Digital equity seeks to equip everyone with the technological capacity to participate in an increasingly digital world, whether as empowered employees, learners, community members or citizens.
While digital equity is often discussed in relation to access and connectivity, digital equity must also focus on the quality of a person’s engagement with technology. This includes having the digital skills to operate it, managing its inherent risks and challenges, and employing it beyond its basic capacity to supplement certain tasks.
There are multiple digital divides caused by biases and systemic structure ranging from not only access and connectivity, but also the ability to use technology effectively, apply it in a wide range of settings, maintain safety and responsibility while utilizing technology, and more. As schools and districts confront these divides, educators are embracing comprehensive digital literacy as the benchmark for ensuring digital equity in schools.
What is Digital Literacy?
Digital literacy encompasses a range of skills that enable people to become effective, responsible and informed users of technology. For more information about digital literacy, read our blog on the definition of digital literacy as well as its important uses. In brief, commonly discussed digital literacy skills include:
- Basic digital skills focusing on the effective operation of technology.
- Understanding basic computer operations and demonstrating proficiency in the understanding of concepts that include underlying hardware, software and connectivity.
- Employing common software applications, including word processing, multimedia, presentation, and spreadsheet tools for a variety of projects.
- Practicing digital citizenship to remain responsible and safe while using interconnected technology.
- Performing research and leveraging media and information literacy when doing so.
- Computer science skills promoting tech-enhanced problem solving.
- Practicing the computational thinking process to develop repeatable and automated solutions.
- Collaborating and communicating through technology with peers, as well as (safely) expanding learning networks beyond the school walls.
- Using Digital Literacy to Promote Digital Equity
By developing digital skills using effective digital literacy programs, we can overcome digital barriers to provide digital equity to all students. This focus on digital equity as an end goal for digital literacy programs ensure planning and implementation are holistic, intentional and strategic.
How Three Districts Use Digital Literacy as a Tool for Equity
To conceptualize what a digital literacy program resembles under a digital equity initiative, here are examples of three districts that are promoting digital literacy to enhance digital equity:
Promoting Digital Skill Development
Albermale County Public Schools, as featured in an article by COSN, developed a holistic digital equity initiative that tied efficacy of their 1:1 program to requisite digital skill development.
Located in Virginia, the district spans 26 buildings across rural, urban and suburban areas. Albermale educates 13,000 students; 30 percent of which are economically disadvantaged and 10 percent of whom are English learners.
To promote digital equity, the district launched an initiative that promoted access and connectivity with a 1:1 program and efforts to ensure authentic opportunities to use technology as part of the learning process.
COSN shares, “From the start, the district recognized that the most critical component of Digital Equity may be whether or not the students and teachers possess the literacy to take advantage of the available tools.”
Strategies employed by the district included:
- Developing accessibility tools for younger learners to remove barriers to using technology.
- Enabling teachers and students to develop digital skills with hands-on practice.
- Offering flexibility and choice for students to design their own learning environments.
- Cross walking computer science and content standards to provide opportunities for intentional technology integration.
Overall, these efforts emphasized digital literacy alongside proven pedagogy throughout the deployment of their 1:1 program.
Pushing Connectivity Beyond School Walls
The Beaverton School District in Oregon has also made significant strides addressing digital equity through a multipronged approach.
To provide digital learning opportunities to their 40,000 students at over 70 schools, Beaverton School District created a holistic hotspot and connectivity project that provided students with access to the Internet even in after-hour capacities. While there is more information on the connectivity program here, some of the projects included:
- Wi-Fi access at local businesses for students
- Extended library hours
- Take-home hotspots for students.
In addition, the district has looked toward digital skill development as a critical means to strengthen digital equity.
Beyond programs for students, the district offers a Latino family tech night, which educates parents on how to support their students with technology. By focusing on topics such as digital citizenship, the district is helping empower parents to support their students’ learning and establish expectations and rules for technology use.
Through this effort, Beaverton School District extends the value of connectivity by making sure that students have the parental resources and support for their digital learning experiences.
Teaching Teachers to Teach with Tech
Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which was named the 2019 District of the Year, embarked on their journey toward digital equity in 2012 with a $1.2 billion bond that they used to deploy devices and boost bandwidth in their over four hundred schools serving more than 350,000 students.
To truly harness the potential of this technology investment, the district focuses heavily on equipping their teachers with digital literacy to adequately integrate technology into the learning experience.
For example, the district offers digital literacy days, which are a PD opportunity for teachers, as well as a district conference event for instructional leadership from each school in the district.
These professional learning opportunities help educators identify authentic ways to use technology in the classroom, like using Google Earth to explore different locations, connecting students to experts via Skype, or encouraging students to create apps and programs to hone their math skills, as explained in this article by District Administration.
The PD also emphasizes building student-centered classrooms with hands-on, personalized, and student-led learning opportunities.
Finally, there are also district-appointed digital facilitators who travel between schools to offer support to teachers, like co-teaching, standards-aligned lessons, and training opportunities.
What This Means for Digital Literacy & Digital Equity
While all these initiatives are different in nature, there is a consistent thread of not only educating students but also the adults in their lives, whether those are parents or teachers. Because technology so rapidly evolves, it makes us all learners. This means the efficacy of a digital literacy program rests in part on the skill level of adults and their ability to support digital learning experiences of students, model positive online behavior and encourage students to deploy technology in innovative ways.
While digital equity is complex, a digital literacy program begins to fill the critical divides that rise in the wake of greater access and connectivity and face both students and their larger communities.
This article was originally published in February 2020 and has since been updated for accuracy, relevancy, and information.
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