Bridging the Digital Divide for Students — Nevada Digital Learning Collaborative
The Nevada Digital Learning Collaborative brings home internet access and on-demand learning to Nevada students and educators
The recently released Home Access Playbook: Strategies for State Leaders Working to Bridge the Digital Divide for Students examines seven strategies focused on actions states have taken to improve home access for students. These strategies range from developing needs assessments that drive decision-making to providing professional resources to support meaningful classroom learning. This blog series provides an update from two programs that have made successful strides to close the digital access divide for students.
The shift in 2020 to distance education highlighted challenges beyond access to technology, including professional learning for educators and high-quality instructional materials. The Nevada Digital Learning Collaborative (NvDLC) was created to ensure equitable access to high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum for students and professional development for educators in online and blended learning, digital tools, and research-based pedagogy. The goal is for all educators to incorporate digital/blended learning as a daily instruction component and a permanent part of education.
This blog provides a description of NvDLC’s program and a question-and-answer with NvDLC leaders about the steps they have taken to improve equity of access for students and educators.
The features of NvDLC include the following components:
- Connect all students to broadband. In July 2020, a group of business and education leaders formed a public-private coalition, “Connecting Kids,” to identify kids excluded from virtual learning because they lack home broadband access or a digital device.1 The program connected more than 120,000 of Nevada’s nearly half a million public school students before the start of the 2020–2021 academic school year. The approach to connectivity varies based on where students are in the state. While most students received a traditional internet connection, some were connected via hotspots,2 and others through partnership with PBS, which broadcasts instructional materials through in-home televisions.
- Centralized repository of high-quality materials. NvDLC established a centralized website where students, families, and educators can find over 200 free classroom resources related to digital learning. Users have a wide variety of search categories that run the gamut across school subjects such as English language arts, STEM, computer science, fine arts, and world languages. Topics are organized according to grade level (elementary, middle, and high school) and by types of pedagogies (blended, hybrid, or remote). New content is added on an ongoing basis that is available online to all, but the content is also embedded in Nevada’s Learning Management System, Canvas.
- Professional development for educators. Nevada’s Digital Ambassadors, previously called “Digital Engineers,” are a cohort of 42 educators, including district and school administrators. They work collaboratively to create online professional development content (e.g., podcasts, video chats, how-to guides, live panel discussions) and provide localized training to provide knowledge and best practices for working in a digital environment.
Technical support for educators, students, and families. Simultaneously, NvDLC is creating a help desk for the state to support educators, families, and students who have technical issues.
We caught up with one of our colleagues at NvDLC, Dave Brancamp, Director, Nevada Department of Education, Office of Standards and Instructional Support, to get an update on the program and NvDLC’s plans for improving digital equity.
Looking back at the last 15 months, can the NvDLC discuss some of the learnings and best practices that would be helpful for other states looking to improve digital access?
One of the recommendations I would offer states is to begin developing strong partnerships with industry in their districts and communities. Partnerships with districts can support buy-in and help build a collective rapport for success. Additionally, they can be a support piece and include families in the conversation. Once all the stakeholders are at the table, the first step in figuring out how to close the digital gap is to create a needs assessment and understand the technology skill levels of students, educators, and families. Be prepared to have a spectrum of skill sets, from the extreme basics to advanced.
How have your goals changed (or stayed the same) now that many of these students/educators are returning to school?
We want to promote the mindset that this is a shift in instructional pedagogy and not a fix for a crisis. Students, educators, and families must adapt to the different learning environments and be flexible in how learning is delivered. Learning really can be anytime and anywhere and is not bound by classroom walls. As our goals evolve, the level of support changes, so it is critical we continue the practice of moving forward with innovation and risks.
What are some things the NvDLC and the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) are planning to further close the digital gap for students (and educators)?
NDE and the NvDLC are expanding access to curriculum and content and professional learning for all educators through our statewide learning management system. NvDLC is also releasing a comprehensive guide for districts and schools to support digital/blended learning in ALL classrooms. Lastly, NvDLC has appointed 40 educators to be Digital Ambassadors who will mentor, coach, and provide an online curriculum to all stakeholders in Nevada.
NvDLC believes not everyone can seamlessly make the switch from classroom to living room teaching. Some stakeholders in education, from the students to the teachers themselves, require extra help. The Nevada Department of Education, in partnership with groups, companies, and other educational organizations, recognized this and quickly responded by providing training and additional materials for everyone involved in the process. Not only will the Nevada Digital Learning Collaborative serve its community during the spread of the pandemic, but it will also remain a resource beyond this time. Education needs to transform to meet students and educators where they are through technology and on-demand resources.
NvDLC is an exemplar project that connects the need for internet and devices, professional development for educators, Digital Ambassadors as coaches, online digital curriculum available to all, and a help desk for students and families. Other states have created a similar online digital curriculum that is available for all to use — in particular, Texas and Oregon have highly regarded sites.
Additional exemplars are available in the Home Access Playbook: Strategies for State Leaders Working to Bridge the Digital Divide for Students. The Playbook outlines seven strategies, or “plays,” that state leaders are taking to address home access for students. The plays include examples that can be adapted and implemented across different state contexts. The Home Access Playbook at available at https://tech.ed.gov/home-access-playbook/.
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