The pandemic has challenged all educators and pushed us further than we ever thought possible. In less than a year, schools and districts launched online programs to meet the needs of students and families. Teachers were trained by the thousands to plan engaging lessons by integrating technology tools.
In addition to overcoming those hurdles, teachers, schools and districts made enormous strides in providing internet connectivity, devices and curriculum to students everywhere while implementing innovative learning models.
Heading into the summer, however, we began to hear, “My students are ‘zoomed’ out,” and teachers, students and families were for the most part eagerly anticipating the return to in-person learning.
With the 2021-22 academic year fully underway across the country, there is an urgency to continue the momentum from the last 18 months. The emphasis and laser focus on implementing digital teaching and learning has perceptibly shifted to conversations and meetings on how to spend ESSER funds and recover from “learning loss.”
More than ever, educators and education leaders need to ask ourselves two questions:
- How can we maintain and expand upon the progress we’ve made to ensure ongoing innovation and deeper implementation of digital teaching and learning?
- How can we move forward and take on an asset-based lens, focusing on the “opportunities for learning” rather than ‘learning gaps?”
Now is the time to partner and invest our time, resources and collective expertise to bridge the digital equity and opportunity gap by developing systems accessible to all. Here are three ways we can advance inclusive digital solutions to ensure that every student has access to learning anytime, everywhere.
1. Continue to focus on access for every student and household.
The national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway and its Digital Bridge K-12 project offers resources to support districts in this process. With 9.7 million students still without reliable internet connectivity at home, leaders need to take action to expand broadband access beyond the school walls. Here you will find a robust data-based approach with a Needs Assessment Playbook, Connectivity Toolkit and essential advice for districts who are setting up their first device lending program.
In addition to broadband access, it is critical to continue expanding access to high quality virtual learning opportunities given the ongoing, high demand for remote learning. This article provides an overview of learning models in 100 large, urban districts during this time of school reopenings. As of September 6, 94% are offering some form of remote, virtual learning options in response to exploding demand. As districts continue to explore ways to provide multi-modal opportunities for learning, it is important to continue to leverage community resources and explore innovative ways to partner and implement virtual, in-person and hybrid learning.
2. Offer more and varied professional learning opportunities that target technical and pedagogical skills.
Research conducted at Arlington Public Schools in Virginia has demonstrated that while digital devices certainly enhance learning, it is essential that teachers also have adequate technical support and planning time. Job-embedded, personalized and ongoing coaching is especially effective. A blog post published by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology outlines how coaches can support powerful learning with technology through three key areas: teaching, teacher-coach collaboration and coaching programs.
Along with technical support and targeted professional learning, the research also found that teachers would benefit from more time to create, practice and experiment with technology. As districts move forward, it is recommended that they provide time in teachers’ schedules to put their new learning into practice.
3. Focus on student impact — measure and collect.
We know that technology has the potential to positively impact student engagement and learning. It is essential that we maintain our collective focus on student outcomes, including increased engagement and digital literacy. With the investments in technology, creating a digital learning plan will ensure that we are monitoring and improving technical support and materials. To accomplish this, weaving data collection and evaluation into the plan will help to monitor its effectiveness moving forward.
Student impact briefs, such as this one from North Carolina, leverage existing sources of data, such as the SpeakUp survey, to “tell the story” of the impact of technology on learning. This is a reminder to us all of the opportunities that lay ahead of us to write our next chapter and share our stories of digital transformation.
Janice Mak is a K-12 teacher on assignment from Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion is to create and sustain inclusive and equitable STEM learning opportunities for every student. To this end, she was invited to chair Arizona Department of Education's technology task force and is honored to serve on several boards, including the Arizona State Board of Education and Computer Science Teachers Association.