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Category: Digital Equity

Technology in Rural Schools: Addressing Digital Equity

The goal of digital equity is to ensure that all students have access to devices, high-speed internet, and opportunities to learn both in school and out.

While digital equity is a challenge for all school districts, Dr. Beth Holland, CoSN’s digital equity and rural project director, points out that it becomes a complex issue given the challenges within rural schools and systems.

In a recent edWebinar, Holland, along with Jennifer Austin, CETL, instructional technology coordinator at Lac du Flambeau Public School in Wisconsin; Michael Flood, vice president of strategy at Kajeet; and Tammy Neil, a computer science teacher at Suwannee Middle School in Florida, discuss the unique challenges rural districts face when providing students’ online access to their education.

Flood explains that when students don’t have equal access to devices and high-speed internet, it prevents them from having the same learning opportunities as their more connected peers.

Challenges

Usually located in rugged terrains, near rivers, and wooded areas and surrounded by mountains, rural school districts like Suwannee Middle School and Lac du Flambeau Public Schools struggle to connect within the school.

Running internet cables across rivers and rocky terrain can be impossible feats, resulting in limited dedicated internet connections. Having to rely on service providers whose coverage can be unreliable and nonexistent in parts of the community does not ensure the students’ digital equity school districts want.

Socioeconomics also plays a huge role in digital equity for rural districts such as the Florida and Wisconsin school districts.

Lac du Flambeau’s student population of 93 percent Native American with 100 percent of students on free and reduced lunch affects the community’s priorities.

Austin explains that many parents in her community struggle with finances and prioritize food over the internet. In Suwannee, it is the case of the “haves and have-nots,” with both affluent and high-poverty areas within the district.

Neil sees the impact this has on the school community and is challenged to ensure digital equity when 25 percent of students don’t have the internet at home. One of Wisconsin’s struggles is digital learning days, where students with limited or no access to Wi-Fi at home cannot access their education.

Solutions

While socioeconomics, district location, and availability of reliable and consistent Wi-Fi access may seem insurmountable, rural districts, along with CoSN and companies like Kajeet, are committed to both digital equity and digital equality.

Providing families with used school-issued Chromebooks, adding access points outside the school buildings, and collaborating with community partners on projects such as youth centers and public libraries give students and the entire community access to technology.

Pioneered by Google in partnership with Kajeet, rural districts in more than a dozen states use rolling study halls. Buses equipped with Wi-Fi devices turn normally unproductive time on school buses into homework time.

Even more widespread in school districts are LTE hotspots. Through a school library’s checkout program, these low-cost mobile devices provide students and households in need with secure, reliable, and safe access to the internet. Districts in remote areas where it is impossible to establish internet connections, such as a wilderness educational facility in Wyoming, are installing LTE routers outside of their school building to solve their connectivity issues.

Accelerators and hurdles

CoSN’s Driving K-12 Innovation report addresses this challenge of digital equity regarding how school districts ensure that students experience innovative, creative, and engaging learning experiences.

The presenters all agree that there are many hurdles–especially in a rural district–to meeting the digital equity challenge. However, the accelerators, including providing personalized learning opportunities for students, building community partnerships, and adopting more cloud platforms in school districts, are worth the hurdles they face to ensure digital equity for all students.

Originally Published: eSchoolNews
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Ed Tech Leaders Take on the Digital Equity Divide

There are 300 days of sunshine in Denver, Colorado, golf balls go 10% farther, and Elvis Presley once flew to Denver Stapleton Airport just for a sandwich.

This city, nicknamed the Mile-High City, welcomed 50 edtech leaders from across the country for the October 2018 Tech & Learning Leadership Summit. This invitation-only event focused on sharing and learning about the many innovative solutions that district leaders create to close the digital equity divide.

Seeing is believing

Respect, responsibility, integrity, courage, curiosity, and doing your best are the core values of one of the country’s leading public charter STEM school districts, the DSST School District in Denver, Colorado. They opened the doors of both Green Valley Ranch High School and Conservatory Green High School so that T&L Leadership Summit guests could observe STEM in action! While these classroom observations and conversations with students and teachers were inspiring, the most enlightening part of the tour was the Q&A session at the Conservatory Green High School with DSST edtech leaders. When asked what makes DSST unique, Scott Walker, DSST chief operating officer, said that they focus on preparing all their students to get into college and success during their college years and beyond. DSST does it through an integrated program that focuses on ensuring that all students have the same educational opportunities no matter their backgrounds or socioeconomic conditions.

