Classroom-Level Digital Equity

The notion of digital equity is typically related to economic issues in the home that give some children a greater advantage to access technologies. My own definition of classroom-level digital equity is below. While we cannot directly control the levels of disparity in technology use in the homes of our students, we have full control over any disparities within our own classrooms.

Here's a scenario to consider. Student A (let's call her Samantha) has computers at home, wireless internet access, gadgets galore, etc. From a young age, her parents have been able to expose her to numerous technologies, and by the time she begins kindergarten she is quite savvy in using a variety of multimedia. She has started kindergarten with quite an array of technology skills, and a pretty good understanding of manipulating the digital side of her young life. Student B (let's call him Daniel) does not have Internet access at home. He has had very little hands-on time with technology, due to financial issues. He begins kindergarten very new to the tools, picks them up quickly enough, but doesn't hit the ground running quite as quickly as Samantha.

Both students join the same kindergarten class, and continue to be in the same class throughout elementary school.

Samantha finishes her class work quickly most days, and often hears, "Students, when you finish your real work, you can do computer stuff." Samantha gets to use computers nearly every day. Daniel struggles a little to finish his "real work" and rarely gets it completed early. He and Samantha are near equals intellectually. His only computer access is the once-a-week trip to the lab to work on a remedial reading program, even though he loves using technology of all kinds. Samantha gets to create slideshows, draw pictures, use the Internet, etc. Daniel, who's still not finished with his traditional seat work, does not. There are six computers in this classroom, so access to the hardware isn't really the issue.

What started as a digital inequity issue at home, became exaggerated in the school. While the school had no control over the home lives of these children, it had full control over the level and quality of access between 8:00 and 3:00 for all its students. Yet, over the years, due to teacher placement, some children had ongoing opportunities to a rich technology thread. Others did not.

Could this scenario play out at your school? Could a student, simply due to teacher placement, miss opportunities for greater levels of engagement through technology? If so, what is being done to level the playing field, so every student in every classroom is provided equal access?