Equitable access can be evaluated in two ways, the actual possession of resources and the ability to utilize these resources to their maximum potential. In schools across the United States, the actual possession of technology resources is the challenge. They do not have funding to support advanced technology in all schools. Sometimes, this means that lower performing schools do not have the same resources as higher performing schools. Elsewhere, the funding for technology is higher in at-risk schools, meaning that these schools have a more developed library of technology resources. In other schools, the technology is readily available, but access to these resources is not equal. While the resources are there, the students do not have the opportunity to utilize the technology to enhance learning.
As previously stated, a school’s possession of technology resources does not necessarily mean that all students have equitable access. I work in an elementary school that has two laptop carts, a full computer lab, a set of iPads, 50+ Promethean Boards, and 3-4 computers in every classroom. Without question, my school has access to a vast library of technology. Unfortunately, not all students have equal access to these resources. Without going into specifics, the reality is that in some of the classrooms, technology is being maximized…while in others, it’s not being touched. Some students have the opportunity to utilize technology…some do not. For some teachers, technology is foreign, it’s different, and it represents a change which makes them feel uncomfortable. Part of ensuring equitable access needs to come in the form of professional development. Teachers need to be familiar with and comfortable utilizing these resources. We must prepare our teachers to be leaders in twenty-first century classrooms, ready to meet the needs of our technology dependent society. By teaching, guiding, and coaching our teachers, we can begin to bridge the gap in technology access.
The discussion of equitable access can go in a variety of different directions. For example, we could look at the access to technology within a school, whether the students have actual the opportunity to use available resources. Or, we could look at student populations. Do at-risk students have access to the same technology tools and resources that students in higher achieving schools do? Do students with special needs have technology accommodations and modifications to ensure that they can access these resources? We could look at the factors that contribute to the digital divide. Is it because of a teacher’s fear or lack of technology training that prevents equal access? Is it that the value of technology as a tool to enhance student learning has not been appropriately established? Equitable access is a huge, multifaceted topic. To begin to address this, we must first acknowledge it. There is a digital divide. Ensuring equitable access is challenging, but it is vital!