Walker stated, “we want to make sure our kids are in an integrated school that makes all the other things (college and career) possible.” Their guiding principle is that real learning happens in smaller school environments because it allows for relationship building and developing shared values. 

The school visits and the panel discussions were a popular topic at the first evening’s dinner event as school and district leaders reflected on how they could bring the energy, commitment, and vision they experienced on their school visits back to their districts.

Bridging the Equity Gap

The smell of coffee brought the attendees together for an early Saturday morning session. The always entertaining Adam Phyall, director of technology and media services in Newton County (GA) School System, moderated an innovative panel of edtech professionals who shared their challenges and experiences about “working to provide equal technology access to students and school leaders of all genders, races, and economic backgrounds.”  

The first panelist was Wisdom Amouzou, executive director of Empower Community High School in Aurora, Colorado. He talked about the need to reframe the “problem” around the “inequitable economic and educational systems that bar access to high-income pathways” and how these educational systems “neither authentically value family input nor enable their participation in decision-making processes.” The Empower Community High School’s vision and commitment are based on the premise that “if you want equity to be sustainable, it has to be led by the ones most impacted.” 

The next panelist was Melissa Schwass, program director of ChickTech at Denver High School. ChickTech is a nonprofit dedicated to engaging women of all ages in the technology industry and increasing the number of girls and women pursuing careers in the technology world. This inspiring, dedicated edtech leader emphasized,

girls feel that they have to be perfect and can’t fail. We need to let girls be brave enough TO fail.” 

ChickTech believes that it is never too late to pursue the love of STEM and that we need to mentor and support our girls and women to find a STEM path.

The final panelist was Sean Wybrant, an educator of digital media studies at the William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs. He eats, sleeps, and breathes the idea that educators craft the heroes of tomorrow and that he is doing it every day in his classroom. He teaches students to think critically and solve problems through computer science and video game development. What resonated with the audience was his statement that “if we don’t let students build the future they want to inherit, then they will inherit our future.”

Better when we do it together

The rest of the summit was spent in collaborative working groups that focused on issues that challenge us to improve student achievement, support our educators, and ensure digital equity for all our students. The session ranged from network and infrastructure issues to data privacy, security, and identity management to redesigning classrooms and other learning spaces. All sessions were well attended, and you could feel the collaborative vibe as you walked by session rooms. I have highlighted just a few of these well-crafted working group sessions. 

Bradford Hubbard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Community High School District 117 (IL), showcased how digital citizenship and critical thinking are working in tandem to build empathy and seek equity in the Digital Citizenship and Critical Thinking session. Edtech leaders such as Tianay Amat, deputy superintendent in Cincinnati (OH) Public Schools, and Jose Perez, technology integration coach at NYC Department of Education, asked important questions about how schools are incorporating digital citizenship into their everyday curriculum, how we can support teachers, and where to find best practices resources. Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent of Burlington (MA) Public Schools, provides some answers to these questions in his “Minimizing the anxiety on D.C. (that’s Digital Citizenship!)” presentation. 

It was all about hands-on activities in the Emerging Technologies session led by Randy Rogers, director of digital learning services in Seguin (TX) ISD, and Sean Wybrant, career and technical education teacher and Colorado teacher of the year at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs. The focus was on new and emerging technologies, such as AI and VR, and the impact these technologies are having in schools today and into the future. In this session, students were our teachers. We got to experiment with Cospaces Edu, a tool that allows students or schools to create their own VR experiences and content. 

In the Blended and Personalized Learning session, Brian Seymour, director of instructional technology at Pickerington (OH) Local School District, talked about how his district is transforming education through technology and more student centered pedagogy. Stephen Woicik, technology director of Maynard (MA) Public Schools, spoke about a specific goal of their 1:1 program: to eliminate the technology barrier of entry that will make creating personalized learning easier in the future.  Paul Vieira, assistant superintendent of Ashland (MA) Public Schools, summed up this session well by saying, “Personalized learning is learning that has been personalized to a student’s individual needs, likes, and interests. Blended learning is when technology and/or other ‘non-traditional’ methods are used to deliver the curriculum or show mastery.”

