The U.S. Department of Education has released a new national education technology plan for the first time since 2016. Unlike past plans that have “largely served as surveys of the state of the field,” the 2024 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) “frames three key divides limiting the transformational potential of educational technology to support teaching and learning,” says a U.S. Department of Education press release. These are the digital use divide, the digital design divide and the digital access divide.
The full 113-page National Education Technology Plan is worth reading in its entirety for those whose work involves edtech or education equity. In the meantime, here are some initial takeaways.
National Educational Technology Plan: The Digital Use Divide
The first of the three divides examined in the 2024 National Educational Technology Plan is the digital use divide. As many educators already know, this is not about access to technology but rather about access to better use of technology.
According to the plan, the digital use divide refers to “Inequitable implementation of instructional tasks supported by technology.” On one hand there “are students who are asked to actively use technology in their learning to analyze, build, produce, and create using digital tools,” meanwhile students at the other end of the divide encounter “instructional tasks where they are asked to use technology for passive assignment completion.”
To overcome this divide, the NETP offers the following tips, the highlights of which focus on developing the profile of a technology-using learner (including determining basic competencies and needs), designing detailed edtech evaluation and adoption plans, forging partnerships with stakeholders, and providing edtech professional development.
- Develop a “Profile of a Learner/Graduate” outlining cognitive, personal, and interpersonal competencies students should have when transitioning between grade levels and graduation.
- Design and sustain systems, including needs assessments, technology plans, and evaluation processes supporting the development of competencies outlined in the “Profile of a Learner/Graduate” through the active use of technology to support learning.
- Implement feedback mechanisms that empower students to become co-designers of learning experiences.
- Develop rubrics for digital resource and technology adoptions to ensure tools are accessible and integrated into the larger educational ecosystem, support Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, and can be customized in response to accommodation or modification needs of learners with disabilities.
- Review subject area curricula or program scopes and sequences to ensure that student learning experiences build age-appropriate digital literacy skills through active technology use for learning.
- Build public-private partnerships with local businesses, higher education institutions, and nonprofit organizations to help students access edtech-enabled hands-on learning and work-based learning experiences.
- Provide professional learning and technical assistance to district leaders, building-level administrators, and educators to support the use of evidence to inform edtech use.
- Develop guidelines for emerging technologies that protect student data privacy and ensure alignment with shared educational vision and learning principles.
The Digital Design Divide
The plan notes that the Digital Design Divide “is between and within those systems that provide every educator the time and support they need to build their capacities to design learning experiences with digital tools, and those that do not.”
Overcoming this divide requires helping educators effectively harness the dizzying amount of technology tools available to them. “In systems where the average teacher can access more than 2,000 digital tools in a given moment, training on a tool’s basic functionality is insufficient,” the plan notes. “Closing the design divide moves teachers beyond the formulaic use of digital tools and allows them to actively design learning experiences for all students within a complex ecosystem of resources.”
Here are the eight ways in which the plan advises school leaders to overcome this divide. The key focus here is on creating a edtech-friendly culture for students and educators that provides plenty of professional support for both.
- Develop a “Portrait of an Educator” outlining the cognitive, personal, and interpersonal competencies educators should have to design learning experiences that help students develop the skills and attributes outlined in the profile of a graduate.
- Design and sustain systems that support ongoing learning for new and veteran teachers and administrators, providing them with the time and space needed to design learning opportunities aligned with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework.
- Implement feedback mechanisms that empower educators to become leaders and co-designers of professional learning experiences.
- Provide educators and administrators with professional learning that supports the development of digital literacy skills so that they can model these skills for students and the broader school community.
- Develop processes for evaluating the potential effectiveness of digital tools before purchase, including the use of research and evidence.
- Foster an inclusive technology ecosystem that solicits input from diverse stakeholders to collaborate on decision-making for technology purchases, learning space design, and curriculum planning.
- Support and facilitate a systemic culture that builds trust and empowers educators to enhance and grow their professional practice to meet the needs of each student.
- Regularly solicit educator feedback and evaluate professional learning efforts to ensure alignment with the Portrait of an Educator.
The Digital Access Divide
The digital access divide is arguably the most important because without access to technology, students are clearly at a disadvantage.
Accordingly, the National Education Plan devotes the most space to exploring this divide and offering tips for overcoming it. As in other sections, the advice and examples provided are distilled down to a list of suggestions, some of which extend beyond the school setting. The key takeaways here revolve around being very intentional in edtech planning, purchase, use, and adoption, and making sure to always consider aspects such as inclusion, accessibility, and digital literacy.
- Develop a “Portrait of a Learning Environment” to set expectations around habits and abilities no matter what the space.
- Establish and maintain a cabinet-level edtech director to ensure the wise and effective spending of edtech funds.
- Conduct regular needs assessments to ensure technology properly supports learning.
- Develop model processes and guidelines for device refresh policies based on local funding structures.
- Leverage state purchasing power or regional buying consortia when purchasing edtech hardware, software, and services.
- Develop learning technology plans in consultation with a broad group of stakeholders and according to established review cycles.
- Leverage public/private partnerships and community collaboration to bring broadband internet access to previously under-connected areas and ensure student access to “everywhere, all-the-time learning.”
- Develop processes and structures that ensure the inclusion of accessibility as a component of procurement processes.
- Plan for and incorporate skills and expectations across all grade levels and subject areas for Digital Health, Safety, and Citizenship, and Media Literacy.