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Educators, Media Professionals Discuss ‘Digital Divide’ at AACTE Forum

AACTE’s 2016 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, addressed the demands of professional practice and the tough questions that face educators on a variety of fronts. On February 24, the editors of the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE)chose to focus their major forum on “Equity, Access, and the Digital Divide: Challenges for Teacher Education,” bringing together panelists from around the country who are working to close opportunity gaps for young people relative to—and through—the use of technology.

After JTE Coeditor Gail Richmond of Michigan State University introduced the panelists, the discussion started with Hardin Coleman, dean and professor in the School of Education at Boston University (MA). He spoke about shared characteristics of gap-closing schools, accreditation standards, and the steps he sees as necessary to close the technological gap. Coleman suggested focusing on the role of educators in the gap-closing process, deep engagement with educational partners, and supporting the systems of data that will inform progress. He championed efforts to create education systems that will provide a high-quality learning experience for all children.

Pegeen Wright, director of digital learning at WGBH-Boston, gave perspectives from her vantage point as a digital media producer for PK-12 students. She introduced her work in a video highlighting PBS LearningMedia projects for teachers and students. Wright advocated for educators to develop original resources, produce content, and provide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities across the system. She stressed the value of providing structured support for English language learners in the STEM fields and the potential of community partnerships to supplement school-based learning.

P. G. Schrader, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, spoke on prevailing myths about the digital divide. He explained that inequitable access is seen not only in the divide between socioeconomic “haves” and “have-nots” but also in barriers related to language, geography, age, and other categories. Another myth he sought to dispel is that simply providing technology is the primary goal—an assumption he said becomes damaging as collateral costs, time requirements, and other unanticipated factors appear. Schrader said educator expertise is needed to ensure tools are used appropriately, not just because they are available, and he reinforced the importance of maximizing existing tools rather than always pursuing novelty.

Nichole Pinkard, associate professor at DePaul University (IL), explained how she is working to bridge the digital divide by connecting adults and students across formal and informal spaces. She explained the different outlets that can help level the playing field, including programs such as “Digital Youth Divas” at the Digital Youth Network in Chicago. There, students from underserved communities learn to use technology as a tool to achieve equity in a space to connect with their community, peers, and teachers. She reinforced the importance of a multipronged approach that connects teachers, online assessors, and content mentors, and encouraged colleges of education to create mechanisms to make these connections—not necessarily in school, but to support learning in different “ecosystems.”

All speakers in the major forum emphasized the necessity of high-quality technological tools as one of the keys to addressing the achievement gap.

Recordings of the major forums from the Las Vegas conference are now available in the AACTE Learning Center (registrant login required to view major forum content). You can also access the presentation slides in the same location.


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