While connecting the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet by modernizing and expanding the federal E-rate program currently dominates education technology efforts, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education urges that adequate broadband access be accompanied by a comprehensive “digital infrastructure” that unlocks the potential technology to enhance student learning. The report, Creating Anytime, Anywhere Learning for all Students: Key Elements of a Comprehensive Digital Infrastructure, adopts a broader definition of digital infrastructure that includes professional learning, changes in pedagogy, parent and community engagement, and assessment and data systems.
“Traditionally, when educators think about digital infrastructure they see only computers, wires, and high-speed internet connections,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, who will present the report at the annual National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference Thursday, June 26 in San Diego. “While these basic components are vital, they do not guarantee academic success. The comprehensive digital infrastructure envisioned in the report can support the shifts in instructional practice and professional learning that really make a difference in student learning.”
As a foundation to a comprehensive digital infrastructure, appropriate broadband access remains unavailable to a vast majority of students. The report notes that more than 70 percent of public K–12 schools and public libraries lack sufficient broadband access while about 30 percent of households do not have a high-speed broadband connection. Nonwhite households, those with low education and economic attainment, and homes in rural areas are most likely to lack high-speed connections.
Another key component of comprehensive digital infrastructure that supports anytime, anywhere learning is an investment in ongoing, consistent, and relevant professional learning needed for formal and informal educators to make a necessary transformation in teaching practices and assessment and data systems that lead to individualized, interest-powered, production-centered, and collaborative learning opportunities for every student.
Other components outlined in the report include
- robust academic content and appropriate digital tools;
- a well-articulated plan for fostering digital citizenship to ensure the appropriate and responsible use of technology;
- engagement of parents and community partners in cultivating anytime, anywhere learning opportunities that extend beyond the school day; and
- assessment and data systems that facilitate individualized, interest-powered, production-centered, and collaborative learning opportunities.
The report offers several federal, local-, and school-level policy recommendations that could strengthen anytime, anywhere learning for more students. Key issues include
- ensuring low-cost, high-quality broadband in schools, homes, and community institutions;
- improving equity of access to high-quality digital devices, applications, and content that students can use as learning resources;
- promoting policies that advance digital literacy skills for teachers, parents, students, and community members;
- supporting professional learning for school leaders, formal and informal educators, and community organizations on the best ways to utilize digital learning tools to personalize learning, allowing all students to reach their full potential; and
- encouraging districts to engage in community partnerships that promote college and career readiness for all students.
The report also highlights several school districts and organizations that are implementing promising practices and promoting effective strategies for leveraging the potential of technology. In Elizabeth Forward School District in Pennsylvania, where 86 percent of students are low-income, dropout rates decreased after the district implemented an iPad 1:1 program paired with mentorship and opportunities for collaboration to support students’ learning pathways. Additionally, Digital Youth Network, Cable in the Classroom, Common Sense Media, and iKeepSafe have developed well-articulated plans that foster students’ digital citizenship and promote responsible use of this technology both in school and out of school.
“The creation of anytime, anywhere learning environments requires federal, local-, and school-level policies that help increase student access to a comprehensive digital infrastructure for learning,” said Wise. “The lack of any one of the infrastructure elements compromises the entire vision of anytime, anywhere learning. However, when all of the elements are in place, the potential for digital learning to transform education can be realized on a much grander scale for all children and beyond isolated models of success.”
The full report is available at https://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/DigitalInfrastructure.pdf.