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Exploring digital equity for K-12 leaders

Access to digital technologies that enable powerful learning is more important than ever. Leaders and their communities are navigating rapid advancements in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and community demand for flexible virtual and hybrid opportunities, effective learning acceleration, and resilient response to disruption. Through all of this, it is critical for leaders to also address persistent challenges of equity and work to close divides in access and experience.

This guide is designed to help teams intentionally and proactively address the inequities associated with digital technology. It presents strategies and examples for how leaders can:

  • Mobilize a team to address issues of digital equity regardless of the technology;

  • Set a comprehensive vision to make their system more agile;

  • Identify opportunities and possibilities for their students; and

  • Make iterative, tangible change in a manageable way.

Student with headphones looking at screen

Digital technology is fundamentally changing the ways in which individuals engage with education, democracy, society, and the economy – from how people access content, to how they communicate and collaborate, to how they socialize and get information from the world. Where technology was once considered an add-on to the education system – something contained to computer labs and desktops – it is now pervasive in their lives.

When technology advances rapidly during these inflection points, divides emerge that disproportionately impact those furthest from opportunity. The 2024 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) calls on state, system, and building leaders to proactively address three of them:

  • The digital access divide that separates students and educators from equitable access to high-speed internet, powerful devices, and quality digital content;

  • The digital use divide that impacts whether students engage in powerful learning opportunities where they actively use technology to explore, create, and engage in critical analysis of academic content and knowledge; and

  • The digital design divide that prevents educators from designing the potential, transformative learning experiences enabled by technology.

A vast body of research spanning more than two decades illustrates how these digital divides continuously impact the students with the most need, including those from lower-income, rural, and racial minority communities as well as those with learning differences or special needs, making digital equity a critical condition for an equitable education. As technologies like high-speed internet, ubiquitous devices, and AI continue to play an increasingly large role in education, democracy, and society, how might we ensure that all students benefit from an education experience that meets all of their needs?

To tackle this broader issue, we will use an essential question to prompt team thinking and planning: WHO needs WHAT to learn HOW?

  • WHO: Are our students served and represented with and by the technologies and resources (i.e., platforms, apps, and tools) that we provide?

  • WHAT: Do the technologies and resources adapt to meet the individual learning needs of students, and do they honor students’ voices, identities, and motivations?

  • HOW: Are the experiences and opportunities created for our students preparing them with the knowledge and skills that they need for active participation in a digital society, democracy, and global economy?

The concept of digital equity is nuanced and complex. As a framework, it calls on educators, leaders, and other adults supporting learners to ensure all students:

  • Have access to and ownership of the tools that best support them as learners.

  • Develop the literacies, skills, and competencies they require to best take advantage of digital resources and successfully navigate a rapidly evolving digital world.

  • Engage with learning experiences that are targeted, authentic, relevant, socially connected, and growth-oriented.

Digital Equity is a condition in which ALL individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

The National Digital Inclusion Association (NDIA)

Digital equity runs through both the practices that educators put in place to meet the needs of all learners and the conditions that help to sustain and deepen those practices. It serves as a lens through which to examine the ongoing processes that help schools and districts to align and improve, the enabling systems and structures that lower barriers for implementation and accelerate growth, and the essential supports that allow educators to design and implement experiences that directly benefit their students.

This guide intends to help school and system leaders have meaningful, actionable, and iterative conversations around digital equity to develop concrete plans of action. Given this, we encourage leadership teams to navigate it sequentially. In each of these sections, you will find activities, strategies, and concrete examples designed to support deeper understanding and action.

  • Getting Started: Build your digital equity team and reflect on your current progress toward digital equity using the Self-Assessment Tool and Reflection and Planning Workbook.

  • Digital Equity in the Classroom: Explore concrete ways to remove barriers to digital equity by first focusing on the student experience.

  • Essential Conditions to Support Digital Equity: Learn about the systems and structures that need to be in place for these classroom practices to work and for students to be able to benefit from digital equity work.

  • Taking It Forward: Dive into additional research and resources to further accelerate your plan into action

We have created two editable companion tools to support teams’ internal “audit” of current state and planning as they use this Guide:

  • Self-Assessment Tool: This editable worksheet supports structured reflection. Teams can use this tool to assess their progress in each of the guide areas to develop a clear picture of their strengths and needs.

  • Reflection and Planning Companion Workbook: This interactive document presents deeper questions for reflection in each area of the guide as well as a template for capturing specific, concrete actions that can support improvement.


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