Educators who are passionate about using technology in the classroom are always on the lookout for new and engaging ways to utilize digital tools and devices. Technology has countless benefits in education and has been proven especially advantageous for students with special needs. A recent spark of interest led a colleague and I toward the realm of VR (virtual reality) in an academic setting. We have looked into purchasing a set of Google Cardboards to house in the school library for classes to use in conjunction with a BYOD (bring your own device) program. Using the cardboard requires a smartphone with a touch screen. In my school community, and countless others, this raises the question of equity. As a leader in technology, how can I help provide the students in my building with equitable access to digital tools and resources?
One idea is to use district funds to purchase devices that students can borrow with a check-out system. My current school has that option somewhat, but the budget is limited. Furthermore, that money won’t always be there. Another option is to seek funding through grants and/or local groups to fund devices. I have submitted projects to DonorsChoose and had them fully funded in the past, however, previous projects were of significantly lower value than a class set of iPods . . . another promising, but not entirely reliable option. A third idea that I have brainstormed and hope to put in motion before the end of this school year is to organize a device recycling program, where people in the community can donate their old smartphones for educational use. We can simply wipe the devices and re-purpose them to use with VR. I believe the most generative solution is to implement a combination of these ideas.
Part of being a successful teacher is becoming a master of reflection. Though I had seemingly found an answer to my question, it continued to nag at me and I knew there was more to address regarding digital equity. Equitable access to technology means more than simply having enough devices for every student to use at school. It also includes sufficient bandwidth to support learning opportunities with those devices at any time. School districts need to make this a high priority everywhere. Technology has the ability to level the playing field for students who are disadvantaged by socioeconomic barriers, but only if everyone is able to participate. Regardless of digital access at home, the effective use of devices in the classroom has the potential to improve student learning.
Finally, all students deserve the chance to have meaningful and productive digital experiences presented to them by teachers who have a deep understanding of technology. Teachers need to know how to use digital tools to enhance their current practices and continue to innovate the field of education. In a perfect world, all educators and educators in training would receive training to achieve basic digital literacy through a program like Microsoft’s Digital Literacy Curriculum, for example. Equally important is a strong foundation of policies addressing the various elements needed for equal access. Teachers and teacher leaders should develop clear and consistent policies that:
- Ensure individuals know how to access the technology
- Outline where to go for help getting access
- Be flexible enough to accommodate diverse learners and instructional needs