A year ago, K-12 classrooms and college campuses across the country shuttered; many still remain closed. As the panic of the pandemic spread, students and teachers stayed home and shifted to “emergency” mode – delivering curriculum in whatever ways they could. This was not online learning; this was emergency remote teaching.
For many educators, the thought was: We have to do what we can to get by. But for too many students, the result of this emergency instruction has been a widening equity gap that risks the long-term success of our most vulnerable students – whether they’re in first grade or their first year of college.
Dr. Jessica Rowland Williams
As we evaluate the past year’s lessons to inform future decisions about technology as a teaching tool, we must ask ourselves complex but essential questions about the humane use of technology. How can we deliver technology equitably so that a single working mother in rural Georgia has the same experience and chance for success as a traditional first-year college student living in an urban center? How can we ensure remote learning works equitably for a second-grader in an upper-class suburb and a second-grader in a low-income home with unstable internet access – and little to no parental support?
This challenge of digital inequity is not new. But the pandemic presents an opportunity to design a new model of remote instruction with equity at the forefront.
Through multiple surveys and focus groups of college students and faculty in the past year, we have found:
A year into the pandemic, we now know just how quickly our most vulnerable populations of students – first-generation college students, low-income K-12 and postsecondary students, students of color, and rural students – can become isolated and disconnected. But we also see more profound inequities that WiFi access alone won’t fix.
It is important to note that these groups of students are the “New Majority.” They make up the largest populations heading to our college campuses. Yet, our institutions still build policies and practices around the “ideal” – a full-time student who lives on or near campus and is 18 years old, with little burdens, financial or otherwise.
How can we plan, design and implement better remote learning? How can we optimize and scale the best and most equitable remote learning experiences for our students? At Every Learner Everywhere, we have been asking these questions since our inception, but today we are addressing them with greater urgency because we know that the education community’s response to this crisis is pivotal. Our focus remains on postsecondary education, yet so many of the challenges and potential solutions apply to K-12.
Here is where we can all start immediately:
Dr. Jessica Rowland Williams is the director of Every Learner Everywhere, a network that helps institutions of higher education across the United States implement innovative teaching and learning practices with a focus on increasing the success for underserved students. You can follow her on Twitter @DrJessWilliams.