Digital equity goes beyond having a functioning device and basic internet. Educators need to address three dimensions of digital equality in order to successfully support access and inclusion in teaching and learning.
2021 National Leadership Technology Summit held at the National Press Club in DC, supported by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, that National Education Association, and Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, provided an opportunity for edtech association presidents, journal editors, and new leaders to discuss these aspects in shaping the edtech policy of the future.
During the event, these topics were explored as part of the effort to ensure that all students, families and teachers can be properly supported to get the most out of edtech and learning.
1. Pay close attention to biased coding algorithms
As edtech continues to emerge, we strongly trust machine learning and artificial intelligence to support teaching and learning. For example, bots are used in various edtech applications to help students navigate online learning programs, help with grade assessments, and act as virtual advisors.
While bots have the potential to make teaching more effective, these programs perform based on code was created by people who are flawed and bring their real experiences to their work. Consequently, code may have unconscious prejudices regarding race, ethnicity, and gender. 2020 Coded bias movies on Netflix document this, and viewing it can be a starting point for understanding that even machines can help perpetuate stereotypes and bias. Therefore, when working towards digital equity, the potential of bias in coding algorithms must be taken into account as more schools use programs that rely on bots.
2. Maintain a high level of technoethics
As more and more students need to use edtech devices and learn through online platforms, we as educators need to make sure to protect their privacy, data and personal information.
Misuse of students ‘and their families’ information for marketing and other purposes is contrary to the ethical standards and oaths we take to avoid harming students. Remember that families trust that educators not only teach their children but also protect them. Yes, this includes physical security, but also their privacy and information.
If it’s been a while since you reviewed some of the laws that protect students when learning online, it may be time to review Children’s rule on privacy online (COPPA) and The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
In addition, we must be responsible and ethical in our use of information from other sources and provide proper credit. If you are in doubt about when to use content found online from other sources or how to cite these sources, review related laws regarding Fair use and copyright. There are a number of different open source sites, and one in particular that can be helpful is Creative communities.
Take advantage of culturally responsive teaching practices online
Giving students access to academic content, even if edtech tools and virtual spaces do not automatically correspond to reasonable learning experiences. In fact, the digital divide continues to grow as issues of access to strong and consistent bandwidth and Internet in low-income and rural areas still remain, as does the lack of digital literacy skills needed to navigate virtual spaces. Family engagement also remains a challenge, including problems with work schedules, learning times, and outdated school-sponsored units.
Linking these issues to the challenges of creating a secure classroom community in an online context – taking into account all students’ cultures, beliefs and perspectives – only exacerbates the digital divide and gender inequalities when it comes to online learning and the use of edtech – tools in educational settings for certain marginalized school communities. The ways in which personal learning environments must be free from bias and discrimination must translate into online learning environments.
Culturally responsive teaching online and in person: An action planner for dynamic equal opportunities for learning environments, an upcoming book through Corwin, has countless pedagogical strategies and techniques for incorporating culturally responsive and gender-oriented teaching practices into online and virtual learning environments. For example, utilizing virtual and augmented reality edtech tools such as Google Arts and Culture is a hassle-free way to digitally connect history, geography and art plans with the different cultures of the students in the class. Another way to integrate culturally responsive teaching into online learning environments is to ensure that all edtech tools used include features that are inclusive for all students. This includes having avatars, emojis and bitmojis that come in different shades, hairstyles and facial features so that they can represent all the different students in the classroom.
These areas of digital equality need to be addressed to ensure that all students, families and teachers can experience reasonably technology-based education and are only the beginning of what could be done to ensure inclusive access to digital learning materials.