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July 6, 2021

Propelling Promising Practices in Digital Equity for Learning Loss Recovery

John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21

Back in October of 2020, I had the honor and pleasure of serving as a commentator for the fifth installment of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s Learning Loss Recovery Challenge webinar series focused on digital equity, “The Federal Role in Advancing Digital Equity.” In early June 2021, I had the privilege of being invited back, this time to serve as a panelist for the latest installment of the same series, “Accelerating Equitable Learning Recovery Post-COVID: A Few Big Bets, Part II.”

This session highlighted the potential of EdTech (technology that enables effective virtual education) to accelerate learning while also underscoring the importance of providing equitable digital access to enable its widespread use. In addition to expanding on the challenges and needs, we were able to dive into some high-potential emerging solutions, including the main topic I was asked to speak on, digital navigators.

Exceptionally moderated by John Gomberts, Senior Fellow for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and Eirene Chen, Head of Communications at Khan Academy, we engaged in a rich discussion beginning with setting the context and explaining the urgent need to provide equitable digital access to enable students and families to fully engage with EdTech teaching and learning (in addition to meeting their every day technological needs).

Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of Digital Promise, set a powerful tone as he described the urgency of closing the digital gap for good and what doing so could mean for our children and families, especially those most vulnerable. Dr. Vikki Katz, Associate Professor in the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University, followed with her cutting edge research on asset-limited families with children that explored their experiences with remote learning and “pandemic parenting.” She brought home the need to address the digital gap for the whole family unit and reminded us that children do not and cannot function outside the family unit, no matter how we define what a “family” can be.

After talking in-depth about the why and the barriers we face, Victoria Saylor, Manager of Family and Communication Education at Common Sense Media, and I shared emerging high-potential solutions. I deepened the context a bit, describing the “three-legged stool” that is digital access before launching into a conversation around digital navigators:

  1. Reliable and affordable internet connectivity,
  2. Correct device for one’s needs,
  3. Digital literacy training to use it effectively

Digital navigators are the very people who can help individuals and households address any one of or all three legs of the digital access stool. Learn more about digital navigators from my colleague and Digital Access for All consultant, Maribel Martinez, here.

Victoria shared many of the key findings and solutions contained within Common Sense Media’s latest research and reports. There are several highly valuable insights and resources in their findings, which you can discover here.

To close out our discussion, everyone participated in a robust Q&A session in which various topics were addressed, including the pivotal role funders can play as grantmakers and, even more importantly, conveners. Additionally, it was reemphasized how important it is that any progress toward eliminating the digital gap must be community-wide and community-led. No single organization can solve this issue on its own. It truly does take a village, and together, we can close the digital gap for good, ensuring equitable access to Ed-Tech enabled tools specifically and full participation in today’s digital society.

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