Internet connectivity is a big deal for learner equity and access. Unfortunately, between 15 and 16 million K — 12 learners and 400,000 educators in the United States lacked adequate connectivity, a device or both in 2020. To help the country close this digital divide, a goal of meeting or exceeding internet access at speeds of at least one megabit per second (Mbps) per student was set by the FCC. The number of K-12 school districts meeting this goal rose 25% due to efforts in the past year. While acknowledging this progress, we must continue advocating for access until all districts and homes are connected since educational equity relies on infrastructure and digital access for all students at school and home.
As Ken Shelton, educator, consultant and designer, states so clearly in a Sept. ASCD article, “One of the most important lessons we can learn after more than a year of pandemic-related disruption, is that it is not possible to have a truly equitable learning environment absent robust technology access. Without ensuring access as a foundational baseline, we can’t address other equity factors.”
It’s an absolute necessity that each child in the nation has a reliable device and connectivity. However, truly achieving educational equity will depend on what we do with technology once learners, educators and schools are connected. So how can we prepare today to support learner equity and access as much as possible now and in the future?
Create student experiences that promote equity
Learning experiences should be designed with equity at the center, where learners are seen and valued for who they are. All students need access to and ownership of the tools that best support them as learners and opportunities “to engage with learning experiences that are targeted, authentic, relevant, socially connected, and growth-oriented,” explains Beth Holland, partner at The Learning Accelerator, in a recent EdSurge article.
Build on authentic relationships to engage students in real-world learning
Relationships are at the heart of education. Building relationships with learners means building rapport and getting to know them. In a Holdsworth Center blog, Dr. Pedro Noguera, former classroom teacher and co-author of Excellence through Equity, encourages educators to move beyond stereotypes and assumptions to take an interest in learners’ lives outside of school to learn about the challenges they face, how they learn and their hopes and dreams. Having this deeper understanding of learners gives educators a greater possibility of providing their students with content and experiences that they care about.
Support opportunity and equity with technology tools
Like any other learning experience, those employing technology tools should encourage and engage students in higher-order thinking and creativity, instead of simply digitizing online worksheets and other one-size-fits-all instruction, notes Shelton.
Develop an environment where learners feel seen
When students feel that they belong and can express themselves without fear, learning and collaboration usually thrive as a result. Adelee Penner, from the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium, encourages educators to promote a culture of care by interacting with students from a growth mindset to create a space where all voices are valued. Educators can develop this type of environment within their groups by reaching out to learners using supportive language through the messaging features in Hāpara’s Student Dashboard and Highlights, shares Penner.
Tailored assignments help learners feel seen on an individual level. Teachers can use Hāpara to differentiate tasks and instruction delivery for specific learner needs and interests to make learning relevant. With Workspace cards, individualized content can be shared as text, video, audio, presentations or any combination of those. Links can also be pushed out to specific learners or groups of learners.
Promote engagement and collaboration through project-based learning
A challenging, relevant, real-world problem, along with the decision-making power on how to solve it builds students’ desire to engage and learn. In a recent ASCD interview, Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, explains, “What we know from the science of learning is that when human beings try to figure something out, the brain is fired with intellectual curiosity. The brain loves a puzzle, that’s the type of complexity that stimulates engagement.”
Project-based learning that emphasizes student voice and choice within a structured learning experience has the power to be a significant driver of equity in any classroom. For it to be effective, educators need tools to provide that structure. Otherwise, what’s called inquiry-based or project-based learning can become, in the words of Hammond, “a series of one-off or “fun” activities for struggling learners that is not cognitively interesting nor creating opportunities for them to actively process what they are hearing or reading.”
Hāpara Workspace is an excellent tool to help educators or learners structure projects. Having clear parameters including due dates, desired outcomes and expectations for each assignment and project helps students see their progress and manage their workflow.
The key to project-based learning is the critique and revision process. When learners are developing their project and ideas, it’s important that they get input and feedback from an authentic audience to improve and iterate on their ideas. Hāpara students working together in pairs and groups can make group tasks and assignments visible through the Dashboard sharing tab, Highlights activity tab and Workspace group assignments.
Workspace assignments make collaboration and peer feedback easy whether learners are together in the same classroom or not. It facilitates peer input, collaboration and other socially connected processes. In addition, students can demonstrate their understanding of content in a variety of ways, for instance, by receiving personalized evidence cards or adding their own evidence cards within Workspace.
Build autonomy, self-management and digital citizenship
Technology tools can support learner equity and access by enabling students to plan for and manage their learning. When learning is structured, students are less prone to distraction and can relax and focus on their studies. In addition, it reduces anxiety for students and teachers and for parents or other family members, including older siblings who are helping learners at home.
Hāpara Student Dashboard Digital Backpack is a tool that supports learners in developing their autonomy by helping them organize, manage and make decisions about their workflows. Digital Backpack provides a focused and targeted online learning environment that helps lower the stress on students, teachers and parents by allowing learners to access curriculum and other resources so that they can be successful regardless of where they are or what device they have.
Pedagogically-speaking, digital isn’t always the appropriate tool for the job, notes middle school art teacher, Rebecca Recco, which is precisely why she swears by Hāpara Workspace. It allows her and her students to organize learning that has nothing to do with screens.
In the first Workspace column, educators can plan learning goals with students or allow them to set learning goals for themselves and create their planning cards. Teachers can further support learner autonomy and project management skills by encouraging students to set specific, measurable, attainable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based goals.
To employ language that communicates a growth mindset, teachers can also use Highlights as a tool to reflect with students on making choices and focus on supporting them in developing the digital citizenship required to navigate our digital world throughout their lives sanely.
At the heart of equity are learning experiences and educator support that promote opportunities for learners to develop into their best selves. Using technology intentionally gives districts the potential to provide access and tools that facilitate this equitable learning environment for students everywhere.