2024’s National Educational Technology Plan is all about equitable access

The updated plan, released last week, is a "Call to Action for Closing the Digital Access, Design and Use Divides."

K12 leaders can unleash edtech’s ability to transform K12 education by closing three “key divides”:

  • The Digital Use Divide: Exploring opportunities to improve how students use technology to enhance the learning experience, including various ways to explore, create and engage in their analysis of academic content.
  • The Digital Design Divide: Inequitable access for teachers to receive professional learning opportunities and gain the tools necessary to design learning opportunities supported by technology.
  • The Digital Access Divide: Inequities surrounding students’ and teachers’ access to educational technology, including internet connectivity and access to digital content. Accessibility, digital health, safety and digital citizenship are all key elements of digital access.

This call to action comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s newly revised 2024 National Educational Technology Plan, the latest iteration of the document since it was first issued in fulfillment of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994. This year’s edition encourages education leaders to address some of the most pressing disparities that currently bar edtech’s ability to enhance student learning and academics.

“The 2024 Education Technology Plan is a forward-thinking approach to framing and realizing the potential of educational technology to enhance the instructional core, reduce achievement gaps and improve student learning in our schools,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

Student equity is central to this plan, explained panelists at the National Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Florida last week. Even during the pandemic, when relief funding allowed many districts to deliver 1:1 device access for students, the digital equity divide was far from closed, Erin Mote, executive director and co-founder of InnovateEDU, declared during the panel highlighting the key components of the updated technology plan.

“I think there was a bit of a misperception that during the pandemic the digital access divide was closed,” she said. “I can tell you that did not happen.”

Despite students having their own devices, there were still “massive gaps”—such as unreliable internet connectivity—barring their ability to receive proper instruction.

“The reality is we have to do more to allow our communities to access technology at scale and in a way that isn’t defined by what zip code you live in or what socioeconomic strata you’re in,” Mote added.

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So what can district leaders do to ensure they’re providing every student with equitable access to technology? The revised plan offers several recommendations, which Mote highlighted during the panel.

First, administrators must acknowledge with transparency that the access gap has not yet been closed. There’s still more work to do to ensure students have access and are connected to learning through technology. Secondly, Mote used the metaphor of “shoveling the ramp, not the stairs.” In other words, how are leaders thinking about policy design so that it allows the widest student use possible?

“When we design digital learning experiences that allow for all young people regardless of disability to access the content and the learning methodologies that are happening in digital technology, that means we get to shovel the ramp,” she explained. “Everybody can get up.”

Lastly, think about how you’re going to support your teachers as you purchase new technology. No kind of technology will serve as the “silver bullet” of learning, she concluded. It’s up to leaders to provide educators with the knowledge and tools to incorporate these technologies into their classrooms, because without the human element, edtech is powerless.

“Technology is never going to solve our educational issues. Humans are,” she declared. “When we focus on equity, how do we make sure we have enough professional support, budget and ability to make sure that our educators are empowered to use that technology?”

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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