Digital Equity in K12 Education: A Conversation With Beth Holland
Published on: 12th May, 2022
In this episode, Dr. Beth Holland, a Partner at The Learning Accelerator (TLA), talked with Elana about the nuances and challenges of achieving digital equity, explains why the most successful EdTech products are often the simplest ones, reframes “learning loss” as “unfinished learning,” and so much more.
Access this episode's show notes, including links to the audio, a summary, and helpful resources.
Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I’ve devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week, I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I’m excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of All Things Marketing and Education. I’m Elana Leoni, and I’m the CEO and founder of Leoni Consulting Group, which is officially five years old in February. I can’t believe it. Today, I have the pleasure of sitting down with my friend, Dr. Beth Holland. I’ve known Beth from my days at Edutopia, where she blogged. I don't know, it’s been almost ten years, Beth.
It is. It’s been almost ten years since we started working together.
Yes. Then I looked and scrolled at all your blog posts and I’m like, "Jeez!" Every year, nuggets of wisdom around digital equity, educational leadership, tech integration. They were some of our most always popular blogs. I just love learning from you over the years and getting to know you in person at conferences. Last time we talked, I just had this moment saying, “Gosh, she’s so inspiring. She’d be a great guest for the show.” So, here you are. A little bit more official about Beth, because I know she won’t talk in detail about who she is. A lot of our guests are too humble. So this is my time to gush about you.
Beth is a partner at the Learning Accelerator. I’ll let her tell you more about what specifically the Learning Accelerator is, but it’s a national non-profit doing some really great things in education. I love all of their resources. They’re all entirely free, and they’re vetted, and they have great research embedded into them. So we’ll talk a little bit about that. Beth leads the organization’s research and measurement initiatives, and she brings over 25 years of experience working as an educator, a researcher, and specifically with a lens of equity and communication within K-12 public school systems. So that is a lot and I’m not even done yet.
She’s had a role at the Consortium of School Networking, CoSN, and that is a great organization, and we’ll put that in the Show Notes for you all as well. Lots of free research-based resources, as well. Over there, she led the Digital Equity and Rural Initiatives. She completed a post-doctoral research fellowship on a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn Initiative at the University of Rhode Island. And she’s worked as a teacher and administrator, a professional learning developer in schools across the country. I love that she has the hands-on experience of being in the classroom with lots of those roles, those various roles as a stakeholder in education, but then has this really formal background in education and research. You’re just such a student, always. So curious about what really works. It’s not enough to just say what works, let’s show how it works. That’s a very Edutopia mindset, too. George Lucas was always like, there’s amazing things happening in education. Let’s make sure it’s sound and there’s research around it, and that schools can actually adapt them. More importantly, they can see it. They can see when kids light up. So I love that about her.
She’s got all sorts of degrees. I’m really saying this because it adds context to her expertise. I know that she’s put in decades and decades in sweat equity to really understanding the space. She holds an education doctorate in entrepreneurial leadership in education from Johns Hopkins University. A master’s degree in technology, innovation and education from Harvard, and a bachelor of science degree in communications from Northwestern. I feel like a slacker.
I’m going to let Beth just introduce herself. Today, Beth is going to talk to us about all things equity, and specifically K-12 education. Then I’m hoping that we can get into what you as listeners – either an educator in the classroom, or maybe you’re in a district role, or supporting teachers. Or if you’re an EdTech company and you’re trying to figure out what is equity, what’s the state of equity? More importantly, what can I do as an EdTech company, or as a leader in an EdTech company, to help and not hinder this. So welcome back to the podcast. I am so excited you’re here. And please just tell the audience a little bit more about you, something I missed, something I got wrong.
It’s so fun to be back working with you again. I think you were my first editor at Edutopia when I first started blogging, and it was about ten years ago.
I might have been. I tend to overstep my bounds, sometimes. I ran social and community, but I love content, so I think sometimes Alan would come to me or Betty.
I remember working with you in those early days, back when I was actually known as like the iPad person. Because it was the early days of iPads, and I was working as a teacher at the time and really trying to figure out, "OK, great. We have this thing, now what are we going to do with it?" I used to actually introduce myself, “I’m the ‘now what?’ person.” Schools and districts had just rolled out a thousand iPads, a thousand Chromebooks, and then they go, "OK, now what do we do with it?" That’s when I showed up. I’m like, "OK, I’m the 'now what?' person." As you said, I’ve been a classroom teacher. I’ve been working in professional learning. Actually, the technology piece is always sort of interesting. I graduated from my undergrad, I think I had seen the Internet, once. I realize that also dates me. And I remember I wrote a paper that said that email would never succeed as a form of communication. I was clearly wrong. As much as I’ve had my moments of being right, when I’m wrong, I’m really wrong. I had a professor one time tell me that I was absolutely brilliant about ten percent of the time. She’s like, "The other 90, I have no idea where you’re coming from. It makes you kind of likeable." So I’ll hold onto my ten percent. I was not in a ten percent moment when I said that email would never succeed.
