Over the coming weeks on this space, I will explore digital equity and its implications for education. Specifically, I would like to share the strategies that extend learning beyond the classroom.
This series and focus arrive at an exciting moment for the CoSN team. The CoSN Board authorized me to do a Work Study this fall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, under the sponsorship of Professor Chris Dede. I will study:
- How innovative school districts and governments are undertaking digital equity strategies that connect homes and locations outside of school to enable learning;
- New financial models that could be deployed to connect low-income families to broadband networks; and
- The importance of new partnerships with community foundations, governments and nonprofits, working with school systems, to address digital inequities.
CoSN, as the professional association for school district leaders, is well positioned to shape the conversation and achievable efforts on this front. For the past 24 years, CoSN has empowered educational leaders, primarily in U.S. school districts, to leverage technology to support engaging learning environments. We are in the forefront for encouraging wise investments of resources to support smart education technology leadership and enable robust education networks.
2015 is a critical moment in the journey.
Eighteen years ago, the E-rate program was created to connect all classrooms to the Internet. While that initial mission of providing basic connection in every classroom has largely been accomplished, CoSN’s 2014 Infrastructure Survey revealed the significant broadband and technology infrastructure challenges still facing school districts. In December 2014, citing this and other data, the Federal Communications Commission voted to increase funding of the E-rate program by 60 percent ($1.5 billion more annually). Over the next five years, there will be massive improvement in broadband connectivity and Wi-Fi availability in U.S. classrooms. This investment will importantly provide teachers and students with the opportunity for more personalized learning.
In addition to this vital commitment, we must move beyond the classroom and capture the power of the Internet and mobile devices to enable anywhere, anytime learning. Alarmingly, over 80 percent of school district technology leaders report that they have no strategies to address off-campus access – a real problem for poor families, according to our survey.
Limiting technology access to classroom use only will prevent districts from maximizing student growth and development. It could also deepen the digital divide for the poor children who lack robust access at home and outside of school. What’s more: It risks leaving those children living in our most remote communities with increasingly less educational opportunities.
We need thoughtful, intentional strategies and policies that mitigate those risks and decrease inequities in digital learning.
We are at the right moment to broaden our horizon from simply at-school access to enabling continuous learning for all students. Given the financial pressures on most schools – according to the 2015 CoSN IT Leadership Survey, over 70 percent report flat or declining IT budgets this year – few districts will have new monies to address this challenge without additional support. This will require new ideas, new financial models, and new partnerships.
Please join me this fall as I explore these issues, develop strategies, and focus on extending learning beyond the classroom.