“But the great potential of educational technology to improve teaching and learning will only be realized if our ed-tech efforts go hand in hand with a commitment to digital equity” (Reich, R. 2019).
As a digital leader, it is my commitment to partner with educators, leaders, students, and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology. It is also my duty to make sure those partnerships are not exclusive to technology-rich and digitally-savvy individuals. A commitment to digital equity calls for including and empowering everyone.
How can we make sure that we do not exclude anyone as we form partnerships with educators, leaders, students, and families as we also seek to foster a culture of respectful online interactions?
How can we make sure we promote and help everyone achieve a healthy balance in their use of technology?
The article Teaching Our Way to Digital Equity explores the dilemma that school districts face when they adopt and integrate technology in a community with a diverse student population, explains the acceleration of inequalities, and confirms that “The research on the challenges of educational technology and equity is well-established” (Reich, J., 2019). The article also makes suggestions regarding first steps towards attaining equity:
1. Helping educators learn about equitable teaching practices
2. Reframing adult thinking
3. Connect to students’ outside interests
4. Engage families
5. Require opportunities for all
6. Conduct an audit
We need to keep in mind the inequities of educational technologies as we build partnerships with educators, leaders, students, and families. An important step towards forming partnerships is building relationships. We can only build relationships with those who participate and engage in the communication exchange. According to data from 2016 presented by Child Trends, while between 80% to 90% of parents attended general meetings, less than 50% of parents actively volunteered or served on a school committee. The participation decreases as students move to higher grades.
The data also showed disproportionate participation between parents with differences in 1) socioeconomic status, 2) educational level, 3) race, and 4) English language fluency. The article asserts that the lower parental participation is not a lack of desire on their part but rather a lack of ability due to other circumstances. Schools need to make an extra effort to engage families and promote parent involvement.
Digital tools can be utilized to enhance parent participation. Some examples are presented in 8 tips to strengthen parent involvement with digital tools:
1) Expand your classroom communications toolbox
2) Take care of the routine matters
3) Bring parents in through video conferencing
4) Take advantage of social media
5) Use text messages to build communication
6) Let parents help design your communication tactics
7) Use data to show student progress
8) Make information easy to access with the cloud
Another article from edutopia.org presents several research studies that “show digital outreach can help parents stay informed, become more involved, and be better positioned to help with kids’ schoolwork” (Minero, E. 2017). The article explains how text-based tools such as ClassDojo, Spotlight, Remind, and Seesaw can improve communication and parent participation. These tech tools are not only samples that have already shown success in schools, but also the number of apps and tools that can enhance communication continues to grow.
Before we can revolutionize school-parent partnerships and improve communication through new digital technologies, appropriate teacher development needs to take place. Some educators may need more support and professional development than others, leaders may need more resources communicating and collaborating with families, students may need modified expectations and personalized learning as they are catching up on learning some digital tools, and families may need additional support and resources not only to support their kids digital education at home, but also to participate in collaborative partnerships with school leaders and teachers.
Conflictingly, more support, more professional development, and additional resources equates to more time invested in trying to catch up, which can negatively affect the healthy balance in their use of technology.
One concern brought up in The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World by Pew Research Center (2015) was the research found that points to the negative effects that digital technology usage can have on people’s well-being and their level of stress. The article linked to Information Overload which explains how “those with fewer pathways to the internet are more likely to express concerns about information overload and to report difficulty in finding information they need.” Many institutions, including schools, expect their users to find the information and many find that keeping track of such information is stressful. Consequently, in order to foster a culture of respectful online interactions, it is important to be respectful of people’s valuable time and digital position. As we take an active role in forming partnerships we need to also promote and help everyone achieve a healthy balance in their use of technology. Where can we find the time to do it all?
Finding the time
There are many elements that contribute to inequity. The most obvious and most talked about in research is the socioeconomic status. Some examples are Bridging the Gap between Poor and Privileged and Disparities across income levels and students of black and Hispanic heritage. However, Reich explains how pedagogical and structural inequity exacerbates digital inequity because of a gap amongst teacher practices, and school resources. We cannot close the gap on academic achievement without first addressing the inequities amongst schools and teachers.
Some teachers need more time invested in learning about best practices and tools available for equitable teaching. Some students need more time invested in acquiring the skills where they have fallen behind. Schools need more time to form partnerships with parents and the community. I believe that in order to include everyone as we form partnerships with educators, leaders, students, and families, we need to make a commitment to devote the necessary time and resources. If we cannot find the time and resources during the school year, perhaps we should extend our efforts through the summer. More effort can be made during the Summer to acquire the necessary resources needed to establish a network of collaboration amongst schools and the community.
Opportunities for all
The article, Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it?, reviews the literature related to summer learning loss, and presents some suggestions on how to fix the problem. It examines various school-based and home-based summer programs, and explains how while their success is variable, there is evidence that summer study can be effective at raising student reading comprehension, especially when students are consistent with the time and academic effort.
The achievement and participation gap seems to be an evident result of differences in learning pace, access, resources, and support, rather than a problem that can be fixed by teachers alone during the course of a school calendar. If there is a need for extra time, schools should facilitate academic, and digital resources through the Summer.
During summer programs school districts can focus on offering opportunities for teachers, families and students. With the new advances of digital technology, the Summer experience has the potential of being transformed. We just need to make a commitment and take the time to make it happen.
Anderson J., & Rainie, L. (2018). The future of well-being in a tech-saturated world. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/04/17/the-future-of-well-being-in-a-tech-saturated-world/
Bridging the Gap between Poor and Privileged. (2014, August 8). American Federation of Teachers. https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2004/bridging-gap-between-poor-and-privileged
Child Trends. (2013). Parental involvement in schools. https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/parental-involvement-in-schools
Dorn, E. (2020, August 7). COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime
Horrigan, J.B. (2016) Information overload. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/12/07/information-overload/
ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Minero, E. (2017, November 22). Parent engagement in the digital age. Edutiopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/parent-engagement-digital-age
Quinn, D. M., & Polikoff, M. (2017, September 14). Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/research/summer-learning-loss-what-is-it-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/
Reich, J. (2019). Teaching our way to digital equity. The Tech-Savvy School. 76(5), 30-35. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb19/vol76/num05/Teaching-Our-Way-to-Digital-Equity.aspx
Strietelmeier, C. (2018, June 8). 8 Tips to strengthen parent involvement with digital tools. EdTech Magazine. https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2018/06/8-tips-strengthen-parent-involvement-digital-tools