To fill you in a little bit more on the work where I am now, so I do lead our research in measurement work at the Learning Accelerator. As you said, we’re a national non-profit. We like to consider ourselves an intermediary in the field. So we see that there’s lots and lots of work that great organizations are doing, but a lot of times the work is all happening in pockets. What we try to do is bring all of these different partners and organizations and groups together so that we can all learn collectively.
From a research and measurement perspective, I work directly with districts. Sometimes they have really interesting problems, and they’re looking for help in deeply understanding them or trying to bring a measurement aspect in. Right now, for example, I’m working with Lindsay Unified School District out in California, and we’re doing a measurement study of their residency program. Where, much like doctors have residents, Lindsay bult a residency program where it’s really fascinating. They said, "OK, we want to identify people from our own community. We’re going to help them get credentialed and get their undergraduate degrees and work through the curriculum." Then, instead of just throwing a new teacher in the classroom, they take this resident, and they pair them with a mentor teacher. Then that mentor teacher really helps them start to build their skills and capacity and to understand what does it mean to be an educator in Lindsay. So they get this whole year before they’ll then go be a first-year teacher the next year.
So we're working on a study right now to understand the effects and the value of that residency program right now for really building up the human capital within the district. I’m working with Kent School District in Washington State on helping their research team build more capacity as they’re measuring student progress. So sometimes we’re working directly with districts, and then sometimes we work on really just interesting, broader challenges. We’re launching a brand new project right now to understand the effects of giving teachers access to really high-quality professional learning and high-quality technology to see how does that lead to more creative learning experiences for students? And when students are able to engage in these more creative learning experiences, what’s the effect of that on their learning in general, and some of their outcome measures? So we do lots of interesting measurement challenges working with districts, working with partners. I’m not sure. I can keep going, or I can stop there.
I think that that is good. When you were talking, I’m like, "Gosh, you have a good job." You have a really interesting, fun job, and not many people have the resources or the capability to really examine those challenging questions. I like how you’re approaching it from the pipeline, too. Because we have a teacher shortage, and we do not graduate educators with the experience that they need. They are fully unprepared when they get to the classroom. So you’re talking about that in the beginning stages of what education is, but then you’re also saying, "Well, what really moves the needle in learning and engagement? What is the learning we should be teaching students to make sure that they are prepared for the real world, whatever that means for them?" It seems like you’re all over the spectrum, and you’re answering lots of very, very hard questions.
What resonated with me, too, is that you’re talking about how education is siloed – and it is. I love that you’re trying to not redo what’s been done, but to try to help maybe connect the dots as well. Because we don’t tend to talk to each other very much in education, and that’s one of the reasons why I started this podcast, too. Because I feel like even in the EdTech spectrum, we don't talk as much as we should with educators, and we don't really know how to talk with each other. Educators don’t know how to talk effectively to EdTech, too. That’s just one part of the ecosystem.
f here, this is back in early:
I had a wonderful student years ago who was a really little kid, and he would come down into the computer lab, and he was so small that when he sat in the chair his feet didn’t touch the ground. He had the Velcro shoes and they blinked. He was a little guy. He was only five. The realities of teaching a student whose feet don’t touch the ground and, like, Velcro or shoelaces is way more interesting than any potential pedagogical theory. There’s that disconnect. Then you bring technology in and you have the design aspect. So does the design of the tool actually meet the reality of the classroom practice, and does it have sound educational theory behind it? So somewhere there’s a sweet spot between those three elements, when you start to have things that work really, really well. I always think of the technology tools where they might have a great intent, but the learning curve is so steep that you can’t ever necessarily really embrace how it works. Very, very powerful tool, but, oh, my gosh, it takes me so long to learn.
Whereas I always like to – I got my friends at Book Creator. I always love the way that they narrowed it down. They’re like, "There’s three buttons. Push a plus button, push an 'I' button, everything is there. Unlimited possibilities." But they understood the realities of having that child or having maybe a teacher who’s not as familiar with technology, and able to use a tool and have it quickly have an impact in the classroom.
That’s so important. From the EdTech perspective, I just want to point out what she’s saying is: "Simplicity." I mean, there’s ways that you can add on and make your tool more advanced, but really focus on simplicity and making sure that it complements what the teacher is trying to do in the classroom floor learning objectives, learning outcomes. It’s not just a bell and whistle. Oh, let’s get some students’ attention right away. It seems like really what are we trying to do, first, and then how can we use technology to effectively complement it. I think we’ll get into a lot of that for all of you educators listening, of how to choose tech tools with evaluation in mind – really, outcomes in mind. What things to look for. Specifically, as it relates to equity and reaching all learners.
