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Beyond the Homework Gap: Creating Equity in Students’ Classroom Learning Experiences

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Terrace Ballroom I

Recorded Session
Participate and share : Interactive session


Dr. Julie A. Evans is the CEO of Project Tomorrow ( and leads the organization’s research efforts on the impacts of digital and mobile technologies on student learning and teacher effectiveness. She is a graduate of Brown University and earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Evans is a frequent speaker and writer on emerging technologies in K-12 and higher education. She is the author of the new book, Free Agent Learning – Leveraging Students’ Self-Directed Learning to Transform K-12 Education. Dr. Evans is a past member of the ISTE Board of Directors.

Session description

We now understand that educational equity is about more than providing students with Chromebooks and hotspots. The learning experience matters. In this session, we'll share new Speak Up Research about why student learning experiences varied by school demographics will be the foundation for understanding equity, engagement and student outcomes in 2023.
Grade level: PK-12
Skill level: Beginner

Purpose & objective

Three years after the start of the pandemic, education leaders and policymakers continue to analyze the impact on students, teachers, and families of the sudden changes to traditional education environments and structures caused by the global health crisis. The quest to identify some silver linings from the experience however is coupled with a new heightened awareness about the lack of equitable learning in our nation’s schools. While much of the early focus during the sudden shift to remote digital learning was ensuring that students had access to technology and the internet at home to support learning continuity, the pandemic also exposed some ugly truths about the lack of equity to high quality learning experiences in the classroom as well. While the pandemic did not suddenly create inequities in teacher quality or the lack that some students have to high quality instructional materials, it did shine a new spotlight on the need to ensure that all students, both at home and in school, have equitable learning experiences. Increasingly, those new conversations, especially about in-school equity, center on student and teacher use of technology in the classroom.
As a result of using technology as a platform for remote learning, both teachers and administrators have a higher valuation on the role of technology to support students’ future success. Based upon new findings from the Speak Up® Research Project facilitated annually by Project Tomorrow®, 85% of district administrators and 71% of school principals now say that effective technology use in school is an important component in the preparation of students for future success in college or the workplace. Correspondingly, administrators have a fresh perspective on outcomes of student use of technology in the classroom. Increasingly, they ascribe the value of technology to helping students develop the future-ready skills they need for college and career environments including critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and teamwork. Additionally, 60% of education leaders say that the effective use of digital tools in the classroom helps to ensure equity in educational opportunities for all students. This new focus on the connection of effective technology use to skill development and equity represents a significant change in the valuation of technology by educators. In the 2018-19 school year, school leaders were 60% more likely to say that the most important outcome of technology use in school was increased student engagement rather than addressing inequities in education. The pandemic opened many eyes to not only the need for a new focus on equity in the school day but also on the potential value of technology to help tackle the stubborn challenges of providing every student with a high-quality education no matter their home zip code or family background.

The role of technology as an agent for creating more leveled playing fields for student learning is not new – but it has not been as fully articulated before now. The impetus for this new focus and articulation is the high concern that teachers, administrators and parents have for “learning loss” or the need for learning recovery or acceleration due to the impact of the pandemic on students. Teachers are especially concerned about their special education students. Almost 1 in 2 teachers (49%) say that addressing their special education students’ learning loss or need for remediation is their biggest concern right now. Additionally, 63% of teachers say they are worried about how to support the remediation needs of all students. Consequently, educators are expanding the ways they are thinking about equity in education and investigating what is needed to support equitable learning in their classrooms.

Getting beyond simply thinking about equity as putting a Chromebook and hotspot in the hands of every student, Project Tomorrow now identifies four types of equity that school and district leaders should be addressing in their classrooms today. Those four types are as follows:

Equity of Access: Students have access to digital tools and resources both in school and at home

Equity of Learning Experiences: Students have consistency in learning experiences and teacher quality

Equity of Learning Opportunities for Success: Students can learn in environments that are safe, trusting and supportive

Equity of Agency: Students are explicitly empowered to take ownership of their own learning

In this session, we will focus on the relationship between creating equity in school-based educational opportunities and leveraging technology effectively in the classroom. Core to that investigation is understanding the value that teachers place on equity within learning, how they are using technology in their classroom to support and personalize learning for each student, and the obstacles or challenges they face in using technology effectively to support equitable learning experiences for all. The Speak Up Research also includes a comparative analysis examining the views of teachers working in schools where the majority of students are white versus teachers in schools where the majority are students of color. As will be discussed, those two sets of teachers and their students are having very different experiences in their schools and classrooms.

Using these findings as the context, session attendees will be divided into four problem-solving teams that align with the four equity types: access, experiences, success factors or agency. Each team will be tasked to develop a brainstorming list of big ideas that could transform classrooms and schools and drive greater equity in learning experiences for all students. The focus here is not on incremental or traditional ideas – but the types of big ideas that can result in leapfrog innovations. The big ideas will be collected via a padlet (or similar tool) for post session access on the session website hosted by Project Tomorrow. As a culminating session event, representatives from each of the problem-solving teams will share a few of their big ideas.

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Introductions. Audience polling on perceptions regarding equity in student learning experiences in school with comparative results from the Speak Up Project. (5 min)

The Four Types of Equity. Description with research examples of the four types of equity. The descriptions will highlight the differences between schools especially based upon student demographics. (15 min)

Stimulating Innovative Thinking. A quick whole group exercise to help attendees get into an innovative mindset for problem-solving. (5 min)

Equity Brainstorming. Attendees will be divided into four problem-solving teams aligned to the four equity types to brainstorm big transformational ideas to address these equity challenges. (20 min)

Whole Group Sharing. Each team will share 1-3 of their big ideas with the whole session. (10 min)

Wrap Up. Attendees will gain access to the repository of all big ideas on the Project Tomorrow ISTELIVE 2023 website. (5 min)

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Supporting research

Evans, J. A. (2022) Beyond the Homework Gap: Leveraging Technology to Support Equity of Learning Experiences in School. Project Tomorrow – Speak Up Research Project.

Evans, J. A. (2022) Free Agent Learning: Leveraging Students’ Self-Directed Learning to Transform K-12 Education. Jossey-Bass.

Evans, J. A. (2021) Empowering and Engaging Student Voice to Create Equity in Education - Five Questions Every K-12 Education Leader Should Ask Today. Project Tomorrow - Speak Up Research Project.

Additional Speak Up Research Project publications:

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Session specifications

Equity and inclusion
Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers, Principals/head teachers
Attendee devices:
Devices useful
Attendee device specification:
Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials:
Nothing specific at this time.
ISTE Standards:
For Educators:
  • Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.

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