Last year’s epic move to online learning gave educators tangible evidence of how technology can enhance education — and where it falls short. Edtech solutions are expected to remain front and center even as schools transition back to in-person classes.

And while the discussion involves the ins and outs of top education technology offerings certainly concern district decision makers, the discussion goes much deeper to include issues of identity and student empowerment.

Knowledge gained during school closures influenced the decision-making process for members of the Consortium on School Network (CoSN) advisory board as they set out to select the most important topics impacting teaching, learning, and education innovation for the 2021 Driving K-12 Innovation Report. These 100+ education and technology experts from around the globe identified this year’s top technology hurdles, accelerators and tech enablers.

With enormous gaps in access and equity revealed during the pandemic, it’s no surprise digital equity was voted the top barrier to advancing K-12 innovation as schools go forward.

“Connectivity issues and the digital divide affected students’ ability to access remote learning,” says Michael Hansen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of the Brown Center on Education Policy, in EdTech magazine. He cites the common example of students with a device in the home who were unable to access it when they needed to because a parent or sibling was using it.

Digital equity is a complex and nuanced topic that goes far beyond equitable access to high-speed internet and powerful devices in and outside the classroom, note members of the CoSN advisory team. Two other interrelated components critical are conditions for learning and meaningful learning opportunities.

“Students not only need access to robust internet connectivity and devices but also accessible content and platforms, opportunities to leverage digital tools as creators of their own knowledge and understanding, as well as experiences that value and empower them as learners,” they explain.

From the perspective of race and gender identity, educational leaders need to consider how well the technologies they’re using represent all their students so that learning is meaningful to them and they see their identities reflected.

Finding tools that support this level of learning can be a daunting task given the multitude of education technology tools on the market today. Promethean Chief Marketing Officer Cheryl Miller and Chief Product Officer Steve Halliwell make several suggestions for school system leaders engaged in this process:

  • Try before buying
  • Ensure adequate training will be available for your teachers
  • Partner with providers focused on innovation and deepening the learning experience
  • Reach out to other school districts to find out what solutions worked for them and why
  • Gather testimonials from students and teachers to measure success with current edtech

Along with quality comes the issue of quantity, as many educators can attest to the dangers of technology overload during the pandemic. In the EdTech magazine article, author Doug Bonderud emphasizes the importance of installing a renewed level of simplicity with educational technology going forward.

Verjeana Jacobs, chief transformation officer for the National School Boards Association, illustrates this, saying, “Many students have to go through five or six different apps just to access things. Schools need to make the content accessible.”

That can also apply to devices. Traci Bonde, technology project manager at Campbell Union High School District, has long advocated for a thinner classroom in terms of how much technology is found in the room. Having dedicated over 20 years to moving organizations to the forefront of technology integration and helping bridge poverty gaps through technology exposure, she has a clear vision how simple technology can promote more fluid and meaningful education.

She pointed to personal devices, what she called “the computers in kids’ pockets as an untapped resource with great potential” in the following illustration from a two-part series in Government Technology.

“It might be that rather than sitting and watching a video on how to interact with plants in the neighborhood around you, you might actually be at a neighborhood garden on mobile devices shooting video with green screen and/or just shooting good old fashioned video on a YouTube editor, allowing you to demonstrate what you’re discovering as you smell a leaf or pull up the roots of a plant to see how photosynthesis works.”