Before we do, I think we should just open up with what is digital equity? I think a lot of people talk about it in different ways. The achievement gap, close the gap, digital equity gap, divide gap, all these things. I think what I’m going to do is just talk about a definition that I actually got on your website. So I know that you’re not going to refute this. You might add some color to it.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance have a definition of what digital equity is, and they define it as a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. And again, this is a bit of a broader definition and not just specifically for K-12 education. It has more ramifications, too. They’re really talking about society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civil and cultural participation, employment, life-long learning, and access to essential services. Would you add anything to that definition, since you’re more the expert than I am? I just copied and pasted it from a website.
I think the biggest piece is understanding that there’s a difference between when we think about digital equity, versus digital access. A lot of the conversation, particularly over the last few years, has been focused on the access piece, and it’s incredibly important. I’m not denying that at all. Because if we don't have access to devices and we don't have access to high-speed Internet, then it’s really hard to continue the conversation any further. Where I think it’s important for educators to think about and for leaders and technology developers is to then start asking some other questions to move towards that digital equity space of saying things like, "Not only do our students have access, but do they have ownership? Can they actually configure the device to meet their needs? Can they actually make sure that they have the tools and the resources that they think are the most important? Do they own the way that things are set up?"
I’ve had this conversation in particular, lately, with some independent school folks, where there’s a sense of like, "Oh, we’re one-to-one. We gave every single kid a device. We’ve made it to digital equity." Then the challenge becomes if the only device you ever had access to is something owned by the district, and not by you. That means that you’re constantly in this borrowed space. It’s not your space. And you may have students from more affluent families where they can go buy whatever other device they need. And they may be able to say something, like, "Yeah, I know I have filtered Internet on my school-issued laptop. Let’s just use a generic. It doesn't matter what it is. I’m not filtered. They’re not monitoring things." What does it mean to know that you’re not on a monitored device? I’m not saying don’t monitor. I’m saying, let’s just think about the implications here. Don't you have that ability to really own and configure what it is? And is that device really sufficient for what they need?
I’ve talked with district leaders, at least, and again that idea of, "Oh, we gave every single kid a device." But what happens when you have some kids that are way into the arts, and there’s so many really cool tools that they could be using, but they don't have the processing power. Or maybe you have a kid that’s really into music, and they might want to be able to plug instruments in do music recording. But that may not be possibly on this district-issued device. Or thinking about it from a STEM perspective, there’s all kinds of science and engineering tools that may or may not work in different ways so that there isn’t that sufficiency and there isn’t ownership. That’s another piece coming towards equity.
Then a piece that’s really stuck with me over the years, and a district leader made this comment to me. We were talking about the idea of how do we deal with the opportunity side of digital equity? Do kids have the opportunity to be doing advanced computer science or advanced coding or robotics, or all those things? This district leader actually said to me one thing: "If you really want my students of color to be super interested in these things," he said, "stop pushing your white makerspace." I really wish we had been in a video conference and not on a phone conference when he said that, because I would have liked to have seen people’s reactions. But then when he really dug into it and said, "Wow, are the opportunities we’re creating, are the tools that we’re promoting, do our students really feel motivated by them, and do they see themselves in it, and do they think that it honors their identity?"
e this really amazing book in:
So it really raised a lot of questions when we think about digital equity beyond just, again, that access. What are the kinds of opportunities and how do they honor the identities and the voices and the histories and the cultures in our students? Do they see themselves in the tools and the applications? We can go on from there. There’s a set of conditions around it that we often don't think about. I guess the last piece, too, even is do the policies that we have in place lead towards equity, or do they undermine our equity initiatives? As a concrete example, kids have phones in their pockets which can do amazing things. They can be translators, they can be dictionaries, they could record notes.
I remember when iPads first came out, and it was so exciting to take a picture of a whiteboard or a marker board so you can take your notes with you. How do we make sure that we’re honoring the capabilities that we have instead of saying, "Oh, put that thing away?" Or, "Oh, turn your phone off." I remember some teacher saying, "Well, if they take a picture of the whiteboards, then they won’t take notes." It’s like, no, no, no. Let them take notes on the whiteboard. So when we think about it in a K-12 space, really starting to think about what are the opportunities our kids are having? What are the types of instructional practices we’re putting in place? And then what are the systems that are surrounding them in the classroom and how does that support their learning? That might have been a longer definition.
