Voices in Tech: What comes after access?

Students need to be taught how to use tech or a digital divide will persist even if everyone has a device
By: | Issue: November/December, 2019
September 19, 2019

Marlo Gaddis
Chief Technology Officer
Wake County Public School System, North Carolina

Ensuring that all students have access to technology is a fundamental component of digital equity. It’s also one of the more straightforward equity issues to solve, says Marlo Gaddis, chief technology officer for Wake County Public School System. “It just takes money,” she jokes.

Access alone, however, won’t close the digital divide. Students also need to be taught how to use technology responsibility and in innovative ways.

“We’ve adopted Karen Cator’s definition of digital equity, which looks at three areas: access, digital literacy and innovation,” she says, referring to Cator, who is CEO and president of Digital Promise. Districts need to create conditions that cultivate all three.

Gaddis is a featured presenter for DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference®, to be held January 14-17, 2020, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.


Why is access to technology not enough to bridge the digital divide?

We want to ensure that a student’s experience with technology is similar no matter where they go to school. Clearly, there’s an issue of equitable access to devices and service, but the other pieces of digital equity—digital literacy and innovation—are more wicked problems to solve. 

Students and many staff members don’t know how, why and when to use technology appropriately. They also need to learn digital citizenship: how to treat others and protect themselves online. 

The other piece is innovation, which, truthfully, is happening only in pockets. Often, students and staff don’t tap into the power of technology and how it can improve our lives and processes.

What can districts do to address digital literacy and innovation?

Digital literacy is hard because there’s limited time for staff development and technology is ever-changing. We’re trying to embed it in all work. A lot of it is about expectations. Do we expect to see a high-quality instructional core that includes digital literacy as part of the pedagogy and materials?

For innovation, we’re using the four C’s to look at how we use technology to create environments where students are communicating, collaborating, creatively problem-solving, and critically thinking about the content they’re learning. 


Read: Voices in Tech: How edtech coaches aid classroom instruction


We must work with both teachers and students so they understand that technology can play a role in big, real-world solutions. 

For example, our Holly Grove Middle School students won the national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition by creating a school bus sign that lights up to warn students and traffic when the bus is 300 feet away.

How do you measure progress toward digital equity?

It’s hard to measure because technology by itself is neither good nor bad, but it can amplify the good or the bad. I know a lot of district leaders who measure usage of digital resources. I push back on that a lot. 

There’s not a set number of times someone should be using a program or resource that’s going to guarantee improvement. Classroom walk-throughs are a great way to see how technology is being used and, more important, who is using technology. 

For instance, is the teacher using it or are the students? Are they using it to create things or only to consume media?


Jennifer Herseim is an editor for LRP Media Group and program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.


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