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Striving for Digital Equity During a Pandemic

January 22, 2021 - 4 minute read

Child on tablet

A World Turned Upside Down

One only has to turn on the television, read a newspaper, or flip the switch on their computer to learn about the tragedies worldwide that countless have encountered during this latest pandemic. It appears a group that may continue to suffer, with or without a vaccine, may be thousands of children forced to acquire their education on devices that were previously used for entertainment and games when unsuspecting teachers turned their backs. Children who would conventionally focus on critical skills such as phonics, writing, or the basics of counting, are now thrown into an arena where prerequisite knowledge of how to click, cut-and-paste, or save a document to avoid losing valued information, overshadows those foundational skills for some.

When schools closed at the onset of the pandemic, many teachers found themselves ill-equipped to provide distance learning, as many grappled with the mandate to switch to a digital teaching platform. As a teacher and math department chair, I knew first-hand the daunting task of incorporating digital lessons into my class and coaching teachers to do the same. My goal was to ensure students were career and college ready and able to compete in a global society that was becoming more digitized and certain to exclude untrained individuals.

Closing the Digital Equity Gap

In the last six months, numerous schools have proposed to correct their digital inequities by ensuring students have devices to complete online assignments and maintain communication with their teachers. However, some have found that having a device proves inadequate if students are unable to access the Internet. Teachers at my campus echo this problem as they continually report student absences. To prevent students from traveling to local restaurants to overcome connectivity issues, our school, and countless others, have distributed an equal number of hotspots and Chromebooks. However, issuing Chromebooks and hotspots to students who lack proper training must not be considered a quick fix for long-term digital inequities that have existed for years.

Even before the pandemic, the digital inequity gap was noticeable within the Los Angeles Unified School District, depending on a school's location. I broached this subject in my dissertation titled, The Influence of Teacher's Technology Attitude and Aptitude on Students' Performance on Computerized Assessments. During my research, and even now, some teachers think distance learning is disseminating information to students. The truth is many are left isolated with their blinking computer screens rather than participating in an engaging dialogue with their teacher or other students.

With the fall semester's fate seemingly suspended in the balance, the district appropriated a proactive approach to provide professional development to support teachers. They initiated a distance learning program entitled "Future Ready." I participated in this program and realized it was a practical approach to acclimate teachers with resources designed to address the digital inequities and prepare them to provide a quality education for students, whether in class or online. Over 14,000 teachers participated with expectations of sharpening their tools and alleviating frustrations like those felt on that fateful day of March 13th when they were thrust into what some called "digital oblivion."

Digital Resources for Remote Learning

During the Future Ready program, teachers were introduced to numerous digital resources designed for any curriculum. Teachers were not expected to embrace every resource, but there was undoubtedly a resource for every teacher. Now that we have entered the fall semester, many educators are reporting that they are more comfortable with the idea of remote learning. However, some still prefer a brick and mortar setting as they desire a physical connection with students. Teachers must provide opportunities for engagement despite the distance between themselves and their students. Additionally, students should be provided with multiple modalities to enhance their learning style, whether visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

The following are digital resources shared during the Future Ready program that invite students to connect, collaborate, and engage with their lessons:

  • – Flipgrid is a platform where students can create short videos in a presentation style method. Students can comment on and critique the work of other students.
  • – Teachers can assign videos that align with lessons which allow visual learners to rewatch for clarity. Teachers can differentiate a task for each student and set assessments to gauge student retention.
  • – Quizizz is a digital platform that provides thousands of quizzes on relevant topics such as core subjects or issues that deal with mindfulness, restorative justice, or bullying. Students can compete against their peers, even in a remote setting, and teachers can modify quizzes or create an original assessment based on class lessons.

This list is not exhaustive, and teachers who participated in the Future Ready program were encouraged to discover a resource that would benefit their teaching and philosophy style.

Before joining LAUSD, Dr. Charlotte Ashford was a long-term substitute for a private Christian school. Her tenure at LAUSD has included teaching middle and high school Algebra 1, Geometry, and Robotics. Dr. Ashford is a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) and the Council of Black Administrators (COBA). She completed her doctoral studies at Concordia University Irvine and obtained an administrative credential at Cal State Dominguez. She loves movies with her all-time favorite being Shrek.

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