Bridging Digital Inequality in Our Schools

One of my biggest passions is the evolution of personalized learning brought on by today’s technology.

If schools want to take this transition to digital seriously, we must first address the inequalities that exist when our students leave the campus. Too many kids end their school day without the ability to get online after hours, especially when you consider the economic divide that still exists throughout the country.

If Maslow had a hierarchy of needs for educational technology in our schools, the base of the pyramid would be digital equality. Without addressing this problem first, the promising implications of technology in learning will continue to fall short. No device, or even the most innovative learning platform, can make up for this deficiency. In fact, they both accentuate the problem of digital inequality.

So what will it take to fix this problem?

Washington can’t do it alone. Programs like ConnectEd, or initiatives like Common Core online assessments, won’t necessarily “force” schools to fix it. Instead, it will take the collaboration of educational technologists, IT and school administrators and Internet providers (whether broadband or wireless) to seek a more holistic solution to this fundamental need for all students.

Right now, and far too often, devices are forced on the classroom before digital equality exists. While important, it’s really not about the latest and greatest device (which is neither the day after its purchase). Instead, it should be more about what’s on the device that helps facilitate digital equality so that wherever students are, they have equal access to lessons and resources for a personalized learning experience.

Schools that succeed in the digital transition will not only have a plan for digital equality, but will focus on the goals and objectives of the digital transition, followed by the right applications and great content. The devices end up being in the background.

When press releases and news stories stop touting “iPad” or “Chromebook” deployments, it will be a telltale sign that schools are beginning to get it right. I continue to cringe every time I see a device manufacturer highlighted instead of the school’s goals and objectives for their students. It makes me wonder if blackboard or slate manufacturers received this much attention in the 20th century. I doubt it.