George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

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

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

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.

Was this useful?

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Bonnie Bracey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great summary of the digital equity forum at ISTE-NECC. Unfortunately, it was held before the real conference began and therefore many of the participants in the conference were not able to attend, though they could have by adding an extra day to the conference.

This initiative was started many years ago, and almost abandoned by ISTE NECC. It is due to the new
leadership that the Digital Equity Leadership Symposium has had new life breathed into it.

It has always been a separate. It makes one think of separate but equal, but we will be working to create a bridge to the rest of the conference that will allow more attendees to be involved.

It was sad for me to hear the young students speak with authority of their technology knowledge, but to know that they were but second tier in their learning.However , their knowledge leaps the digital divide and is ahead of many students in the country.

We hope that in further summits, also that the
students will be reflective of the many minorities
in the United States who are a part of the school communities.

I have always wanted to scholarship needy teachers to this forum. Or teachers who have not been exposed to national leadership initiatives.

Perhaps we can all work together, to make the summit more inclusive, to solict more member involvement, to create a bridge to the conference
and to continue to probe the questions of broadening participation, digital divide and minority teacher professional development nationally.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Bev's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Katie, I'd appreciate your advice on writers like yourself interested in preparation of children K-12 in the STEM - science, technology, engineering and math. I'm sure this is well known to all your visitors and colleagues. Massachusetts is sponsoring a 4th Summit, Oct. 17, on this subject, and interested people are invited to attend: . I'd especially like to invite bloggers and columnists with an interest in this huge set of issues.

Bonnie Bracey-Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have spent the year working on STEM initiatives. I attended MIT PITAC committee meetings, the Convocation on the Gathering Storm, participated in the AAAS conference in San Francisco as a presenter, and have been involved in the work of the ITEST, and Broadening Participation initiatives in Supercomputing.

Here's the workshop I give along with Sara Armstrong. I use the "" video to share the vision of Supercomputing.

21st Century Challenges: Pathways to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

Many projects introduce and encourage our K-12 students to engage in STEM studies--so vital in today's global economy. We will share a variety of thee projects, including the MY HERO Project, NASA resources, Think Quest contest, work with Super Computers, and the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program, with an emphasis on traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, persons with disabilities, and minority students.

Sara and I will share pathways to STEM for teachers and students.

I am so glad that the STEM initiative is being talked about and that people are looking to invest in our youth.. For too long it has been businessmen talking about K-12 without understanding the lay of the land in teaching in learning. We need more than talk, we need the kinds of initiatives and information that you provide.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Bonnie Bracey-Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think I am too close to the concerns about digital equity. I am in agony about the state of digital equity and understanding of the uses of technology in this country. Education in this country has a divide. Everyone knows to follow the money to find the best schools for the most part. Why do we pretend? Why don't we want to educate all well in the interest of our country?

I don't get it.

I thought we made a difference with the NIIAC work and our reports. Today, I noticed that they have also been taken down. We don't have a common groupd to work from.This was the commission that forged the vision of how technology should work in the US. Political battles have
stopped all of our efforts. Too bad.( National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council.. we were bipartisan and diverse.

Digital Equity?

This is a battle that we have been fighting in minority communities all of my life. Iinterestingly enough I have only been funded once in my life to work in digital equity. But that's not the problem. The problem is that
at this time digital equity seems to be assumed. The government told us that there was no digital divide, or lack of digital equity.

Say what?

THERE IS A LACK OF DIGITAL EQUITY and a vast digital divide....

Since the current administration declared that there was no longer a diggital divide, the funding has gone away. and there is little money except in school systems.. and even that money has been compromised by the No Child Left Behind initiatives. Somehow, digital equity got reduced to being able to read and do simple math on grade level? Is that any way to create leadership in our youth?

NASA taught me to reach for the stars.. The council on competitiveness
asks us to use imagination, insight, ingenuity, invention, impace and iinnovation.
Is anyone listening? Look at the level of scholarship for STEM in your state here.

I sometimes want to cry out when I see how we blindly leave many students in the dust. The Pew Report just came out
The Pew Internet Project just released their latest
report on the state of at-home broadband access in the


Think of the divide in just this way. Read the report.


A lot of people in the US can't touch the new initiatives because they don't have broadband. Where is the hue and cry to get a national agenda for this kind of connectivity?
Ericsson announced at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in Geneva that it is collaborating with Stanford University to explore the innovative use of mobile technologies in distance e-learning. Ericsson will work with Stanford University's International Outreach Program to bring distance learning to countries in Africa. The program offers students on different continents the opportunity to learn from researchers in environmental sciences from several countries and perspectives, as well as contribute to lively discourse and debate through Internet and mobile phone interaction.

