In the last 20 years, technology has drastically changed the average American classroom; interactive Smartboards replace blackboards and chalk, laptops or tablets stand in for composition notebooks and pencils, and school libraries are supplemented by the internet’s wealth of knowledge. However, educators know digital inequality abounds not only between districts, but also within districts and sometimes even within schools.
While many K-12 students have been surrounded by internet connectivity and web-enabled devices from a young age (i.e., digital natives), unfortunately some students’ only exposure to technology happens in the classroom. These students’ limited interaction with digital resources deprives them of the opportunity to develop the skills they’ll need as adults in the workplace. This disparity in technology access is known as the digital divide.
In this multi-part series, we’ll explain how to achieve truly equitable access to online academic resources in schools. We’ll start with providing uniform access at the device level, as many schools have implemented or are considering 1:1 or BYOD programs. For whichever devices your students and teachers use, what’s paramount is that (1) there is consistent wireless network connectivity and (2) HTML5-compatible web browsers are supported.
To make equitable technology access a reality in your schools, it’s critical that your wireless networks have sufficient bandwidth and reach. Load-balancing, firewalls, content filtering, and intrusion detection/prevention are all necessary to keep your students safe and your environment running smoothly. You may even choose a high-availability system that would allow for uninterrupted connectivity should your on-premises equipment fail. If upgrading and expanding your current network seems like a daunting task for your IT team, consider partnering with a consultant who can properly design, install, and provide ongoing support for your district’s connectivity needs.
Device agnosticism is important. Even if your district chooses to invest in identical devices for a 1:1 program, older students and staff will still access resources from their mobile phones. Many applications require browser extensions or plugins to function properly; ten years ago this wasn’t much of an issue, as districts only averaged 10 applications which could easily be replicated onto identical machines. However, the average number of applications, digital textbooks, and other online resources per district has ballooned to between 150 and 500, which makes updating browser configurations for each difficult, not to mention maintaining the same quality of experience across a range of devices. To ensure users have equal access—whether they’re using a tablet, laptop, or mobile phone— we suggest selecting an access management platform that not only lets you forego the constraints of browser extensions and plugins, but has application compatibility baked in from the beginning.
Truly equitable access starts at the individual device level; once students have reliable connectivity to use their preferred internet-based resources without browser compatibility issues, they’re able to experience the benefits of educational technology to their fullest extent. Whether it’s expanding your current network with our parent company Encore Technology Group, or implementing our identity & access management platform Enboard, we’re with you every step of the way to close the digital divide in your school district. For further insight into enabling digital equality across devices, be sure to check out our discussion with Enboard President and CTO Michael Knight.