There were moments in your talk where I was just, "Great thing! Goosebumps!" I just want to tell you. Because when you said about white makerspaces, I was like, "Oh!" That’s why I love this podcast, because it helps mind shifts. We don't get exposed to these things, and we sometimes only think with our own lens, right? Or I think what you said, even, too, in the beginning when you started teaching, you started teaching how you were taught, right? And that’s sometimes what we do as educators. We come in, or I’m coming in, I’m doing what I’ve been taught. You just don't have the mind or the exposure to really say, "Is this right? Does this make learning relevant for all of my learners?" And I think we’ll get into some of the opportunities and systems when we talk a little bit more, because every single time, I’m like, "How do I do this? And how do I do this if I don't come from the background of my students. If I’m an EdTech person, how do I make sure that my product actually does attract all type of learners, if that’s even possible?" All these questions.
I remember just having this moment – it was a couple years ago. I was working with a fabulous group of educators in Skokie, Illinois, and we were having this conversation about bringing in technology and great thing really comfortable with it. I had a teacher who said, "Look, at the end of the day, I don't care as much about the technology. I don't want to have to just sit down and work with it." I had one of those moments when my filter fell off and I just said, "Well, it’s OK, because it’s not about you." I realized in retrospect there are much better ways to have framed it. She was incredibly good-natured and it was a fabulous group. But we had a really amazing conversation at the point of saying, "You know, as educators, we were good at school." No one goes into teaching because they were bad at school, usually. There was some element you were good at it.
So now it becomes a real challenge to say, "It’s not about me. It’s not about what worked for me. It's not about what my experience is. It’s about how do I help these kids at this moment in time to make sure that they’re getting what they need to be successful in the way in which they want to succeed?" That’s really hard. But I think when you see great educators, I think that’s what they’re really good at. Is saying, "It’s not about me, it’s about these kids, and I know how to support them in the best possible ways, and I’m going to keep trying things until I can find the best way to meet their needs."
Yes. That’s such a great point around shifting the benefits. Sometimes you go in and you go, "OK, of course they’ll like it because I like it." There’s that assumption. I would say that design thinking does this really, really well. So if any of you educators out there, or from the EdTech side, have ever used design thinking practices, you have to check your ego at the door. Sometimes we emotionally get attached to ideas because we loved this lesson plan, and we love this feature. Then we user test it and they don't even like it at all. They hate it, in fact. And it doesn't meet their needs. So we have to take that time to listen to them and figure it out. How do we begin? If you’re educator trying to implement technology in the classroom, their jobs are hard enough in the pandemic. I can’t imagine adding another layer into it. But they certainly care and want to make sure that the technology they do use furthers learning and includes all learners. Now we also have remote, hybrid, in-person, all of these things that are still kind of ebbing and flowing in education. How do they get started trying to figure out what technology to plug-and-play? I know that’s a really hard question, but you might have some tips as it relates to equity and access.
I mean, I think the first piece is always going back to what does great instructional design do? If we think about great instructional design, it always starts with the learning objective. What do I want my students to really be able to demonstrate at the end of the day? What’s the core understanding that I want them to have? We could look at it through Wiggins and McTighe’s Teaching for Understanding, with Stone Wiske. Wiggins and McTighe were looking at Understanding by Design. Sorry, I had two things at the same time. The word understanding is really fascinating, because it’s not what do you want them to do or what skill or what discreet content area. What is the bigger understanding? If we can start with that, I really want my students to understand.
An example that I often use when thinking about it from an historical perspective, I did an American history class, and the teacher said, "I really want my students to understand what does it mean to come from a society that was born from revolution?" Which is a really big understanding. We were using the Choices program, the Facing History in Ourselves piece. So you have to ask a lot of really deep questions. To understand what it means to come from revolution means, of course, you then have all of these discrete skills and competencies that you have to develop because you need to be able to deconstruct historical events. You need to be able to synthesize across time periods. You need to be able to engage with different kinds of text. All of those are really discrete things. It drags back to that bigger understanding.
So now we’re starting to think about what is the technology that comes into play? First off, the kids have lots of ideas. They will be really interested in lots of things. And if your objective is for them to demonstrate and understand me, you can ask them how they want to do it. Now, they may need some support. I remember doing a project with sixth graders, many years ago. They wanted to design their own video game. I had no idea that we were going to do that. But I said, "Sure. That’s great. Let’s make a video game." Then we had to do some research together and say, "Well, how do you make a video game?" In the end, they never actually designed a video game, but they did the pitch for the video game as if they were selling it to Nintendo. So they had to have all the thinking behind it. Their technology at the time ended up being big butcher block paper and markers. But they demonstrated their understanding of their global warming concepts. They demonstrated their understanding of what is the logic of a video game? Sometimes that technology piece will come from having that really clearly defined objective. What is the understanding? What are the objectives? What are the knowledge skills and competencies? And then saying, "OK, well, how are we going to get there?" I think from there, different tools will come to the surface."
