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Alice Keeler

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.: The Journey Towards Equity in Education Continues

In our pursuit of Martin Luther King Jr. and educational equity, it's vital that we address the digital divide, a significant barrier to equal access to learning opportunities. This reflects the essence of what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for – a relentless quest for equity, particularly in education, where every student deserves a fair chance to succeed.
Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.: The Journey Towards Equity in Education Continues

As we observe Martin Luther King Day, it’s a time for reflection, not just on the incredible legacy of Dr. King but also on our ongoing journey towards Martin Luther King Jr. and educational equity. As an educator deeply embedded in the intersection of technology and learning, I see the digital divide as one of the most pressing barriers to achieving the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned.

Diverse Utilization of Technology: A Reflection of Implicit Bias

Research and observations reveal that technology is often utilized differently in schools based on income and ethnicity. In higher-income schools, technology is frequently used for creative, problem-solving activities, fostering critical thinking and innovation. Conversely, in lower-income or ethnically diverse schools, technology might be employed more for rote learning and standardized test preparation. This disparity not only reflects but also contributes to the educational divide, perpetuating a cycle where students from different backgrounds receive qualitatively different experiences and skill development opportunities.

AI image of two contrasting classrooms for Martin Luther King Jr. and Educational Equity

A Selection of Research Articles

Castañeda, M., Fuentes-Bautista, M., & Baruch, F. (2015). Racial and Ethnic Inclusion in the Digital Era: Shifting Discourses in Communications Public Policy. Journal of Communication Inquiry, DOI.

Kizilcec, R. F., Mason, J., McCarthy, K. S., Rodrigo, M. M. T., & Rose, C. P. (April 2023). Using Technology to Foster Equitable Access and Diverse Learning Communities. Digital Promise and the International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Ross, L.S. (2021). Equitably Responsive Teaching. In: Mullen, C.A. (eds) Handbook of Social Justice Interventions in Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-35858-7_112

Silva, S., & Kenney, M. (Forthcoming). Algorithms, Platforms, and Ethnic Bias: An Integrative Essay. Phylon: The Clark Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture, 41 pages. 

Weisberg, L., & Dawson, K. (2024). Picturing digital equity in the curriculum: Cultivating preservice teachers’ digital equity mindsets in a technology integration course. Computers & Education, 211, 104988. DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2024.104988

Recognizing and Addressing Implicit Bias in Technology Use

The article “What It Means to Live in a Digitally Connected World: A Tale of Two Teenagers” shares a contrasting example of how two students interact with technology.

“She did her best to complete her homework last night, but it’s harder to work during the fall semester when the sun sets so early, and she gets home from school just at dusk. Maria’s home has intermittent electricity, and evenings are a challenge for her as she tries to do things with limited sunlight.”

“She barely submitted the essay that was due in English class. It was cool that Ms. Bada had them critique their ChatGPT-designed essays. It’s way more interesting than just writing about Homer’s The Odyssey. Coach Gonzalez just messaged the dance team to bring their new uniforms to practice this afternoon.”

“Scholars consistently report that minoritized students, meaning students who are non-White, low-SES, or multilingual (Sensoy et al., 2017), use the same technologies in lower-quality ways than their White and more-affluent peers (Hughes & Read, 2018; Rafalow, 2014; Reich & Ito, 2017; U.S. Department of Education, 2017), such as engaging in traditional lecture-based practices and productivity tasks rather than collaborating, creating content, or actively constructing knowledge (Cuban, 2018; Hughes & Read, 2018; Ravi, 2020; Reich, 2019). “

Weisenberg & Dawson 2024

Equity is More than a Device

It can falsely be assumed that if we provide the same experiences or technology for students that the learning is equitable. As a math teacher I often see the belief that math instruction is unbiased, well because it is math. However, we clearly have a divide when it comes to math scores. There is a limited representation of diverse mathematical traditions and thinkers. Traditional instruction often prioritizes achieving high scores on standardized tests and rote memorization of algorithms, neglecting other important aspects of mathematical thinking like problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity.

How is the Technology Used?

Many educational technology tools are designed for passive consumption of information or repetitive practice, failing to provide opportunities for students to develop higher-order thinking skills and engage in active learning. Educational software and platforms may not reflect the experiences or cultural contexts of all students. This can lead to feelings of alienation and make it difficult for students to see themselves reflected in the learning materials. Many educational technology platforms are designed for data collection and assessment, potentially leading to a narrow focus on measurable outcomes over deeper learning and engagement. This can create pressure on students and limit their opportunities to explore and experiment.

