Digital equity panelists at ISTE included Ari Flewelling, CDW Education education strategist and a former high school teacher; Jason Bailey, director of innovation and design for the State Educational Technology Directors Association; and Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking.

Jun 28 2022

ISTELive 2022: Educators Must Push Back Against Negative Views of Ed Tech Post-Pandemic

While there are positives coming out of the pandemic, panelists say having a better understanding of digital equity can narrow the divide.

Panelists for “Continuing Digital Equity Advocacy in the Wake of Emergency Remote Learning” at ISTE kicked off the session by recapping some of the good, bad and ugly that came out of the pandemic and affected educational technology.

Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, pointed out one of the positives: A CoSN survey revealed that some 90 percent of students went to a one-to-one environment during the pandemic. “We learned that we can move a lot faster than we thought,” he said. “We showed an opportunity for innovation.”

Others noted an increase in communication with parents. However, Krueger said, “our emergency use of educational technology had ripple effects. Some are now saying that remote learning failed.”

“We keep hearing about learning loss, and we need to unpack that in a more nuanced way,” he added. “We recently published a blog from a superintendent in Connecticut who found that, yes, many of his kids did fall behind. However, he also found that 20 percent of his students did better and preferred the learning environment at home.”

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Jason Bailey, director of innovation and design for the State Educational Technology Directors Association, said, “On the downside, some aren’t seeing the folks who had a thoughtful approach to virtual learning ahead of the pandemic, and they are now making policy based on people who are doing it badly. I can’t say enough that we need to distinguish between emergency remote learning and quality virtual learning.”

Bailey added, “Hybrid is supposed to combine the best of both in-person and virtual learning. However, when we say hybrid nowadays, many of us are thinking of ‘dirty hybrid,’ where teachers are teaching in-person and online students at the same time, and nobody wants that.”

Ari Flewelling, an educational strategist with CDW Education and a former high school teacher and in-district professional development provider, clarified: “Emergency remote learning is not blended learning, not flipped learning nor virtual learning. If you’re not trained or educated in this, like some of our stakeholders and some of our state-level legislators, you’re not going to know the difference.” 

DIVE DEEPER: Without digital equity, students lose the opportunity to learn.

Educators Must Understand Various Types of Digital Equity

Panelists also noted that having a true understanding — especially among policymakers — of what digital equity entails will go a long way toward improving access. Flewelling pointed to the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education, which has found that digital equity is built on availability, affordability and adoption.

“We also know equity is giving people what they need, not giving everyone the same thing,” Flewelling said. “When we are giving students devices, we must ask: Is that really the right device for their program of study? The right device for their accessibility?”

Jason Bailey
Another thing to consider is the cybersecurity piece. If you’re susceptible to cyberattacks, you’re not providing equitable internet safety.”

Jason Bailey Director of Innovation and Design, State Educational Technology Directors Association

She emphasized that both device access and connectivity are critical to determining impact.

“The device makes a difference,” Krueger confirmed. “When a technology director is purchasing a device, he needs to know the types of applications that students are using. And for many, the No. 1 application is video, so they need to buy the highest-standard Chromebook possible.”

Bailey added, “We must also be aware of different types of equity. There is equity of access, equity of devices and equity in professional development. We must ask, have teachers been adequately trained to provide equitable instruction? Another thing to consider is the cybersecurity piece. If you’re susceptible to cyberattacks, you’re not providing equitable internet safety.”

A quick poll during the session revealed that the biggest digital equity gap for attendees is professional development, giving credence to Bailey’s comment that there can be digital equity gaps among educators too.

RELATED: Roundtable: Is digital equity attainable in K–12 education?

Ed Tech Enthusiasts Must “Lead Where They Are” as Advocates

Panelists wrapped up the session by urging attendees to become advocates in their schools, districts, communities and with policymakers in all levels of government.

Flewelling emphasized that each school district should have a technology integrationist advocating for educational technology. 

Bailey encouraged attendees to “lead where you are, and lead up. You have a responsibility to take that learning back to where you live and make things better.”

DISCOVER: How using student data improves equity and learning outcomes.

Calling the Federal Communications Commission’s 25-megabit-per-second download speeds and 3Mbps upload speeds for a highly connected home inadequate, Krueger spoke to the importance of advocacy that has nationwide impacts.

“That won’t work for learning from home,” he said. “We need a different standard. With mom and dad working from home and at least two kids per family learning from home, we need to look at minimum upload speeds of 12Mbps.”

He added, “Don’t presume there is one solution that will fix equity for every student.”

“Advocacy isn’t lonely work,” Flewelling reassured attendees. “There is a community of people right here at ISTE who want to drive this forward. You are not alone. Maybe what you’re doing in your district won’t scale up to the state’s department of education, but it could scale to your nearby district or to your feeder district, allowing good stories to rise to the top.”

Keep up with EdTech: Focus on K–12’s coverage on our ISTELive page and via Twitter with the hashtag #ISTELive.

Photo: Taashi Rowe

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