Yes. When you were talking, I was thinking about why don’t we give our students as much freedom, in terms of choice? I know that there are some technical and financial ramifications sometimes in the classroom that we can’t give them access to everything. But there is so much freely accessible tools, and I love that you were sitting side-by-side with them as a learner, as well. And saying, "You know? You’re going to have to figure this out, too." When I have intern programs come in, a lot of the times I don't know how to do it. I said, "Why don’t you think about it, and we can figure out it out together? I don't know. I’m not an expert." Because things are moving too quickly to be an expert in anything. Demonstrating that and giving them the voice and the choice to say, "Hey, I have an idea. Maybe I can do a podcast. I want to do it from the perspective of somebody fighting in the revolution, or whatever it may be. I never thought of that, but sure." If you can demonstrate this, go for it.
[Lawrence Rife ?:
That’s the key, too, is tapping into students' prior knowledge, potentially, but also their passion, and making it relevant to them. That’s why I love really when we talk about effective tech integration, or even things like project-based learning and real-life application. What you do matters. When kids ask you, "Why are we even learning this?" They will never ask that because it’s really clear, right?
Why don’t we talk a little bit about what’s going on now? We’ve had a couple of years in a pandemic, so this incredibly challenging time period for education. Educators across the nation and the world were forced to say, "OK, how do we quickly get up to speed with technology we potentially may have never used before?" Can you walk me through – just from your researcher eye, I think it would be incredibly fascinating to see how you’ve seen technology infrastructure and potentially access increase or be used in different ways over the couple of years. Maybe some things that you thought were really cool, but maybe some things that you think that you might want to caution, as well?
There’s a couple of things. The first one is, especially the early days of the pandemic, is it did shine a huge light on issues of the digital divide, of digital access. All of a sudden, there were roughly 15 million kids that did not have Internet access and about nine million of them didn’t have a device. So that was approximately about 30 percent of public school students who were now in a remote learning situation and they had no remote learning. That number, as of the last report I read, has been decreased by 20 percent, but we’re still talking millions of kids who do not have Internet access at home and don't have a device that could connect to it even if they did have it. So from a pandemic perspective, what’s come out of it is the Digital Equity Act that’s been proposed by Senator Murray from Washington State. There’s massive investments that’s coming in terms of broadband funding. E-Rate, which is how schools and libraries can get funding for Internet access and devices, has been updated so that it can start to cover Internet access at home. It didn’t used to be allowed to do that.
We’ve seen great work with public/private partnerships. Making sure that schools are working with private companies, trying to make sure again that kids have access outside of school, all of those things are happening. I think there’s been increased familiarity with platforms that can lend themselves really well to blended learning. So we can say these things worked really well online and these things worked really well in person. A challenge that’s come of that is this retrenchment to normal. One of the things that we’ve been really focused on at the Learning Accelerator is how do we see as a moment where we can say, "It’s not about going back, but it’s about making its and moving forward."
So we have a project right now called the Strategy Lab, where we’re working with districts across the country to say, "How can we use virtual and hybrid models to lead towards more equitable learning in the future?" We don't want to just go back. We want to take advantage of standing up our virtual academy, or standing up a hybrid model where kids might be able to take some classes online and some in person. How do we really take advantage of this moment so that we’re thinking about school in a different way? With more comfort with the tools, I think there are more possibilities. The real question is how do we make sure that we’re thinking ahead, and not trying to say, "OK, let’s go back."
Another piece that I’m watching very carefully is the advancement of becoming comfortable with adaptive platforms. So things that range from NWEA MAP and i-Ready, to DreamBox – I always want to call Dragon Box, but there’s no dragons – DreamBox Map Assignments. There’s all these different platforms that have content, have curriculum, can provide direct, immediate feedback to students. I think that there’s great potential in starting to shift conversations aware from a deficit perspective on, "Oh, we’ve measured learning here. We measured it here, and we see these gaps." Instead, to be able to say, "We have these platforms that can start measuring student progress over time. Where are we seeing patterns of growth? And how do we celebrate those patterns and learn from them so that we can share more bright spots with our colleagues and see if we can advance learning for more kids?" That has a great potential. It also has the equity side effect of what happens when that’s all the instruction that kids are getting, and potentially of some kids that are getting way more face-to-face instruction or the project-based authentic kinds of learning experiences versus just "I have my headphones on and I’m just plugging through curriculum." It can go both ways. I think there’s a warning to it.
We’re actually having a conversation next week with InnovateEDU and a handful of educators about "is data neutral?" If we’re collecting all of this data from all of these platforms, what does it really mean, and what questions will we be asking as we’re looking at it with our students? Because that’s another equity challenge. As we start to bring more and more tools in that are collecting more and more data, how are we using that data, and how are we thinking about it, and how are we helping our teachers and students to think about it? I would say to your EdTech companies on that, "How transparent are you being about the ways in which you’re collecting data, the algorithms behind the platforms that could be interpreting that data, and where that data is going?" Because I think that’s the next really big equity issue that a lot of us are starting to watch and to have some concerns about.