Understanding the Digital Divide in the Context of Martin Luther King Jr. and Educational Equity

The digital divide – the gap between those with and without access to modern information and communication technology – stands as a significant barrier to educational equity. This divide particularly affects students in under-resourced communities, limiting their access to learning opportunities and resources.

Lack of technology access hinders student engagement and achievement. In my interactions with educators and students across diverse regions, the challenges are evident. Students struggle with assignments, research, and keeping pace with digital learning platforms.

Efforts to bridge this digital divide are as varied as they are vital. Initiatives range from schools and districts providing devices and internet access, to non-profits creating educational programs tailored to under-resourced communities.

Challenges to Overcome

Access Disparities

Limited Access Issues: When teachers assign homework or projects requiring internet access or specific devices, it can disadvantage students of color who may lack such resources at home.

Stereotype Reinforcement

Content Choices and Bias: The selection of digital content, including images, videos, and texts, can reinforce stereotypes or cultural biases, affecting students of color’s self-perception and perception of others.

Cultural Insensitivity

Inclusive Material Selection: Teachers might unknowingly use materials or technologies that are culturally insensitive or exclusive, leading to marginalization or misunderstanding among students of color.

Differential Expectations

Assumptions about Tech Proficiency: Teachers may unconsciously have lower expectations for the technology proficiency of students of color, potentially leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Discipline Disparities

Online Behavior Management: Online behavior management systems or algorithms might disproportionately target students of color, resulting in higher disciplinary actions against them.

Biased Assessment Tools

Inherent Algorithmic Biases: The use of technology for assessments, like standardized tests or AI-powered grading, may contain biases that disadvantage students of color.

Unequal Exposure

Opportunity Gaps: There might be unintentional biases in providing access to advanced or enriching technology-related opportunities, limiting skill development for students of color.

Language Barriers

Challenges in Technology-mediated Instruction: Heavy reliance on written content in digital instruction can pose challenges for students of color who face language barriers or are English learners.

Cultural Relevance

Need for Culturally Relevant Content: The absence of culturally relevant content or digital resources can lead to disengagement among students of color.

Assuming Digital Literacy

Misjudging Digital Literacy Levels: Teachers may incorrectly assume that students of color are more digitally literate than they are, leading to frustration and disengagement.

Actionable Steps for Teachers

As we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, our focus sharpens on the enduring journey towards educational equity. Central to this quest is the challenge of bridging the digital divide, a formidable barrier that impedes equal access to learning opportunities. This task resonates deeply with the principles that Dr. King championed – a relentless pursuit of equity in education. He envisioned a world where every student, regardless of background, has an equitable chance at success. Embracing this vision, we must actively work to dismantle the disparities that hinder our progress towards educational justice.

Embrace Technology Inclusively: 

Begin by ensuring every student has access to necessary technology. This isn’t just about providing devices; it’s about creating a supportive environment where all students can leverage technology for learning. Such an approach not only reduces the digital divide but also honors Dr. King’s vision of equality.

Cultivate Digital Literacy:

Focus on developing students’ digital skills comprehensively. This means going beyond basic computer usage to teach critical thinking in a digital context. By doing so, we equip students with the tools they need to navigate and succeed in a technology-driven world.

Promote Diverse Perspectives in Digital Content:

Actively include diverse voices and resources in digital materials. This practice fosters an inclusive classroom environment, reflecting the diverse experiences and histories of all students. It’s a step towards the educational equity that Dr. King aspired to achieve.

Implement Collaborative Online Learning:

Encourage students to engage in collaborative projects using digital tools. This not only enhances their technical skills but also builds empathy and teamwork, key components of a just and equitable educational system.

Advocate for Equitable Tech Policies:

As educators, lend your voice to advocate for policies that promote equitable access to technology. Engage with policymakers, participate in forums, and contribute to discussions that aim to reduce the digital divide.

Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning:

Commit to your ongoing professional development in technology integration. Staying abreast of the latest digital teaching strategies ensures that you can provide the most effective and equitable learning experiences.

Create Accessible and Adaptive Learning Environments:

Design lessons that are accessible to students with varying needs. Utilize adaptive technology that can cater to the diverse learning styles and abilities of all students, embodying the inclusivity that Dr. King advocated.

Upholding Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy in Education

As we honor Martin Luther King Jr., let us also commit to actively addressing the digital divide in our educational systems. This involves not only remembering his words but embodying them in our actions as educators. By striving towards a more equitable educational landscape, we contribute to realizing the world Dr. King dreamed of – one of equality, justice, and opportunity for all.

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