2020 News Stories

Education in Action virtual event explores digital equity during COVID-19

by Jessenia Rivera

The importance of culturally relevant teaching, the need to humanize the learning experience and the power that lies in technology integration were among the topics discussed at the USF College of Education’s 18th annual Education in Action event.

Hosted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event centered on the theme “Building Digital Equity in Today’s Schools,” and featured keynote speaker Kenneth Shelton, an education technology expert who has advocated for digital access initiatives in various State Departments of Education, Ministries of Education and nonprofit organizations.

Kenneth Shelton

Kenneth Shelton

Shelton, who has more than 20 years of teaching experience, spoke on three basic needs all individuals have: to be seen, to be heard and to be loved. In his presentation, he shared how these needs connect to reasons why students often say they don’t like school.

“If you were to do an audit of the terminology and the language that’s generally used in schools, I would say most of it tends to be deficit-based rather than asset-based,” Shelton said. “Most students have told me, ‘I was always told I’m not good enough or not capable of.’”

While on this subject, Shelton also mentioned the lack of support that exists in some classrooms when students aren’t encouraged to represent their learning in non-traditional ways. In today’s learning environment, which consists of learners navigating a digital space through e-learning platforms and virtual instruction, Shelton emphasized just how necessary it is for educators to ask themselves, “How are the children?”

“No matter how pretty and packaged the pedagogy is, the most important thing we can do when we look at learning and our learning environments is to understand the importance of culture,” Shelton said.

During his presentation, Shelton presented listeners with three different levels of culture: level one, the mid-level and the deep level. While mid-level culture involves elements like eye contact and how time is socially constructed, deep level culture is more focused on aspects that require a second glance, such as tone of voice, affirmations and how students interact with each other within a learning space.

In one example, Shelton shared the problems that exist when having students’ complete assignments in groups and then grading each person’s work individually by their class rank.

“If I’m going to be ranked against my classmates, why would I want to work with them?” Shelton mentioned. “So, what we should think about is, how can we ensure that our learning environments are cooperative, not competitive?”

Shelton also spoke about “techequity,” which he defined as the “merging of educational technologies with culturally responsive and relevant learning experiences to support students’ development of essential skills.” He shared various examples of how technology played a huge role in helping him support the needs of students.

Shelton said one time, he served as a virtual co-teacher for several classrooms who never had an African American instructor before. Students from various grade levels completed semester-long projects with Shelton, which led them to not only succeed academically, but to also build strong relationships that progressed as they approached their high school graduations.

“Because of technology and because of access and opportunity, we were able to connect in a way that supported and benefitted the students, but it also supported and benefitted me,” Shelton said. “That first class that I worked with, they graduated last spring and (told their teacher), ‘We need to take a picture and send it to Ken because he was just as much a part of our learning experience as you were.’”

Following Shelton’s presentation, conversations about digital equity continued with a panel of experts including Paul O. Burns, EdD, deputy chancellor for educator quality at the Florida Department of Education; James Welsh, PhD, the director of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology at USF and Ora Tanner, a USF graduate student and co-founder and chief learning officer for the AI Education Project.  

When asked about the negative narrative surrounding technology that has existed since the start of the pandemic, panelists discussed the need for teacher professional development and the change in mindset that needs to occur within educators as they work virtually.

Tanner argued that techequity education should be incorporated in teacher preparation programs and that it’s important for individuals to understand what technology is and how it works.

“Technology is an amplifier,” Tanner said. “There’s this misconception that if I add technology, it’s somehow going to make things awesome and students will learn. But actually, if you’re not a very good teacher and you get online, it’s going to be more apparent.”

Dr. Welsh dove into the topic by sharing a perspective on technology that he thinks all educators should have.

“Technology integration is a lot more about pedagogy than it is about technology,” Dr. Welsh said. “It’s about the experiences that you want your kids to have and then figuring out how to use the technology available to best meet those needs.”

As panelists discussed how technology and other teaching forms can be used by educators to empower learners, Dr. Burns shared a reminder that student learning should remain the focus.

“(When I was a principal,) I was always hearing my teachers saying they wanted so much more freedom and I always had the motto of, ‘yes, but we have to realize that we can’t love our kids in the mediocrity,’” Dr. Burns said. “It’s really about having those high expectations for our students.”

Thank You to Our Sponsors!

Thank you to our sponsors for helping making this year's Education in Action event a success!

Premier Sponsor

Florida State Fair

Florida State Fair

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Florida Educators Insurance

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