Every time you speak, I’m like, "Oh, so much to unpack, there and there," and it’s amazing. You’re just bringing it. My job is just to pause and go, "Wow," and two, bring out some points, too, that might resonate with our audience, too. When you talk about the deficit mentality around the learning gap, all the learning loss, all that stuff, it just makes our ears hurt at this point. It’s scare tactics. Sure, there was some learning loss and types of ways. But it didn’t have the context needed when you talked about data being neutral. Data inherently is biased. We need to understand the context in which all of this is gathered, and what groups are we inherently talking about and leaving out. So there is a lot of, "Well, we actually found that this type of child flourished in online learning." I didn’t hear as much about that. But it just became another scare tactic to say, "Educators, you aren’t doing your job well enough, and by the way, when you get back to in-person, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do." What kind of a welcome is that after they’ve been suffering and doing everything they can do?
I love your idea of shining a spotlight on what is working, moving it there and then that is participatory learning. It’s, "Wow, there are some things that we can shine a spotlight on and move forward." I just wanted to point that out, because that’s a really different mind shift to look at something incredibly complex and empower people instead of say, "OK, we got you. You’re going to have to work harder when you get back."
We actually, as an organization at the Learning Accelerator, like the term "unfinished learning" instead of "learning loss." Because it allows us to take an asset-based approach, and it acknowledges the fact that not every kid had the opportunity and experience. Things were unfinished because they didn’t have the resources to do the learning. So with the measurement aspects of this, and we did this study in Lindsay Unified School District last year. All of our work is public, if you want it. We’re working with a few other districts. And we actually had a “How To” guide for schools and districts that want to take this approach. We started measuring progress over time. So think about the slope of a line. We wanted to know where are we seeing greater growth? And in Lindsay, in particular, we saw growth in places that nationally didn’t. Students classified as homeless and migrant at the K-8 level made a lot of progress. We saw really good growth trajectories. So then we could ask the questions and said, "What was going on there?" And we found out there were additional layers of support. There was a program called Healthy Start that made sure that all of the kids were fed and clothed and they had access. They came back on campus early. There was an early cohort model. There was a lot of great support.
Then it raised the question of how do we scale this to more kids? Because they did make progress. If we had only looked at, say, the average scores, and we took a deficit mindset, then we would have said, "Oh, look, these kids, their scores are lower." Instead, we were able to say, "Look how much they gained."
So well said. There’s so much gain that happened, and so much more relationship and collaboration between people that don’t typically do that. My gosh, there was so much that was done well during the pandemic, but not ignoring that there are some things are – I love your term "unfinished." They’re not lost. We can build upon it. It was purely just access or resources or just learning curves and jumping into these things.
I know we could talk about this forever and ever and ever, and you have just dosed us with a ton of wisdom. For all of you trying take notes right now on all of the programs that she’s talking about, we will follow-up with Beth, get all the links and put them in our Show Notes. I’ll provide the link to the show notes at the end. I know that your organization has a guide around digital equity, and I remember going through it going, "Wow, this is free?" There’s so much research in it and it’s very practical. So a lot of the questions I was asking is, "Yes, Beth, but how do we do it? How?" This gets into more practical things of how do you create a working group to really establish what you want to learn together that’s specific to your district or your school? Did you want to add a little bit about what they can find in this guide? Again, we’ll put it in the Show Notes. It’s 100 percent free and, like Beth talked about, all of the things on her website, they don't do that ask you to give an email or anything like that. There’s no catch. When I would go to Edutopia and we would do exhibit booths and we’re like, "Yeah, we’re free." "No, no, but there’s a catch." And people would not even take a pencil because they’re like, "If I take this pencil..." It’s free, people!
I still have an Edutopia pencil. We’re philanthropically funded. But we really believe as part of our mission that we should be about equitable access to knowledge. So you’ll never have to fill in a form. Everything is Creative Commons licensed and available. With the Digital Equity Guide, I’ll be honest, it took over two years to write. There was a long time in the thinking. I had a fabulous thought partner, Hali Larkins, who is now a fellow with Office of Educational Technology. I’m still sad that she’s not working with us anymore. She’s an amazing fellow and a great resource. We really had to take a step back and say the access question is almost easy. How do we get access to kids? Organizations like CoSN and SETDA have done an amazing job talking about bandwidth and ways to get Internet to kids and how you get devices. But what we dug into is we wanted to think about it almost in a dual-track approach. Where we said, "What does the ideal classroom experience look like if digital equity was at the forefront?" And we used our learning framework that we have at the Learning Accelerator as the lens through which to examine it. So we said, "How do we make sure that instructional practices are targeted and relevant, and what does that mean from a digital equity perspective? How do we make sure that students are actively engaging with their learning? What does that mean? How do we make sure it’s socially connected?" I think the social connection piece is often left out. But it’s so critically important for learning, both with technology and without, that kids have that social learning.