Why don't we have this type of program here in the US for our areas that are much like the developing countries in need.

I suggest that the businesses create a laptop initiative or a use of mobile technologies initiative for the areas of need in the US. I read about the one laptop per child in other countries and wish that we understood the needs of many students own country. Rural folks have a problem as well as various groups of students without connectivity at home.

I suggest that we forgive the scholarships that many students had in the name of more years of service to their educational communities Those teachers who stay in teaching could be given e-learning from time to time to keep them up to speed. but it has to be with quality resources in a knowledge network, like CILT used to be. There should be a conversation with professors, code writers, researchers and teachers. We need as teachers to be in the conversations.

May I suggest that master teachers be involved in schools of need, with
access to resources, and experts. This foundation GLEF provides the
vignettes of what can be done, but there are those of us who have done it and could help in a visionary way. At one time Microsoft had a Road Ahead Project that was fully funded. What happened to those kinds of efforts in our own country?

Native Americans are creating in the regions of the Navajo the Internet to the Hogan Project. If there were funders, that would be a good place to
nuture development. Most people don't know that there is not even electricity in some of the Native American areas. I think that the poverty of some of those places escapes the radar, because it is not newsworthy.

In past years there were the Community Technology Centers,. funded by the Dept of Commerce.

In past years there were the Regional Technology Centers for education
I am not sure why that plan was abandoned. Making teachers customers
of the ENC and other RTECS was NOT a good idea.

Lastely , we need some type of evaluative effort as we used to have in the OTA. But perhaps unless you worked in policy you won't remember that we used to have evaluation of new technologies from the government.

I agree with Bill Gates on that one. Vendors are not necessarily the best
people to advise us of new technologies.

One bright hope is the paper that Henry Jenkins submitted
Confronting the Challenges
of Participatory Culture:
Media Education for the
21st Century
Media Education for the. 21. st. Century ...

But how can those who are still struggling along on dial up do these things?
We need broadband . In many countries of the world it is a priority to
have done this and we are now about 19th in the world in broadband
connectivity. The market does not always serve the public. But it should in a national interest.

The convocation on the gathering storm gave us food for thought in this area .

(1) convene leadership of industry, government, research, and education community from all 50 states and the federal government,
(2) share knowledge and encourage leadership of initiatives at the state and local level to strengthen US competitiveness, and
(3) discuss current national proposals to respond to the nation's competitiveness challenge and their implications for states, localities, and regions. The focus of the convocation will be on the key action areas identified in the National Academies report: Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. These include:
K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education
Higher education
Innovation environment

Now we need action.

I am working in K12 with supercomputing. But the boys with their toys are immersed in blogs, wikis , moodle, and second life. Nothing wrong with those applications but ... as some would say, wait, there's more. High Performance and Supercomputing.

FInally a few superintendents in our DC area have talked about how NCLB had dumbed down the students. It took a long time, and perhaps political change to have then find their voice. They are speaking out and saying that we need to expose children to new ways of thinking and learning for the 21st century. Of course Dr. Chris Dede shared this information back in 1993 and at this time those notions have been gathered into a 21st Century initiative.. but we are still not hitting the mark.


Why do we want to restrict children to grade level experiences and nothing innovative, constructive, or technology that is experiential, in engaging, and exciting ways with evaluative components.

I would love to be a part of a team that disseminated new practices to teachers, schoolboards, communities and parents. What happened to
this kind of outreach. It's fine to have lots of things on the web, but what if you can't access it. A group of activists , a CTC net center, a community based initiative could start people on their ways.

If it takes second life, and the applications to get the attention of the public so be it.

Martin Luther King. Thirty years ago he was talking about technology. It was an obscure reference in a speech I found. In fact, it was his last speech here in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968. Four days before he died he said,

"There can be no gainsaying about the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. That is, a technological revolution with the impact of automation and cybernation. Modern man through scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance. Through our genius we have made this world a neighborhood. And yet we--we have not yet had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this."

You may think we no longer have a digital divide. Think again. And we are talking about the Internet. We are not talking about Internet 2, Teragrid, or the Grid with supercomputer applications.. Technology moves on..

I only had to catch up with book learning. How can we expect those we leave behind in technology to even understand new media when they don't have access.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

rafael's picture

So glad to have found this site, so much information, great blog:)

Rafael@ free shed plans

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.