (OET), surveyed a network of school system level technology directors from across the state, which revealed that around 85% of our respondents thought their processes for selecting, implementing, and evaluating technology products needed to be strengthened, with some even sharing that they did not have formal processes in place.
This led to the OET partnering with The Learning Accelerator to create the EdTech Systems Guide: Equity-Driven Selection, Implementation, and Evaluation to support school systems in ensuring edtech is effectively selected, powerfully implemented, and properly evaluated in ways that best meet the needs of their school community.
This free, web-based guide is designed to meet technology decision-makers where they are and provide detailed recommendations, resources, and examples that they can incorporate into their own context. While comprehensive—covering 30 “steps” across selection, implementation, and evaluation—the format and structure of the guide make it easy to navigate and jump directly to the most relevant or pressing content.
At the core of this systems guide is a focus on equity. In order to work toward a vision of educational equity, we must be deliberate in how we’re designing or redesigning systems in a way that centers the experiences and needs of our traditionally underserved learners – particularly students of color, multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. While this may look different from school system to school system, the guide includes several elements to support technology leaders in keeping equity at the center of their work.
Embedded throughout the guide, these call-out boxes prompt users to pause and reflect on their current work and consider explicit equity implications specific to that particular step.
In addition to being one of the guide’s core principles of consistent stakeholder engagement, there is a separate section dedicated to authentic and equitable engagement. This section pushes users to consider who is at the table, whose voice is heard and prioritized, how we’re engaging a diverse range of stakeholders, and how we’re analyzing the input they provide.
To bring this work to life, we provided a fictional yet realistic case study of what each step might look like in practice—including working through stakeholder engagement and equity pauses.
Equity requires action. To support users from thinking about equity to taking equity-centered action, a downloadable workbook is embedded throughout each section. This allows teams to take notes and capture their activities and results along the way, leading to more long-term, equitable system building and improvement.
As schools examine and strengthen their use of edtech, we urge decision makers to deliberately center equity to ensure technology is being selected and implemented to support learning for all students.