By: Jean-Claude Brizard
What learning looks like and how it is delivered has changed forever. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inequitable access to technology and broadband, particularly for traditionally marginalized students. $122 billion of unprecedented federal funding is now available to school districts, providing an opportunity to make significant strides in closing the Digital Learning Gap—but only if we think differently about how schools use technology to meet the needs of every learner.
Expanding access to technology and broadband alone will not improve teaching and learning. Over the past seven years, Digital Promise has worked with hundreds of Title I schools participating in the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) program, providing technology, internet access, professional development, and support. Based on our experience with VILS and several other Digital Promise initiatives, we have found that the most successful schools have these six key elements in place to establish and sustain a culture of powerful learning with technology:
A strong district and school leadership team: A cross-functional leadership team must be in place to set a clear vision for the school, its culture, and what teaching and learning look like before putting technology in classrooms.
A clear, inclusive, and easily accessible transformation plan: A strong transformation plan aligns the vision for technology integration and device maintenance in support of the school improvement plan or goals for the year. This plan should be easily accessible to all stakeholders.
Ongoing, embedded professional learning opportunities for teachers: Ongoing professional development is necessary to support effective teacher use of technology. This can be achieved through the use of instructional coaches, teams of teacher leaders, or other systems of support.
Always-available technology and broadband access: Robust edtech integration goes beyond connecting students to high-speed internet and giving a device to every student. It also requires promoting responsible technology use, protecting student and teacher data and privacy, and ensuring access outside of school so that learning doesn’t have to stop at the end of the school day. The only way to eliminate the Homework Gap is to guarantee that students can learn regardless of time and place.
Support for parents and caregivers: Families shape the learning experience for their students and therefore must be an integral part of the school’s ecosystem. Technology provides schools with new opportunities to engage parents and caregivers in the school community. For example, schools can offer virtual town hall meetings at night when parents are available to join, parent-teacher conferences on devices that have translated captions so that they can speak their native language, online workshops to learn new technology platforms and tools, or other opportunities to share their culture or further their own development.
Equity as a mindset: When it comes to student learning, context matters. It’s important to understand how each student’s context and experience impact their attitude toward school, technology, and learning. Creating a rich and inclusive school culture that affirms each student’s identity, values their family and community, and enables every student to excel in their academics must be a foundational part of planning for technology integration.
These elements are gleaned from practice and validated by research. We are sharing them now so that states and districts working on plans for spending new, once-in-a-generation funding can benefit from what we know. We have an obligation to our students and our future to do more than rebuild what was dismantled during the pandemic. We must use these funds to architect new educational models that provide the scaffolding required for each student to be affirmed as individuals, included in the school community, successful in their studies, and prepared with the skills they need for post-secondary school, work, and life.
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