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Getting Started

The process of getting starting with digital equity – regardless of where you are in your journey

Across the country, schools and districts find themselves in very different places when it comes to digital equity. Some have worked for years to ensure that every student has access to a sufficient device and high-speed internet and now wonder, “What’s next”? Others may be at the very beginning of their journey, focused getting devices to students, and might be seeking concrete next steps.

Regardless of where you are on your journey, it is important to remember that addressing digital equity requires an iterative, ongoing process, which includes six key components:

  1. Assemble a Digital Equity Team
  2. Examine Existing Practices, Resources, and Needs
  3. Develop a Shared Vision
  4. Identify Areas for Improvement
  5. Take Action
  6. Begin Again

This first section includes two critical steps to help you get started:

  1. Building your digital equity team
  2. Reflecting on your current practices and needs by beginning a digital equity audit

As you progress through the rest of this guide, you will address each of the remaining components.

Too often, conversations about digital equity remain siloed in the technology department. While these individuals are certainly critical stakeholders, who else should contribute to the conversation, and why? An essential first step is to bring a diversity of perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the table so that your team represents those who are most affected by issues pertaining to digital equity: students, teachers, school and academic leaders, and the technology team. Given the holistic nature of the challenge, also consider adding outside stakeholders such as parents or community members who may view the challenge from supplementary perspectives and help to uncover uncommon solutions.

As you complete the activities below, ask yourself:

  • How do different roles and experiences influence our work together?

  • Are all of the voices and interests in our community – especially those often not included or represented – part of this process?

  • Why are we trying to do this work, and what are we hoping to accomplish?

Although digital equity is more than just a focus on digital access, meaningful conversations cannot begin if students and teachers do not have the tools that they need. At the most basic level, schools and districts need to ensure foundational access to laptops or tablets that can connect to the internet (i.e., more than just relying on student mobile phones and data plans) as well as procedures to protect student privacy and security. Depending on your context, geography, culture, and resources, you may approach the issue from a variety of perspectives and take a multitude of different approaches.

As you think about the digital foundations in your school or district, consider the following:

Device Access: While many schools and districts can ensure that students and teachers have access to devices and the internet at school, approximately 24 percent of students from low-income families do not have access to a computer at home and 19 percent lack broadband access. At the same time, approximately 100,000 teachers also do not have a computer at home.

Similarly, while districts provided students with laptops during the pandemic, many have now taken those devices back with the return of in-person learning, leaving students disconnected. This raises two additional concerns: ownership and sufficiency.

  • Ownership: When someone owns their device, they have full control over system settings, downloads, applications or software, and how they interact with the device itself. While districts may want to maintain some privacy and security protocols, teachers and students need the capacity to make their devices work in ways that best support them.

  • Sufficiency: Approximately 59 percent of respondents to a New America study reported that their computer runs too slowly or does not work properly to do meaningful work. In addition, device decisions are often made at the district level and in a uniform manner (e.g., single-device, one-to-one programs). However, some students and teachers require different capabilities or features.

Internet Access: Though most schools can reach the minimum bandwidth requirements as outlined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the pandemic illuminated the disparities in access for both teachers and students. A recent report from New America revealed that while access is up, many students and teachers remain under-connected, lacking enough bandwidth to participate in video conferencing, hindered by data-caps, and unable to work to their full potential.

Resources to Get Started

These partner organizations have created excellent tools and guides to address basic foundations and help get every student and teacher safely connected.

What This Looks Like in Practice

Depending on culture, context, and available resources, every school and district will take a different path towards digital equity. TLA has collected a series of examples and strategies that illustrate how different teams and organizations address basic technology infrastructure needs. The strategies present just a few possible solutions, and you can explore additional strategies on TLA’s site.

After assembling your digital equity team and developing an understanding of the basic foundations, your next step is to start working through a digital equity audit.

This digital equity audit is intended to foster productive dialogue within leadership teams in an iterative manner. Whether you are just beginning to think about digital equity or have been working on it for years, cycling through this audit will help to clarify vision and strategy, articulate needs, and identify areas for improvement.

Start your interactive digital equity audit by completing the Foundations section within the Self-Assessment Tool and the Digital Equity Foundations section on page 1 of the Reflection & Planning Workbook. (NOTE: After you open each of these documents, links are available to make copies so that you can have your own editable versions.)

Once you have completed this section, move onto “Digital Equity in the Classroom.”


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CONTINUE TO NEXT STEP Digital Equity in the Classroom