Professional Learning

Ensuring Technology Access for All: The Digital Equity Summit Provokes Thought

July 3, 2007

This year's Digital Equity Summit, sponsored by the International Society for Technology in Education, included a dynamic exchange of ideas and strategies. The excitement and camaraderie in the room was evident as colleagues greeted each other after a year's separation. It was a time to catch up informally on new advances in research, funding, resources, and support systems that drive and sustain the integration of technology in our schools, universities, and communities.

ISTE executives Don Knezek (CEO), Trina Davis (president), and Mila Fuller (director of strategic initiatives) set the opening tone for this assembly of leaders from education and technology organizations. Their insightful report "A National Consideration of Digital Equity," which became the call to action at this year's summit, provided a historical timeline of digital equity and a summary of key issues that remain unresolved. The vital information in this report was compiled from the interaction of participants attending the 2006 ISTE Digital Equity Summit, then analyzed and published collaboratively for ISTE by Tina Davis, Mila Fuller, Joyce Pittman, and James Sweet.

Keynote speaker Sylvia Rousseau inspired everyone in the room. Her presentation led the engaged listeners on what she called a "journey of understanding" about the tension between two opposing sets of constructs -- race, class, gender and justice, human dignity, equality, equity -- and the influence of this tension on digital equity. Rousseau brilliantly identified these constructs as being responsible for the "images that shape the identity of what children bring to school each day."

Rousseau, a former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Local District 7, proposed that Lev Vygotsky's theory of zones of proximal development is "acculturated into different constructs," laying the foundation for her thoughts on why kids do not connect school to real life. "The roles they are playing in video games are now the lives they are living. Kids have adopted constructs that work in marginalized segments in their world, but not in mainstream America."

Her key points on digital equity follow:

  • It is the identity we assume as we form a relationship with technology that makes the difference.
  • We need a new construct of learning and learners.
  • The distorted images of children must stop; we must help them construct new ones.
  • Children should be producers and creators versus consumers of knowledge.
  • Children must learn things that are negotiable in mainstream society.
  • Teachers can be the co-constructors of knowledge along with their students; they have to see themselves as learners, too.
  • Regarding the constructs that govern technology, we should ask ourselves who has the technology, what knowledge is negotiable in classrooms, and where people play their roles on the map of human geography.

During the question-and-answer session following her keynote address, listeners begged Rosseau for strategies to take back to their K-12 schools that would help advance their goals for digital equity. Her suggestions were multidimensional and achievable:

  • Individuals and organizations have to become highly politicized.
  • Universities have to be closer to K-12 -- perhaps even share campuses.
  • Form coalitions to turn the issue of digital equity around.
  • Create sociocultural environments.
  • Recognize that the more success students experience in school, the more they will want to learn.
  • Show kids that the ideas of effort, success, and reward are connected.

Rousseau received a long and boisterous standing ovation. Her ideas even brought tears to people's eyes as they stood to affirm the relevance of her keynote address with personal experiences in helping minority students.

During lunch, Rousseau moderated a panel of secondary school students from the Atlanta area who shared their perspectives on the role technology and digital tools play in their lives. When students were asked how they got interested in technology, their replies were simple: through playing video games (they wanted to make better ones), robotics, family members using some type of technology at home, cell phones, iPods, and entertainment.

However, when asked to identify new and emerging technologies, these young adults mentioned only iPods and podcasts. They did, however, say that redesigning lessons to be more like video games and adding music to instruction would make it more appealing to their age group. They advocated for each student to have a computer at home with Internet access and teachers to have interactive whiteboards in the classroom.

In the afternoon, the structured round-table discussions tackled the following questions as attendees shared thoughts on their school districts and communities:

  • What actions, strategies, and programs are you aware of that address digital-equity issues in your district? Please share both positive and negative outcomes.
  • How can leadership affect the use of technology, especially in addressing digital equity issues?
  • According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project report, students feel that teachers do not assign homework that encourages the use of the Internet. How can we get teachers to better integrate technology?
  • How can professional-development opportunities help us meet digital-equity challenges?

My educated guess is that this year's feedback will be second in a series of longitudinal reports for ISTE.

The day went by far too quickly; the participants' faces showed they were sad when it was over. They cheered generous sponsors such as Intel and Pearson, which provided the venue. They gave accolades to their colleagues and acknowledged their hard work during the year. Handshakes and hugs were spontaneous, and promises were made to stay in touch via email as old and new friends alike departed for other ISTE group activities.

In the opinion of everyone I spoke with, the call to action at the ISTE Digital Equity Summit was a tremendous success. The departing leaders were renewed in their commitment to promote access and equity for minority students as twenty-first-century learners. Their voices will be heard across the nation in multiple formats. I think I hear them beginning already. Do you?

I encourage you to send along your thoughts and opinions.

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