Then the last piece is, "Is it growth-oriented?" Meaning really meaningful learning experiences not measured by seat time. That we’re showing progress. We’re developing skills. So that was our one track. And then we looked at the same time and said, "For these classroom practices to occur, a set of system conditions need to be in place. What are those system conditions?" Then we took a step back out and said, "Well, there needs to be a really great vision for what it means to learn with technology, and what it means to teach with technology. Then we have to have change management processes. And we have to have professional learning, and we have to think about materials and tools and our policies, and how we communicate." We broke the guide into these two pieces of saying, "Here’s what it looks like at the classroom practice level, and then here’s these other conditions that need to be in place so that those practices can actually occur." All of that is wrapped up into our guide with lots and lots of concrete examples and concrete strategies. There’s a self-assessment tool for districts to be able to sit down as a team and say, "Where do we think we are in all of this, and then how might we move forward so that we can start to make some process and some changes?" There’s a reflection and planning workbook, which is also there to help.
So dive into that guide. We will put the link in there. I will say that it was incredibly helpful to separate out the stakeholders, who you are, are you in classroom, are you trying to make change on a district level? And the working questions. It’s very workbooky. I love all the resources. The assessment is a great to way to say, "Where are we at? How can we get started? How can we move at the pace we need to move?" Equity has been at the forefront of a lot of the pandemic. Not only in the classroom, but in EdTech, in particular. I’m wondering for the EdTech side of the people listening, they have been saying, "OK, I have a tool, and here’s how it can help with equity and access." Do you have any advice for them around, not how they’re positioned, but I just feel like there’s this moment that sometimes the nature of tech in education is that it sometimes exacerbates the have and have-nots. Because the business models, they have to make money. Sometimes more districts are wealthier than others. Sometimes more parents are wealthier than others. The tech that gets purchased sometimes further exacerbates the gap. What do you want to say to tech people trying to be mindful of this? But at the same time, they know that districts are caring about this more so than ever. How do they show that their tool does help with all learners? This is like ten million questions in one. So pick maybe .5 of what I asked you.
The tools in the EdTech programs that I’ve seen and I’ve used and I think are most successful are the ones that really work with teachers to make sure that they have that value in the classroom, and that it’s something that the kids can really use. And that they develop those really concrete teacher materials around how they could be most effective. Don’t forget, your teachers are your stakeholders, and they’ve got really great insights, and make sure you listen to them. I understand that no district has an unlimited budget. I also realize that you’re always paying with something. You’re either monetarily paying or there’s usually a data piece or an advertising piece. There’s always some sort of payment. There’s no real "free," I don't think.
Districts need to then decide what’s the real value. Going back to my professional development days, there was nothing more terrifying than when a district would say here’s our list of 300 apps that are teachers can pull from. How do you get through all of that? I always like to streamline to like, "OK, I can use four or I can use five." And to think about where are those real high-leverage points. And that’s where districts need to work with their teachers and say, "What are the things that you really see of value?" And then make those investments there. I think that might be dependent on every district is different. Age groups are different. You know, what’s great at elementary school may not be the best thing at the high school level. I think that was a non-answer.
I think that it’s a very good non-answer because it’s really hard. I do hope for everyone in EdTech listening is just ask your leadership around that. "What do we really feel about equity? How do we back up what we’re saying about equity and how do we make sure that we’re really helping?" And like you said, adding in teachers as stakeholders as much as possible. What I loved what you said is really looking at, "OK, we want to teach something. We have an objective. How does tech complement that?" It’s never tech first. It's never shiny bells and whistles and getting kids excited about something that really doesn't have anything to do with learning. Another thing you said that was really applicable to EdTech, especially as they think about developing all these features, is just make it simple. Make those easy wins happen as quick as possible. Kids can learn on top of that. But if it’s not simple and easy and the teachers have to learn a ton, side by side with the students, it’s not going to work.
It was such a great app, I can no longer remember the name of it, but there was an app, years ago, that made these incredible, interactive, eBook kind of things. It was super sophisticated. And it was so impossible to use. I can’t remember now what it was called. That’s the thing. Sometimes simple is better. Streamlined is better. You don't always need everything.
Last question. You have given us a ton to think about. I think part of this episode was more to be thought provoking. Give you the tools for you to navigate this complex question on equity yourself. Whether that be yourself as a classroom educator, someone in the district, or in EdTech. We are a big piece of this puzzle. How can we help? How can we talk with other EdTech companies? So it’s thought provoking, right? We don't have all think that answers. We have a lot of data. We know what we see in our gut and our experience, but this is also for you to say, "OK, I feel empowered."
