The Digital Equity Toolkit

In my February post, I talked about a Digital Learning Day. To quote myself, digital learning is:

… about utilizing digital tools to help teach and strengthen a student’s learning experience. In a time when digital learning (and various digital tools) seems to be a popular trend, it’s important that the people who are using this technology are sharing their experiences with others.

So digital learning is great and in many ways dovetails with digital literacy, skills that we (as adults, librarians, and educators) firmly believe that every person should be equipped with.

However, this goal can be blocked by equity. I am sure we all know teens who come into our libraries that do not have reliable access to the internet. While some may have access to the internet, it seems that more and more, families need to have broadband speeds (side note: if you’re still a little hazy over what exactly broadband is, Tech Times has a good explanatory post).

To explain this a little better, we have to think big picture. Part of the digital literacy equation has been the internet and access to the internet. The “digital divide,” a term coined in the 1990s has been the focus of digital initiatives. These programs, grants, and funding has provided internet access to schools and libraries, anchor institutions that serve a large community.

Some people believe that in our quest to close the digital divide, we have provided access but have forgotten that some students from lower socio-economic classes do not have the opportunity to use the internet at these anchor institutions 24/7. This means they are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to complete homework or class projects. Some has called this the “homework gap.” In a 2015 study conducted by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, 50% of the students reported they could not finish their homework because they lacked access to the internet.

The Consortium for Schools Networking (CoSN) has written about the “homework gap” and has put together a toolkit for those seeking digital equity. While this toolkit is aimed at schools, much of this information is also good for public librarians.

The toolkit is available for download (after providing a few demographic details) and outlines the steps schools can take to first, learn what access their students do have, and second, strategies to consider when trying to close the homework gap. The toolkit is nice in that it’s only 30 pages, is full of great links to explore, and includes many case studies that can serve as a source of inspiration.

CoSN recommends that schools first survey and engage with the community at large. Discover and build relationships with community organizations (like your local public library). These community relationships are crucial because some businesses might be able to fund future projects. Once you know the community and their needs, then the toolkit gives six strategies to “spark innovation.” For me, this is the best part of the toolkit because you get to see great ideas in action.

I won’t give away all the great stuff contained in this toolkit but I will leave you with one case study. In the Coachella Valley in California, the school district equipped their school busses with wifi networks for students to access while sitting on the bus.

After looking over the toolkit, does your school district or library talk about either digital equity or the homework gap? What ways are you locally trying to ensure access to teens and what ideas have inspired you?

About Hailley Fargo

Hi, I'm a new professional working as the Student Engagement Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. As someone who provides reference to undergraduate students and teach information literacy to primarily freshman, I'm curious about the intersections of the work of YALSA and academic libraries (and how we can collaborate and work together to help our teens). In my spare time, I like to bike, read memoirs, watch TV shows, and consider myself an oatmeal connoisseur.
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