EWA Panel-Inequities in Technology: Bridging the Digital Divide

Our school districts here in Tompkins County are an interesting mix of urban, suburban, and rural. I ran across the term “digital inequity” at a public meeting last year and the term intrigued me. Having sent three boys to our village school and holding strong personal views on the increasing use of technology in the classroom, I couldn’t pass this panel discussion up.

Why Virtual Learning is a Good Idea

There’s a shift from using devices in purely educational ways to using them in transformational ways. The issue is no longer using or not using technology; it’s how to use it with students in meaningful ways. Technology can actually shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps if used actively not passively. It redefines borders and barriers, encouraging students to connect with real researchers working on real-life projects.

Panelists’ proclaim that a classroom that’s using technology to create a “culture of innovation” should be noisy, with a high level of student and teacher engagement and plenty of collaborative spaces. In other words, the student should be the driver of the car, not the passenger.

Two Surprises

Panel members felt that most schools were moving too slow, as opposed to too fast, when incorporating technology into their classrooms. They assert that a recent FCC ruling has made money available for every school in the country to take advantage of the Internet. Two remaining challenges for rural school districts occur when there is no Internet availability or that the school doesn’t receive any bids to make it accessible. Another issue is how schools pay for and maintain classroom technology. Panel members suggested that there needs to be money set aside for replacing broken devices, perhaps on a four-five year refresh cycle. They added that leasing devices is often a better option for school districts than buying them.

It’s a mistake to assume that older teachers will not know how to use devices effectively in their lesson plans or that younger teachers know how to teach digitally just because they’ve grown up with cell phones and Facebook. Often the exact opposite is true!

What Reporters Can Do

Panel members urge journalists who write about education to tell the full stories by sharing what school administrators, teachers, kids, and parents learned from their mistakes along with practical tips about what worked and what’s next on the horizon.

I left the room feeling like it’s a learning curve for all of us, but one we should meet with enthusiasm and anticipation rather than fear.

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