This module should take you 16-21 minutes to complete.
Assess the most relevant equity issues related to technology and digital learning in your program and/or community and create a plan to address them within your program.
- Do we know what inequities our students face when it comes to digital access and digital use?
- How do we currently address these inequities in our program?
- What more do we need to learn about the barriers to access to technology and digital learning that our students may be facing?
You may already have a good sense of the most pressing equity issues that students and families in your program face. If this is the case, honing in on how the equity issues impact students in relationship to digital learning and technology can help you determine how your program can address these disparities.
This section will help you look more deeply at the equity issues your students face related to technology and digital learning. It will also help you begin to address them. In this section you can expect to accomplish the following:
- Identify the equity issues students in your school/community face related to digital learning and technology.
- Gain an understanding of some common equity issues at the heart of the digital divide.
- Learn strategies to help low-income and marginalized students gain or maintain access to technology and quality digital learning opportunities.
As you move forward with your efforts to address equity related to technology and digital learning, it is important to be clear and have everyone on the same page about what the language means. Here are some definitions that may be helpful for you and your stakeholders:
Equity means that each person or group has equal access to economic, social, and educational opportunities. For members of groups that have been excluded from resources, equity may involve providing greater resources to compensate for past exclusion and discrimination.
The digital divide is the socioeconomic and educational disparity between people who have opportunities and skills enabling them to benefit from digital resources, especially the internet, and those who do not.
Access in relationship to the digital divide, means students have access to computers, the internet, and other information technologies, as well as opportunities to not only be consumers of technology but also producers.
Becoming familiar with how the digital divide impacts your students can help you identify strategies to close the gap in your program. There are education, social, and economic equity impacts of the digital divide that affect young people.
- In a 2015 survey, nearly half of all students reported that they have been prevented from completing a homework assignment because they lacked access to the internet or a computer.
- Internet access is crucial for individuals to maintain or increase their participation in the civic and social spheres.
- Digital knowledge is increasingly required across sectors of the workforce. Without opportunities to engage actively with digital learning, low-income students will not have the chance to develop the skills needed to succeed in postsecondary education and work and earn livable wages.
You can get a deeper look at how the digital divide impacts students in this report: Empowering Afterschool Professionals for Digital Learning Report
Putting Equity Front and Center:
“We have to walk the talk. If we want to create a new normal for the girls in our program, the same values have to be reflected in the organization.” - Nikole Collins-Puri, CEO
Techbridge Girls champions equity in STEM education and fair access to economic opportunity for all girls. No exceptions. Their mission is to excite, educate, and equip 4th thru 12th grade girls from low-income communities to pursue STEM careers, achieve economic mobility and better life chances. They design high-quality, fun STEM programs and learning experiences and train educators to deliver STEM programs to marginalized girls across the U.S. They partner with families, STEM professionals, school districts, and educators to ensure the ecosystem surrounded by girls understand the influence and critical supports needed for a girl to persist and succeed in STEM careers. Techbridge Girls understands the gender and racial gap in STEM and believes that providing STEM opportunities to girls from low-income is a pathway toward economic security.
In addition to providing programming specifically targeted at girls in low-income communities, Techbridge Girls is committed to intentionally addressing the inequities the girls in the program face by incorporating practices and strategies on all levels of the organization. When it comes to addressing inequities within programming, staff adapt curriculum as needed. For example, staff understand that there is not a level playing field at all schools they serve. For some students, technology is used every day. While others have challenges with connectivity or learning the basic skills because of access to equipment or language barriers. Young girls have also facilitated conversations about the digital divide and how it impacts them and their communities. Staff frequently find ways to make activities as accessible and culturally relevant as possible. Staff not only understand the importance of girls being able to see women who come from their communities in STEM careers, but find it critical to have role models visit the program to give the girls encouragement, advice, connect them to their networks, and even provide college recommendation letters. This social capital helps students tremendously as many would not otherwise have access to female role models in tech.
Organizationally, Techbridge Girls has embarked on a journey to examine, reassess, and implement new practices on all levels of the organization in order to put equity front and center. With the help of an outside consultant and its new leadership, Techbridge Girls conducted a curriculum review, adapted their evaluation tool, incorporated more professional development, and adapted organizational policies to better address equity. They are proud to be a 95% women and 60% people of color staffed organization, and they continue to work toward ensuring equitable policies are in place. This includes hiring more staff that represent the communities they serve, making sure staff salaries are competitive with the 70th percentile of the market rate , ensuring staff receive adequate medical benefits, and making sure staff are empowered to contribute to the success of the organization through their voice, skills and experiences. They see this work as a journey to keep equity as a value they strive to fully uphold.