Next Steps with Lessons Learned

The exhilarating, inspiring, and motivational weekend ended with a brownie and an opportunity for all to share what they would be bringing back to their districts. Jose Perez is going back to his district to start a PLC on understanding digital equity and digital literacy and its effects on underprivileged communities. Andrea Tejedor, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Highlands Falls-Fort Montgomery (NY) School District, will begin a conversation about the soft bigotry of low expectations in her district by examining biases.  Shawntee Cowan, chief technology officer at Duncanville (TX) ISD, inspired by Wisdom Amouzou said that her district would rethink schools’ design and incorporate the voices of stakeholders. Scott Harris, technology director at Neosho (MO) School District, is committed to involving parents with decisions that affect their children when it comes to technology. At the same time, Brian Seymour said he would be mindful of equity when decisions are being made. 

Todd Dugan, superintendent of Bunker Hill (IL) Community School District #8, summed up the Denver 2018 T&L Leadership Summit well with the statement, “1:1 is NOT the answer to digital equity.”

Source: Ed Tech Leaders Take on the Digital Equity Divide Tech and Learning Magazine November 2018 
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Three Digital Equity Leaders Call to Action for Students Without Home Internet Access

The CoSN Meeting the Needs of Students Without Home Internet Access webinar on September 19, 2018, reflects the growing concern and call to action for school districts, business communities, and state and federal government to address what has been termed as the homework gap. The Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside the Classroom Report, by the

Department of Education, identified the three leading causes of digital inequity as access and cost of high-speed broadband and the lack of understanding by school families as to the importance of the internet to support their students’ education.

As stated by the moderator of this webinar, CoSN’s new Chief Innovation Officer, Susan M. Bearden, “There is no silver bullet for addressing digital equity in school communities.” However, three passionate digital equity school leaders, Steve Langford, Chief Information Officer, Beaverton SD Oregon, Diane Doersch Chief Technology and Information Officer, Green Bay Area PS Wisconsin, and Rob Dickerson, Executive Director of Information Management Systems Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska, shared their own digital equity action plans that became their silver bullets.

The Perfect Storm

In 2014, Beaverton PS passed a bond with a significant amount dedicated to technology, and by 2016, Beaverton had 32,000 Chromebooks and 10,000 iPads being used in the district. Green Bay Area PS had a laptop cart model until 2017 when they established the Ninja Deployment initiative that resulted in 1:1 devices at the secondary level and 1.5:1 at the elementary level. Nebraska’s two historical bonds, one in 2014 and another in 2017, positioned Omaha PS to take total advantage of E-Rate’s modernization. Now that the districts had devices in students’ hands, strong reliable infrastructure, and curriculums rich with digital content, Rob Dickerson identified this influx of technology as “a setting for a perfect storm.”

The Brick Wall

Steve Langford described how ”digital equity came to us” when students began advocating for themselves, expressing their frustration over accessing their education at home. Green Bay Area PS realized that, while the district had more classrooms using digital resources, they had not addressed the ISTE Standard for Education Leaders that ensured “all student have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.” Omaha PS began to understand that, now that they were technology-rich, they needed to develop the strategic plan frameworks that would “increase access and digital equity to transform learning.”

On the Road

The three school districts took different paths though they all had the same digital equity prize in sight. As Diane Doersch, all three districts had the desire to improve student learning by modernizing & differentiating with technology. Beaverton PS started by establishing a Digital Equity Brown Bag, a team of passionate stakeholders, to tackle the district’s digital inequity. These Brown Baggers established partnerships with the 1Million Project by Sprint and the Kajeet Homework Gap Grant that provided low-cost internet and wifi hotspots for the student in need in their district. After much research, Green Bay PS decided on Kajeet SmartSpot, which provided daily WiFI check out options for students in the district that expanded access to families across the district. Omaha PS took an approach of pushing digital literacy and digital citizenship with a five-year public service grant from Cox. The district renovated a bus into a flexible learning space that provided free Internet, digital literacy, and digital citizenship across the community.

To Infinity and Beyond

All three districts are looking to the future. Steve Langford conveyed that he is looking at how schools are using these devices by asking the difficult question of “Does usage look different across our schools?” Diane Doersch underscored that, for true digital transformation, district equity policy changes are needed that include digital equity. Rob Dickerson emphasized that Omaha continues to focus on partnering with local business to provide students with safe and welcoming learning environments as well as continuing to educate school parents on “where their student is coming from and how they can engage with them around the idea of digital citizenship and digital literacy.”

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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