Richard Culatta: Five Ways Technology Can Close Equity Gaps

Associate Editor

Washington

Technology as an avenue to equity in education isn’t often discussed, but it should be, U.S. Education Department Office of Technology Director Richard Culatta told participants of the Thought Leaders Summit on Thursday, as part of National Education Week. (The event is not affiliated with Education Week.)

To launch his presentation, Culatta introduced the group to the story of Shay Bloxton, who —as a high school student five years ago—discovered a pulsar through an online collaboration with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.Shay Bloxton.png

That kind of access demonstrates how even a high school student in West Virginia can connect to a much larger universe with the help of technology. 

Culatta identified five opportunities to close the equity gap with technology. They include:

Opportunity #1: Equitable access to high-quality digital learning materials

The Learning Registry, which Culatta called “the human genome project” for open educational resources, is an online information network designed to organize and vet academic content for educators. It can be tapped into through various websites, such as free.ed.gov, the Illinois shared learning resources site, or MyDigitalChalkboard from California.

Opportunity #2: Equitable access to expertise

“Too many of our students are disadvantaged purely based on the ZIP code they live in,” he said, referring to a community that had a math teacher opening for five years because it couldn’t attract anyone to the town for that job. Ed tech can fill the gap, he said.

Meanwhile, in Sunnyside, Ariz., a high school bioengineering class was able to capture the genomes of all indigenous plant life in their region, by using technology to work with a local university.

Opportunity #3: Personalized learning

“One of the least equitable things we do is to treat all students the same,” he said. Adjusting the pace and path of learning can be transformationall, he said.

Some schools are personalizing a student’s learning to the extent that his or her schedule changes each day based on what was achieved the day before, he said.

Opportunity #4 – Support planning for higher education

“There are very few tools to help [students] make that transition,” said Culatta, who touted the January Datapalooza sponsored by the White House and the Education Department, in which open data was provided to developers who created and showcased products to help with post-secondary education planning.

Opportunity #5 – Supporting accessibility

To illustrate this opportunity, Culatta showed a video of a student who is being treated for lymphoma, and attends school remotely via a robot. Students at David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla., raised money to buy a robot for Kyle, and produced a video explaining the experience.

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Tech Equity: A Civil Rights Issue

Culatta pointed out that equity in technology was part of a recent “Dear Colleague” letter from the Office for Civil Rights. This was the first guidance on the issue of resource equity released during the Obama administration, and it included references to equal access to laptops, tablets, the Internet, and instructional materials. 

“We consider the number of devices, the type, and their age,” Culatta said.

He called technology an accelerator that can change the world.

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Photo Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

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