Module 3: Building Digital Bridges Across the Divide

Introduction

EDTC 6101

ISTE Standard 7a: Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities.

Question: As technology continues to move our knowledge building, learning and interactions online, how do we re-frame our understanding of the role that schools play in our society by making it a space for equity, access, and community building?

As the conversation continues for what education is going to look like after the pandemic, there have been a lot of parents, students, and teachers who have said to me that they just ‘Wish things would return to normal.’ As an educator with a concerted focus on Academic & Career Advising due to the nature of my position, I believe there has been a new ‘normal’ that has been growing exponentially for some time, and COVID has pushed it to the forefront. What I can say with certainty, is that any district that does not embrace the digital age for their students and communities is going to be left behind. As we have seen throughout history, those who are left behind are often black, brown, and poor. Perpetuating an already disastrous rift through a lack of access to technology is ignoring it’s ability to level the playing field – something that we desperately need to align with our ‘equity and access’ goals. Within a Triple-E framework, embracing technology to allow students to build skills they can use in their everyday lives is just the tip of the iceberg.

Outside of the search for knowledge, education is at its best when it provides foundational tools for success in the job market. Financially, technology jobs are sound investments, with Software Developer’s making a median salary of $103,620 annually, according to the US New’s Best Jobs report of 2018. The Pew Research Center has written an article on the future of jobs and jobs training where they note, “A key idea emerging from many conversations, including one of the lynchpin discussions at the World Economic Forum in 2016, is that changes in educational and learning environments are necessary to help people stay employable in the labor force of the future. As we look to make changes in our schools to meet the current precautions necessary to keep our communities safe, we must consider how to best approach reconciling the demands of the present with the pressing needs of the future for our students.

How do we reopen our schools to be the “strong and inclusive public education systems [that] are essential to the short- and long-term recovery of society,” (Brookings, 2020)? The role of the school has traditionally been a response to the automation of the labor market. We no longer have the same needs, therefore we cannot abide by the same systems. Yet, not every school has the funding for an overnight embedding of technology in their classrooms. There is a lot that has to go to supporting these new systems, as well as school board, teacher, and student buy-in, professional development, upfront costs as well as maintenance. Luckily, schools have already begun making the shift.

Technology funding for schools has, for the past few decades, been a part of budgeting and planning for districts. The U.S. government and other programs have provided resources to help struggling schools reappropriate, as well as discover, funding for digital education. Below are some of those resources.

Education for the Digital Age requires Access

Using whatever tools necessary to bridge the gap between low socioeconomic and wealthier academic institutions, technology – if incorporated into the local system using structurally sound frameworks – can level the playing field not only for our students, but for their families as well. The Brookings Institute has an article laying out options for schools and communities to sink their teeth into that provide potential solutions to build equity into a severely unequal situation.

The four options mentioned below could bridge the barrier for our lower socioeconomic students and schools. With high-speed, broadband access, and the devices to use it, our students could finally have access to their learning. Even as the pandemic lifts, more and more of our schooling will have to be online due to the increasing technological demands of the workforce pushing schools to embrace coding, STEM, and design as core requirements for graduating.

  1. Transform vacant local establishments into classrooms and provide technology access through unused business equipment
  2. Enable Wi-Fi in federally assisted housing or in parked school buses
  3. Reconfigure digital parking lots into digital parks
  4. Utilize local organizations to help solve local digital access challenges

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and as the Lifelong Learning Platform said, “It is not digital technology that creates changes in education, a methodology shift does!” (Lifelong Learning Platform, 2017). This is the next stage in our laying the groundwork for a more equitable and engaging digital education, and I look forward to digging into that more indepth in the next post.

References

Lifelong Learning Platform: European Civil Society for Education. (2017). Reimaginging education for the digital future. http://lllplatform.eu/lll/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/DigitalPaper_final.pdf

Rainie, L., Anderson, J. (2017, May 3). The future of jobs and jobs training. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/

Turner Lee, N. (2020, September 17). How courageous schools partnering with local communities can overcome digital inequalities during COVID-19. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2020/09/17/how-courageous-schools-partnering-with-local-communities-can-overcome-digital-inequalities-during-covid-19/

Vegas, E., Winthrop, R. (2020). Beyond reopening schools: How education can emerge stronger than before COVID-19. https://www.brookings.edu/research/beyond-reopening-schools-how-education-can-emerge-stronger-than-before-covid-19/

World Economic Forum. (2016). The future of jobs: Employment, skills, and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf

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