Digital and Educational Equity: How States Plan to Partner with Educational Institutions

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Digital Beat

Digital and Educational Equity

How States Plan to Partner with Educational Institutions

Zoë Walker

Digital equity cannot be fully realized without the participation of educational institutions, including K-12 public schools, community colleges, historically black and other minority serving colleges and universities, and extension programs. Many state digital equity plans embrace education and potential collaborations with educational institutions.

All states acknowledge that digital equity is critical to education. All learners need access to connected devices, software, and the internet—as well as to trained educators to help them navigate those tools. 

But some states go further than others in efforts to collaborate and partner with educational institutions. States’ approaches to the role of educational institutions in digital inclusion work generally fall into three categories:

  1. The state acknowledges that a lack of digital equity impedes educational quality and attainment.
  2. The state plans to collaborate with educational institutions, primarily for device distribution.
  3. The state plans to partner with educational institutions in order to achieve digital equity, both in terms of access/affordability and in terms of teaching digital skills.

Digital Equity and Educational Opportunity

All states acknowledge that a lack of digital equity can impede educational attainment, particularly for K-12 students. In an increasingly digital world, students who do not have a computer or internet access at home are at a significant disadvantage compared to connected classmates. 

The lack of digital literacy skills has implications for covered populations within the greater context of other priority areas, such as economic and educational outcomes.—South Dakota Office of Economic Development

Lack of internet access significantly affects learning and economic opportunities in West Virginia.—West Virginia Office of Economic Development

As highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital equity is central to educational equity as students and teachers were forced to continue schooling online. As students participate in virtual and hybrid classroom settings, access to a stable internet connection, devices, and digital literacy are essential to academic participation and success.—Massachusetts Broadband Institute

Collaboration with Educational Institutions

Many states see educational institutions as valuable collaborators in digital inclusion efforts. Several states plan to work with educational institutions on device distribution and refurbishment programs. Many states also planned to use schools as outreach partners to raise awareness about and enroll residents in federal subsidies or internet service provider low-cost plans.

In collaboration with lending programs, schools and libraries, develop digital literacy programs that supply devices upon successful completion and are invested in maintaining and updating them.—Indiana Broadband Office

Partner with government agencies, schools, and private companies to develop a sustainable device “refresh cycles” framework that makes the devices available to covered populations at low cost.—Kentucky Department of Workforce Development

Digital Equity Partners

Many states believe that educational institutions are critical partners in efforts to achieve digital equity. These states recognize the value of educational institutions as partners for device distribution and as avenues for teaching digital skills and increasing the population of digitally literate residents in a state.

These states identify potential partnerships with institutions such as state departments of education, community college systems, workforce development agencies, libraries, cooperative/university extension, and prison education programs. 

These states also identify opportunities to incorporate digital skills and literacy into state curriculum and academic standards. This can be done through “Portrait of a Graduate” style digital skills standards as well as through professional development programs to better equip teachers to use classroom technology and teach digital literacy skills.

Support programs and curricula that prepare students to serve their communities in digital navigator programs, digital literacy training, and community-based digital hubs. Provide professional development for teachers to create fluency in using and teaching technology in the classroom. Incorporate literacy training in software such as Microsoft Office, Adobe, and others used by businesses to prepare students for employment.—Hawai’i Broadband and Digital Equity Office at University of Hawai'i

Strengthen the digital pedagogy skills of educators to design and facilitate online and hybrid learning, employ competency-based learning, and address digital-age learner needs.—University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

While K-12 public schools and their students are not a "covered population," they are an essential part of the State’s digital equity plan. This plan includes extensive partnerships with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, local public school systems, and education advocates to ensure that the digital inequities brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be addressed. Common plan elements include ensuring that schools have reliable, high-speed internet ... and that educators have more than adequate digital resources.—North Carolina Department of Information Technology, Division of Broadband and Digital Equity

More to Come

It is encouraging to see states embracing the potential of connectivity and digital tools to improve educational outcomes. What is even more exciting is seeing states embracing the opportunity to collaborate with educational institutions to achieve digital equity.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is partnering with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Education Technology on an upcoming webinar series that will spotlight states that are effectively leveraging partnerships with educational institutions to advance digital equity. Join us on Wednesday, June 12 at 1 pm (Eastern) for our first webinar highlighting North Carolina's strategies to deliver on educational and digital equity. 

Zoë Walker is a Writing Associate at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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