As minority teachers from all over the United States, a number of us informally worked to promote digital equity for years and years, organizing with the help and the influence of Jennelle Leonard of the U.S. Department of Education, who served as a mentor for us. We met many times during the annual National Educational Computing Conference, but we did not have official designation as an International Society for Technology in Education Special Interest Group until this year. We sometimes did not have much support, but we continue to press for involvement.
Lots of people deserve credit. The various ISTE board members often attended our meetings and helped us think about organizing a SIG. Larry Anderson, Kurt Steinhaus, and others championed what we were doing. Joyce Pittman, with the help of the mayor of Philadelphia and others, created a summit on digital equity at the 2005 NECC. I believe that project was the inspiration for this year's new beginning at ISTE. Bob McLaughlin formalized the ideas and created new information and alliances to help create a Digital Equity SIG.
This year, the dream of involvement within the NECC conference happened because of the work of many, many people who care about equity. The ISTE Digital Equity SIG is a direct outgrowth of the Digital Equity Network, created by a network of project directors funded by the U.S. Department of Education's PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology) Program.
So, what is the Digital Equity SIG doing? We work to bring leaders and policy makers from education, business, philanthropy, human-services agencies, and government together to share promising and proven digital-equity strategies so that more children will realize the educational, economic, and personal benefits of learning technologies.
Our mission is to assist the ISTE's members worldwide in learning about, sharing, and successfully employing strategies that significantly improve all learners' access to learning-technology resources.
The 2006 Digital Equity SIG Summit focused on the issues and challenges of digital equity relating to teaching and learning, professional development, leadership, and support and infrastructure.
The attendees worked to gain a deeper understanding of issues and strategies related to the digital divide in education, as well as inequitable student access to hardware, software, connectivity, and academic and culturally responsive digital content -- and how these things affect our undeserved students and their families and communities.
Participants in the 2006 Summit received a working draft of the ISTE's Digital Equity Toolkit. This free toolkit, edited by Joy Wallace, highlights invaluable resources that all preservice and in-service educators, teacher educators, and staff developers should know about and use. Please note that your suggestions about additional resources are most welcome.
There is also an online digital equity service center with lots of great resources, information about discounted computers for low-income families, and more.
Despite this progress, we are at a crossroads. Digital equity increasingly requires that all students have broadband access when they leave the school campus, especially at home. Yet, many low-income families lack broadband access at home.
In most school systems, education technology leaders have focused time, energy and funding on at-school access. While that has been critical, the focus must expand in this era of digital learning.
According to a 2014 CoSN Infrastructure Survey, 82 percent of school district technology leaders report that they do not have strategies to address off-campus access. Only a handful of school systems offer off-campus internet connectivity programs such as free or subsidized home access for low-income students. A top priority should be making community and business wi-fi hotspots available for students and deploying district-owned personal hotspots.
The new civil right
Why should digital equity be a key concern for educators?
Over 70 percent of teachers revealed they require internet for doing homework. Do your students have access to the necessary technology and bandwidth after school to complete digital homework assignments? Unfortunately, for too many students and families, the answer is “no.” This has created the “homework gap.”
Educators also must consider parents and their ability to connect digitally with teachers, administrators or the school website. As one school administrator said to me, “Increasingly, all our communications to parents are digitally delivered.