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Closing the Digital Divide






Narrow those digital literacy gaps and make technology more accessible for every student.



Judging from the hot discussion points in today's conversations, there seem to be a lot of "gaps" in education right now. Students face the dreaded achievement gap while offices are forced to confront the efficiency gap. But there's one gap in particular that touches everyone - students, teachers, and administrators alike. It's called the digital literacy gap.

To understand the digital literacy gap better, it's important to look at the current state of the workforce and what that might mean for students. An astonishing 60% of students in school today will end up in careers that do not yet exist, according to Eileen Huang of Google's education team in this District Administration seminar transcript

"If you think about it, many of the tech roles that you and I have today didn't exist when we were in school," she said. "Many non-tech roles have changed dramatically as well, generally as a result of adoption of technology." Huang argues that many careers in technology cannot even be predicted yet, and research has shown she's correct; 96% of working Americans use new communications technologies as part of their daily life, while 62% use the Internet as an integral part of their jobs, according to this Pew Internet and American Life Project study.

It's clear, then, that students graduating high school today will need to be well-versed when it comes to navigating technology and the web. Your staff will also continue to see their roles change as technology becomes a more integrated part of our daily lives. Yet, in both cases, background and opportunity play a significant role in determining how confident and proficient an individual is while using that technology. Whether that divide is generational, socio-economical, or driven by other factors, one fact remains: the playing field is not level. 

It's time to narrow the digital divide. In this article, we'll explore some of the options at your disposal to help you close the digital literacy and access gaps within your district and community. Ultimately, success in this endeavor will result in more internal efficiency and improved student achievement - two goals that every school district is striving for.
 

Students...will be expected to act as responsible digital citizens, but they can’t do that without putting in the necessary hours.


Classrooms

There are a number of ways in which districts and educators can work to increase and expand digital literacy and access to technology in the classroom. Consider taking on district initiatives such as 1:1 programs, putting devices into the hands of those who may not have one at home. Some districts even encourage students to go mobile - bringing in and using smartphones in class, instead of banning them outright.

One benefit of allowing students to access and practice using these devices early in their education is the expectation that they will be more seasoned and savvy when it comes to using technology in their careers and daily lives. Students’ typing skills, for example, can be developed from an early age so they have ample time before high school graduation to hone a skill that has become a basic requirement for many jobs today. The more access to technology students have throughout their schooling, the better they will be able to adapt to technology’s changes throughout their adult lives.
 
Another aspect of technology to take into consideration is your district’s learning management system (LMS). By moving paper-based classroom processes online, you’re giving students a chance to become more comfortable using digital tools in their day-to-day lives. Simple tasks such as navigating, communicating, and submitting can do wonders for the confidence of an otherwise disadvantaged student.
 
Consider training your teachers on effective social media applications in the classroom. Online research projects can also be a great method for introducing more digital touches into the classroom. The library is still a great resource, but very few of the students growing up today will ever need to rely on books for more than a fraction of their research in college or on the job.
 
Students planning to pursue higher education (or any jobs even remotely connected to technology) will be expected to act as responsible digital citizens, but they can’t do that without putting in the necessary hours. Making sure that all students in classrooms have access to a device – whether personal or provided by your district – will help to ensure an equal opportunity to learn the the digital skills they’ll need in their post-graduation lives.
 
If there's one area that has the potential to sink all of your technology initiatives at once, it's your network infrastructure.


Professional Development and Infrastructure

Narrowing the digital divide across your district’s campus can seem like an onerous task. However, there are key areas of your district to evaluate and focus on. Professional development programs are an excellent way to help staff adjust, and catch up if needed, so they can educate students more effectively and become more efficient themselves. Consider distributing weekly professional development videos with a focus on technology integration.

As educators and support staff become more confident in their technological capabilities, their competence will soon translate into increased student success. Technology is constantly changing, so your students, staff, and educators must always be learning.
 
If there's one area that has the potential to sink all of your technology initiatives at once, it's your network infrastructure. As technology continues to grow at an exponential rate, it will become increasingly important to allocate sufficient funds to keep district infrastructure up to date and grow bandwidth. If your district lacks the staffing to keep up, consider bringing in outside IT specialists - in many cases, this will result in significant cost savings versus trying to handle everything in house.

Ask your current SIS/ERP provider how they can help in this capacity – do they offer services like network consulting and support, supplemental IT staffing, network security solutions, or disaster recovery? Can you use those E-rate funds to reduce the impact on your budget? If you’re not sure, now is the time to find out. Partnerships with technology professionals can help you narrow the digital divide by enabling across-the-board accessibility.
 
It's a theme we visit often, but there's something to be said for collaborating with your community.


Community

It's a theme we visit often, but there's something to be said for collaborating with your community. Providing parents and community members with resources and information can help to further your district initiative and get everyone working toward that common goal of narrowing the digital divide. Consider distributing handouts or making public announcements to offer information on where individuals can access the Internet and a computer or printer in the community, if they do not have access at home.

Some districts even provide computers in their lobbies for parents who do not have access to devices at home or work. This Texas district purchased front office computer kiosks for all of its schools, so parents could register their children for classes on-site. For families with devices and Internet access at home, districts can provide information on appropriate educational websites or mobile applications for children.
 
To further engage your community in district initiatives, look into forming partnerships with area businesses and organizations that are interested in helping students - and the community itself - increase digital literacy and technology access. Check out this District Administration article on Miami-Dade County Public Schools to see how the district implemented a “Wi-Fi-on-the-go” program to extend students’ learning and exposure to technology outside classroom walls.
 
For another good example of district partnerships that narrow the digital divide, see this DA article about the EveryoneOn program in Georgia schools, which was funded by the James M. Cox Foundation. The program provides tablet computers and educational content to families enrolled in Cox Communications’ Connect2Compete Internet service program. By educating your district’s families and community and providing access to devices, you’ll help ensure all individuals have the opportunity to use technology and learn skills that are vital for the future. 


Continue working toward a more harmonious combination of technology and pedagogy by making it a priority in your professional development strategy. Explore deeper partnerships with your most trusted vendors and local organizations in an effort to address gaps in digital access and literacy. Every student deserves a shot at success, but they'll be hard-pressed to find it in this day and age without at least a basic background in how to use technology.


 


 
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