5 Things that Every Educator Should Know about Digital Equity
The achievement gap is an ongoing problem in public education. An abundance of data shows that student performance is correlated with demographic markers such as race, gender, and socio-economic status. While the achievement gap has always been a problem in education, emerging educational technologies present both hopes for a remedy and the potential for increased harm. Here are five things that every educator should know about digital equity:
First, stereotype threat is a real problem. This occurs when student performance is negatively impacted when students are reminded of stereotypes about various groups. This means that teachers need to be extra vigilant to ensure that digital media does not include harmful stereotypes, such as the idea that women are not good at math. Educators need to carefully vet images, videos, and written materials to ensure that they undermine–and do not promote–stereotypes.
Second, educators need to be sure that digital tools are not being used solely because they are less expensive but rather are only adopted because they improve learning. The temptation to put one hundred students in a computer lab with algebra software and one teacher is surely great, but unless that software is proven to enhance academic achievement, it does a disservice to the students who need excellent teaching the most.
Third, teachers need to be sure that edtech is accessible to all students. This means that educators will need to ensure that students have Internet access outside of class before they make an assignment that requires it—or the teachers will need to figure out how to provide that access to students (by, for example, providing them with mobile hotspots to take home).
Fourth, educators need to ensure that any edtech promotes vocabulary development and rich content exposure. One of the single most important keys to helping students avoid the famed “fourth-grade slump” in reading is to be sure that they have a rich vocabulary, particularly for academic and abstract words. And this is not just for fourth graders—older students will only be able to augment their reading comprehension to the extent that their oral vocabulary can support what they are reading. Unfortunately, disadvantaged students are less likely to encounter academic and abstract vocabulary at home, which means that it is extra important for educators to ensure that edtech aids—not limits—rich vocabulary development.
Fifth, the best tool to ensure digital equity might just be another digital tool: rigorous data analysis. Most educators are now aware of the ways in which digital tools can transform their assessment process from a general hunch (“I don’t know if they all understand ratios”) to actionable, specific information: “Twenty-four of my students chose answer C on this question, which means that they don’t understand how ratios can be used to solve a word problem.” Data analysis can be used to ensure that all students are mastering the content.