By Sierra McCormick

McCormick is a Learning & Technology Research Associate at WestEd. This post first appeared on the REL Northwest Blog and appears here with permission.

Many students, particularly low-income and those in rural areas, lack access to high-speed internet or technology devices at home.1 These students often miss out on important educational resources, tools, and assignments, which may negatively affect achievement.2

Forum Guide to Digital Equity

State and local education agencies strive to close digital equity gaps. How can educators and administrators understand the nature of the gaps to inform initiatives and monitor progress? The National Forum on Education Statistics’ Forum Guide to Digital Equity offers guidance on gathering data, using data to prioritize action, developing digital equity tools, and closing digital equity gaps.

The guide emphasizes the importance of high-quality data collection to inform decision-making and provides 10 sample questions to ask families about devices at home, internet access, and support for technology.3 Educators and administrators can use and modify the following questions (found in Appendix B, page 61 in the guide) to jumpstart their data collection efforts:

Device Access at Home

  • What device does your student most often use to complete schoolwork and learning activities away from school?
  • Is this device shared with anyone else in the household?
  • Is this device a personal device or did the school issue your student a dedicated district- or school-provided device for their use during the school year?
  • Is this device sufficient for your student to fully participate in all learning activities away from school?

Internet Access at Home

  • Can your student access the internet on this device at home?
  • What is the primary type of internet service used at home?
  • Can your student complete the full range of learning activities at home, including streaming videos and uploading assignments, without interruptions caused by slow or poor internet performance?
  • What, if any, is the primary barrier to having sufficient and reliable internet access in your student’s home?

Technology Support

  • If your student needed assistance with digital learning activities at home, does your family feel you know enough about computers and technology to be able to help your student, or would you need someone to help them?
  • What kind of technical support would your family be most likely to use if your student needed assistance with digital learning activities at home?

Collecting information on student access to devices, the internet, and technology support can provide meaningful data to education leaders to better understand the state of digital equity in a region. The data can be used to support decision-making, prioritize initiatives, and monitor progress to help close the digital divide and expand students’ learning opportunities.

For additional information and guidance on closing the digital divide, review the entire Forum Guide to Digital Equity.

Additional Resources

  • REL Central shared strategies for implementing remote learning plans across a continuum of internet access. Learn more by reading their blog and viewing the accompanying webinar.
  • The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology offers several resources focused on equitable access to technology:
  • Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning provides practical, actionable information to help school and district leaders navigate decisions required to build a technology infrastructure that supports digital learning.
  • Home Access Playbook details seven strategies that state leaders are taking to address home internet and device access issues for students.
  • Keeping Students Connected and Learning presents strategies that school districts can undertake to deploy off-campus wireless networks for student and educator home connectivity.

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  1. Access to the Internet, Fast Facts, NCES.
  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress. (n.d.). 2015 Survey Questionnaires Results: Students’ Computer Access and Use.
  3. National Forum on Education Statistics. (2022). The Forum Guide for Digital Equity.

REL Northwest is leading the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program working group on Leveraging Technology to Support Student Learning. In collaboration with the nine other RELs, REL Northwest is producing a framework to help district leaders as they adopt, use, and monitor the effectiveness of technology in their schools.