“When you educate a girl in STEM, you impact her whole family and community. When we include all girls in the STEM economy, we can regain our competitive advantage for innovation and transform the GDP of this country.” - Nikole Collins-Puri, CEO, Techbridge Girls
Job Training Through Digital Arts
“There’s a lot of creativity in the city, but the opportunities to get paid for it are opaque” -Ashley Teamer, YEP Design Works Manager
Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is based in New Orleans, LA and works with underserved young people of color through community-based education, and mentoring and employment readiness programs. YEP Design Works is the Work and Learn Center’s creative digital media training program. The program started as an afterschool club at a local high school because young people did not have access to arts programming and were finding creative outlets on their own.
YEP Design Works is a graphic design agency catering to local and national clients to create branding and marketing campaigns and materials. Many students who apply for this program are supporting themselves, need to contribute financially to their households or are saving for computers or other equipment for a creative career. Through this program students earn an education stipend. In the first 6-week phase of the program, young people gain graphic design skills with Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Phase two lasts six months, includes a stipend increase and the opportunity to apply for a six-week externship with a local company that enables them to put their learned skills into practice while getting on-the-ground job experience. In this second phase, students can increase their graphic design skills by learning additional programs. Staff support students to build portfolios, transition to a college track, become freelance designers or even get hired permanently at a local company.
In addition to addressing the financial need of young people and providing them with the skills necessary to obtain long term living wage jobs, YEP Design Works also exposes students to role models who reflect the communities young people come from and who can also talk about life issues students may encounter. Seeing a diverse range of role models including UI designers, interior designers, graphic designers, architects, video game designers, photographers and others allows students to better understand the possibility of having a career that enables them to use their creativity, apply the skills they have learned in the program and earn a living.
“The hourly wage that is provided is extremely important, a lot of young people would not be able to do the program if they didn’t get paid.”
Whether you already have a good understanding of the ways the digital divide impacts students in your program or not, this process will help you identify targeted ways to provide access to technology and quality digital learning programming.
1. Assess current equity impacts of the digital divide in your program/community.
- Why is it a priority to help close the digital divide in our program?
- What are the most pressing equity impacts created by the digital divide that students in our program face?
By reflecting on these questions you will find that you probably have a clear understanding of the general equity issues your students face, but may not have explored and assessed the equity issues related to technology. If you have already explored and assessed the equity issues, think about how you are addressing this.
Choose some of the following strategies listed to identify the inequities created by the digital divide that your students currently face.
To assess the equity impacts of the digital divide for your students, incorporate the following questions into surveys you are already administering, or adapt the questions to create parent/guardian or student surveys.
Common Equity Impacts Created by the Digital Divide
The digital divide deeply impacts opportunities for student success, especially low-income students and students of color. Following are some prevalent equity implications that stem from the digital divide.
2. Determine possible strategies.
You may not be able to immediately address all the equity impacts you identify. That is OK. Begin by identifying the priority or highest leverage issues. Following is a list of potential strategies you can implement to address some of the equity impacts listed in step 1.
3. Implement strategies.
Now that you are clear on the equity impacts you want to address and have identified strategies to address these issues, create a plan for implementation.
4. Measure your success.
After you have identified the inequities you want to address and have determined which strategies you will implement, think about how you will measure success.
Think about what you have read here and consider what you can do to advance equity in your program through digital learning. These questions will help you get started:
- What is the first strategy we can utilize to find out more about what inequities young people in our program face when it comes to accessing digital information and devices?
- Who do we know that is passionate about equity who can help us move forward?
- Policy Studies Associates’ report Empowering Afterschool Professionals for Digital Learning makes a clear case for digital learning as an equity issue that can be addressed through afterschool.
- Digital Promise’s video How Education Innovation Clusters Advance Equity showcases programs and schools that use digital learning as a strategy for equity.
- The documentary Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America presents compelling stories of young people who do not have access to technology juxtaposed against stories of other students who do.
- Toward Equality of Access describes the role of public libraries in addressing the digital divide.
- SoulPancake’s Homework Gap YouTube Video is a great clip that explores what advantages (and disadvantages) students have thanks to the internet.
- Continue learning with the next module of the Toolkit.
- Sign up for a training session.
- Share your thoughts and participate in community chats on Twitter by using the hashtag #AfterschoolTech.
- Join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on new module releases and training events.
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Main photo courtesy of BELL | Building Educated Leaders for Life.