The last question for you, Beth, is just totally switching gears. A lot of the times we like to ask our guests, "How do you personally keep inspiration going?" Every day is hard in a pandemic. You’re doing some awesome things. They’re very mission-driven. I’m like, "I can’t believe this is your job." Everybody has this feeling of sometimes burnout, especially isolation. How do you keep your energy going? How do you keep your passion going? Are there podcasts? You said you don't listen to podcasts.
Are there books you’re reading? Some TV shows you’re binging. Do you do puzzles? Or run?
I read an insane amount. I took up standup paddle boarding years ago. I have a group that I go with, and we paddle all winter. We put dry suits on, we go. I think find that that’s really a great way just to clear my head. I get really antsy when it’s been ten days and I haven’t been on the water.
I didn’t know that about you. For me, kayaking did the same. I would tell people it’s my natural Prozac. I would just go out in the water and everything would just fall away. You just hear the water lapping, and you hear the seagulls, and for us we have the harbor seals that are kind of barking at each other. Everything else goes away. And that’s awesome. For all of you that do not have the water near you, think about something that you like doing that might just make things disappear and make you in the present moment. Because there’s so much fast-paced and there’s always more we can do.
Our last episode, we talked with an educator, Tracy, and she talked about guilt of not ever doing enough as an educator and how she said yes to everything and everything and everything until she got burned out. She said to herself, "My kids deserve a non-burned out teacher. So I’ve got to say yes to myself." Thank you for sharing that, Beth. I know you have so many more resources. Everybody who are trying to take notes, we do have you covered. Our Show Notes, if you go to leoniconsultinggroup.com/15. Our entire name, leoniconsultinggroup, with two g’s, backslash 15. This will have the Show Notes. You can listen to this podcast. We’ll even have a transcript and, more importantly, all of the resources, including that great guide that’s free.
Beth, thank you so much for spending time with us today, and talking about all things equity, even if it’s incredibly complex and nuanced and moving in crazy ways that we’re just trying to figure out what are those trends and what are those spotlights that we can shine that we know are truly working, and then lean into that, like you said. So thank you. It’s been a pleasure. You do so much to help students and educators throughout your career, and I don't think you probably get thanked enough. So I want to thank you for all of what you do. People like you should eventually get this lifetime achievement award: "Hey, I’m here for the kids. I’m here. Let’s do this." So thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your wisdom with us.
Thank you so much for having me.
To our listeners, I know that you have a ton of options out there in terms of podcasts. A new podcast comes out every single day, and I just can’t thank you enough for spending time and listening to us, and learning alongside us. As you can see, we don't have all the answers. We have a lot of questions. We’ve got some resources to explore together. I hope you walked away with at least one thing that you can do or just think about differently. Think about that comment that she said about makerspaces. That blew me away. I want you to think about and reflect on the mind shifts that may have occurred, or one or two things that you might do differently. Again, we will see you all next time on All Things on Marketing and Education. Thank you so much for listening to us. Take care, everyone.
Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode. If you liked what you had and what to dive deeper, you can visit leoniconsultingroup.com/podcast for all Show Notes, links, and freebies mentioned in each episode. We always love friends, so please connect with us on Twitter @leonigroup. If you enjoyed today’s show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We’ll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.
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Elana Leoni, Host
Elana Leoni has dedicated the majority of her career to improving K-12 education. Prior to founding LCG, she spent eight years leading the marketing and community strategy for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, where she grew Edutopia’s social media presence exponentially to reach over 20 million education change-makers every month.
Beth Holland, Guest
Dr. Beth Holland is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national nonprofit working to ensure that every child receives the engaging, equitable, and effective education needed to reach their full and unique potential. She leads the organization's research and measurement initiatives, including evaluations of programs to support student-centered learning, and building research-practice partnerships in support of systems improvement and innovation. Beth brings over 25 years of experience as an educator and researcher examining challenges of equity and communication within K-12 public school systems. Prior to joining TLA, she led the Digital Equity and Rural initiatives for the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) and completed a postdoctoral research fellowship on a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn Initiative at the University of Rhode Island. She has also worked as a teacher, administrator, and professional learning developer in schools across the country. Beth holds an Education Doctorate (Ed.D.) in Entrepreneurial Leadership in Education from Johns Hopkins University, a Master's degree (Ed.M.) in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Communications from Northwestern University.
About All Things Marketing and Education
What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and, you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.
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A podcast about social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies.
What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.
About your host
I'm Elana Leoni. I've devoted my career to helping education brands build awareness, engagement, and revenue and I'd like to show you how as well. Every week, you'll learn how to increase your social media presence, build a community, and create content that matters to your audience.