How Schools Use Digital Literacy to Promote Digital Equity

Digital equity seeks to equip everyone with the technological capacity to participate in an increasingly digital world, whether as empowered employees, learners, community members, and citizens.

This definition of digital equity expands upon commonly held notions that often conflate it solely to access and connectivity.

Instead, a broadened concept of digital equity must also focus on the quality of a person’s engagement with technology—whether they have the digital skills to operate it, are prepared to manage its inherent risks and challenges, and employ it beyond its basic capacity to supplement certain tasks.

In this sense, digital equity spans a multitude of divides that include access, connectivity, digital readiness, and digital use, among others. And as more schools and districts confront these divides, educators are turning to digital literacy to focus and extend digital equity efforts.

 

What is Digital Literacy?

Digital literacy encompasses a range of skills that enable people to become informed users of technology—to learn, create, communicate, and think with digital tools. Some of the skills include:

Basic digital skills focusing on the operation of technology

  • Understanding basic computer operations and demonstrating proficiency in their understanding of concepts underlying hardware, software, and connectivity
  • Employing productivity software, including word processing, multimedia, presentation, and spreadsheet tools, for a variety of projects
  • Practicing digital citizenship, following acceptable use policies, and recognizing cybersecurity risks
  • Performing research and leveraging media and information literacy when doing so

Computer science skills promoting tech-enhanced problem solving and creation over consumption

  • Demonstrating a disposition amenable to open-ended problem solving
  • Practicing the computational thinking process to develop repeatable or automated solutions
  • Producing computational artifacts through an iterative development process

Advanced literacy facilitating higher-order thinking and 21st-century skills through technology

  • Personalizing learning by using technology to set goals, build understanding, and demonstrate knowledge and skills
  • Powering critical thinking and problem solving through coalescing resources, documenting relevant information, and producing creative solutions and artifacts
  • Collaborating and communicating through technology with peers, as well as expanding learning networks beyond the school walls

 

Digital Literacy for Digital Equity

By developing this array of skills, digital literacy addresses the digital readiness divide and helps to overcome the digital use divide when available to all students. And focusing on digital equity as an end goal for a digital literacy program ensures its planning and implementation is holistic, intentional, and strategic. Digital equity is a guiding vision, and digital literacy is the actionable strategy.

 

How Three Districts Use Digital Literacy as a Tool for Equity

To conceptualize what a digital literacy program resembles under a digital equity initiative, the following section contains examples of three districts who are promoting digital literacy as a means to enhance equity.

Promoting Digital Skill Development

Albermale County Public Schools, as featured in an article by COSN, developed a holistic digital equity initiative that tied efficacy of their 1:1 program to requisite digital skill development.

Albermale County Public Schools, located in Virginia, spans 26 buildings across rural, urban, and suburban areas. Albermale educates 13,000 students; 30 percent of which are economically disadvantaged, and ten percent are English language learners.

In order to promote digital equity, the district launched an initiative that promoted access and connectivity with a 1:1 program and efforts to ensure authentic opportunities to use technology as part of the learning process.

COSN shares: “From the start, the district recognized that the most critical component of Digital Equity may be whether or not the students and teachers possess the literacy to take advantage of the available tools.”

Strategies employed by the district included:

  • Developing accessibility tools for younger learners to remove barriers to using technology
  • Enabling teachers and students to develop digital skills with hands-on practice
  • Offering flexibility and choice for students to design their own learning environments.
  • Crosswalking computer and content standards to provide opportunities for intentional tech

Overall, these efforts emphasized digital literacy alongside proven pedagogy throughout the deployment of their 1:1 program.

Pushing Connectivity Beyond School Walls

The Beaverton School District in Oregon has also made significant strides addressing digital equity through a multipronged approach.

In order to provide digital learning opportunities to their 40,000 students at over 70 schools, Beaverton School District created a holistic hotspot and connectivity project that provided students with access to the Internet even in after-hour capacities. While there is more information on the connectivity program here, some of the projects included:

  • Wi-Fi access at local businesses for students
  • Extended library hours
  • Take-home hotspots for students

In addition, the district has looked toward digital skill development as a critical means to strengthen digital equity. Beyond programs for students, the district offers a Latino family tech night, which educates parents on how to support their students with technology. By focusing on topics such as digital citizenship, the district is helping empower parents to support their students’ learning and establish expectations and rules for technology use.

Through this effort, Beaverton School District extends the value of connectivity by making sure that students have the parental resources and support for their digital learning experiences.

Teaching Teachers to Teach with Tech (say that five times fast 😉)

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which was named the 2019 District of the Year, embarked on their journey toward digital equity in 2012 with a 1.2 billion-dollar bond that they used to deploy devices and boost bandwidth in their over four hundred schools serving more than 350,000 students.

To truly harness the potential of this technology investment, the district focuses heavily on equipping their teachers with digital literacy to adequately integrate technology into the learning experience. For example, the district offers digital literacy days, which are a PD opportunity for teachers, as well as a district conference event for instructional leadership from each school in the district.

These professional learning opportunities help educators identify authentic way to use technology in the classroom, like using Google Earth to explore different locations, connecting students to experts via Skype, or encouraging students to create apps and programs to hone their math skills, as explained in this article by District Administration. The PD also emphasizes building student-centered classrooms with hands-on, personalized, and student-led learning opportunities.

Finally, there are also district-appointed digital facilitators who travel between schools to offer support to teachers, like co-teaching, standards-aligned lessons, and training opportunities.

 

What This Means for Digital Literacy – and Digital Equity

While all of these initiatives are different in nature, there is a consistent thread of not only educating students but also the adults in their lives, whether it is parents or teachers. Because technology so rapidly evolves, it makes us all learners, so the efficacy of a digital literacy program rests in part on the skill level of adults and their ability to support digital learning experiences of students, model positive online behavior, and encourage students to deploy technology in innovative ways.

While digital equity is complex, a digital literacy program begins to fill the critical divides that rise in the wake of greater access and connectivity and face both students and their larger communities.

Insights By

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Anna McVeigh-Murphy

Anna is equip’s managing editor, though she also likes to dabble in writing from time to time. Anna is passionate about helping educators leverage technology to connect with and learn from each other. In pursuing digital learning communities, she has worked with several hundred educators to tell their stories and share their insights via online publications. Outside of this, she has also led professional development for teachers in both English and Arabic and served as the primary editor for several university professors writing both book chapters and journal articles. Anna is also an avid baker and self-described gluten enthusiast, a staunch defender of the oxford comma, and a proud dog mom to two adorable rescue pups.

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