“11 Ways the Integration Business Will Change This Decade” is a wide-ranging analysis by NSCA board members of the future of integration, originally published in the special Pivot to Profit+ section of the Q3 2021 edition of our quarterly trade journal, Integrate. This column discusses why K-12 integrators need to recognize the importance of helping school systems develop digital learning plan equity.
K-12 integrators need to recognize the importance of helping school systems develop digital learning plan equity.
With the widespread shift toward remote learning brought about by COVID-19, many schools across the country are now facing a problem when it comes to equal access to education. While students with internet access are able to easily access new online resources, those with less economically fortunate situations are unable to receive the same quality of education due to a growing disparity in access to virtual learning technologies. Unfortunately, this disproportionately affects students in low-income neighborhoods, those with disabilities, and those in households with limited English comprehension, widening the already-growing gap in access to education.
Seeing the need to develop a learning plan suitable for students from all backgrounds, Wyoming has developed an exemplary digital learning plan that has become a national model in educational restructuring.
Implemented in 2017, Wyoming’s Digital Learning Plan was developed as a means of ensuring equal access to education via technology. Over the course of five years, Wyoming has managed to transform its statewide education system into a digitally functional environment beneficial to all learners, educators, and even local community members.
To promote digital learning for all, Wyoming adopted the Future Learning Framework as a roadmap for this process. This framework outlines seven key steps to building a successful digital learning plan that can serve as a foundation not only for schools in Wyoming, but also for schools across the nation as a whole.
- Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: During this initial phase, Wyoming implemented initiatives
aimed at fostering a synchronous learning plan throughout the state. New state standards were adopted
to focus on computer literacy, and schools across the state were encouraged to participate in the Hour of
Code program, featuring coding activities for a variety of interests and learning abilities. In addition,
educators were given equal access to high-quality educational materials and provided with state-sponsored
training. A statewide digital learning management system (LMS) was adopted for use by all Wyoming staff
and students, allowing for a streamlined digital learning process across the entire state.
- Use of Time and Space: After aligning the curriculum and instruction methods, as well as providing ease
of access to digital learning materials, Wyoming decided to make digital learning opportunities easily
accessible to all students within the state by personalizing learning styles. The state developed multiple
learning options, including high-quality online and blended learning courses to appeal to those who may
struggle learning electronically, those with difficulties focusing on self-guided learning, and those who
would otherwise not be interested in computer science curriculum.
- Robust Infrastructure: In order to achieve its goal of creating a uniform digital learning platform for all,
Wyoming implemented the Wyoming Classroom Connectivity Initiative (WCCI). This plan provided the
means for schools across the state to allocate their federal E-Rate Category 2 funds toward securing a stable
LAN/Wi-Fi connection in all classrooms. The use of these funds for improving technology allows school
districts to preserve money that would otherwise be spent on expensive technology to go toward other
critical expenses, such as teacher salaries. In addition to the WCCI, the state launched a series of
conferences, workshops, and Professional Learning Communities for superintendents, technology directors,
and other school system personnel to develop their knowledge base when it comes to digital learning.
- Data and Privacy: As is necessary with any digital platform, privacy and data security are major concerns
when developing a digital learning plan, particularly when dealing with data usage of minors. To strengthen
security and privacy efforts across the state, Wyoming launched a series of workshops and conferences for
IT directors within school systems, as well as for educators when designing and implementing learning materials. The decision to use a single LMS across all state school systems narrows the scope of digital platforms with which schools need to familiarize themselves, allowing for a more in-depth understanding of the platform.
- Community Partnerships: While developing a solid digital learning plan within the schools themselves is
a major goal, developing a strong relationship with the outside community is crucial in the success and
longevity of the plan. Wyoming recognized the need to form community partnerships for long-lasting
program success and formed alliances with local businesses, libraries, and post-secondary institutions
to learn from each other’s successes in digital technology implementation. These partnerships also provide
a glimpse into life after K-12 education and the necessity of a strong foundation in digital education for
success after high school.
- Personalized Professional Learning: In order to maintain the highest quality of digital education
for Wyoming students, the state implemented a robust professional learning program to encourage
and support continuing growth for Wyoming educators. Through the use of Statewide Professional
Learning Communities, the development of the Wyoming Innovations in Learning Conference, and
initiatives such as Open Range Wyoming and the use of a statewide LMS, the state has increased access
to digital education opportunities. In addition, educators have been incentivized to further their digital
education with a number of professional recognition programs that count toward continuing education
credits and even higher degrees.
- Budget and Resources: As a major concern for all U.S. school systems, education budgets are often difficult
to work around. However, as demonstrated by Wyoming, developing a high-quality digital learning plan can
actually assist in stabilizing the school budget by reducing long-term costs. The development of initiatives,
such as the WCCI, has allowed Wyoming to allocate resources traditionally reserved for technology toward
other critical needs within the school system by drawing on state resource funds for digital learning
purposes. In addition, the partnerships created within the community allow for alternative sources of
funding, particularly within fields that are heavily reliant on digital citizenship and computer literacy.
Through the development and implementation of this multifaceted framework, Wyoming has become a national
leader in successful digital literacy programming within the field of education. With the growing presence of
e-learning and remote work opportunities, it is more vital than ever that we prepare our children for a digital
world from an early age. Through the use of a successful digital learning plan, school systems can easily prepare
students for the world of tomorrow—starting today.
For more information on the importance of digital learning plans in education, read the U.S. Department of Education’s ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK. To learn more about Wyoming’s Digital Learning Plan, browse the 2017-2021 Digital Learning Plan, or read about the highlights of the plan at the Wyoming Department of Education’s Digital Learning Plan webpage.