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AWS IMAGINE: Tools for Digital Equity Need Implementation

A panel at the AWS IMAGINE education conference in Seattle this week said schools are already equipped with the tools needed to tackle digital equity if governments, administrators and educators can put them to use.

A panel at the IMAGINE 2022 conference featuring Ira Gluck, Kristina Ishmael, Dr. Allegra McGrew, Ruben Duran and Tara Anderson.
From left to right, a Wednesday panel featuring Ira Gluck, Kristina Ishmael, Dr. Allegra McGrew, Ruben Duran and Tara Anderson discuss digital equity at AWS IMAGINE: Education 2022 in Seattle.
Giovanni Albanese Jr.
Digital equity is something that is seemingly sought at all levels — from local to state and federal entities, as well as organizations and institutions. To that end, the Biden administration signed an infrastructure bill last November that included nearly $3 billion in digital equity and inclusion funds, and the national Government Accountability Office has stressed the need for a national digital inclusion strategy. At the AWS IMAGINE 2022 education conference in Seattle this week, a panel of experts made the case that we have the tools needed to achieve equity, but a long way to go to connect students to those tools.

U.S. Department of Education Office of EdTech (OET) Deputy Director Kristina Ishmael was among the panelists for the session “Rethink Learning Opportunities to Prioritize Digital Equity” and expressed that the inclusion aspect of the infrastructure bill is the department’s top priority, because it includes connectivity and access to STEM instructional content and digital literacy.

“We know that we’ve done a really great job at getting those devices and those hot spots and that emergency remote learning situation out there to ensure continuity of learning,” Ishmael said in the session moderated by AWS Strategic Business Development Manager Tara Anderson. “We know there’s a whole lot more to it. We need to make sure our families and communities can navigate those same devices and access the digital world.”

She added that since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an acceleration of digital instructional models, even though the models have been around for a while. Ishmael said the acceleration exacerbated inequities, and her office is trying to rectify those inequities through relief dollars and policies.

Other panelists included Dr. Allegra McGrew, director of publishing and digital learning solutions at Region 4 Education Service Center, which serves 88 school districts in the Houston area; Ruben Duran, director of XR Lab & Studio at Houston Community College; and Ira Gluck, Kaltura’s senior director of K-12 education. McGrew said distributing devices was just the beginning of the Education Service Center’s plan to bring equity across the region.

“Having devices is wonderful, but right now our next phase of that work is looking at the connectivity,” McGrew said. “When we look at digital equity, it’s not just about putting the device in the hand of the student, it’s about what you are going to do with that device. If you have no connectivity, you’re very limited in what you can do.”

Both McGrew and Ishmael took it a step further to emphasize the importance of making sure teachers and educators are supported as well. McGrew said that digital equity can greatly transition the trajectory of all students, but it’s all in how a teacher uses that technology and leverages it to help students where they have trouble.

“A step beyond (devices and connectivity) is making sure that teachers are supported, making sure that they have solid professional learning, and making sure that they understand the instructional impact that what they’ve been gifted with will do in the minds of those students,” McGrew said.

Ishmael said that the education ecosystem — whether it be the infrastructure or educators, families and communities — is something the OET needs to continue to address and improve through policy changes. She said their work is “grounded in digital equity and opportunity,” noting the Digital Equity and Education Roundtables (DEER) project, which focuses on availability, affordability and adoption of digital equity. The DEER resource guide is planned to be released next month.
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.