Working Towards Digital Equity in Education

Jamie Foreman, Deputy Chief Technology Officer of Albemarle County Public Schools

Working Towards Digital Equity in EducationJamie Foreman, Deputy Chief Technology Officer of Albemarle County Public Schools

Jamie Foreman is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia. He is passionate about student-centered approaches to teaching and learning and believes technology can powerfully support all students' access to learning, increase student agency and voice, and can support high-quality learning experiences that incorporate the 5 Cs. Jamie started his career as a language arts and science teacher at Fluvanna Middle School. He then transitioned to the role of Instructional Technology Resource teacher at the same school, which he continued until 2010. In 2010, he was hired by Albemarle County Public Schools as an instructional technology specialist. Jamie holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.T. in elementary education from the University of Virginia. He recently added a School Administration Endorsement through coursework at James Madison University.

In an interview with Education Technology Insights Magazine, Jamie Foreman, Deputy Chief Technology Officer of Albemarle County Public Schools, talks about empowering all members of our learning community by providing exceptional technology solutions and support that results from collaborative decision-making and effective, timely communication.

 What are some of the major issues and challenges related to digital equity? 

Our operational definition of digital equity is partnering with the Albemarle County Public Schools community to provide each student access to safe, appropriate learning experiences and resources supported by technology and essential to their success. We believe each teacher and studentshould have access to the tools and learning resources they need to be successful, regardless of where they teach or attend school in Albemarle County. We’ve made strides with digital equity in Albemarle County Public Schools, but we still have more work to do. That’s why we have specific goals in our division’s new strategic plan around digital equity. Included in these goals is not only a focus on equity of access with hardware and devices, but we are also are taking an additional step in looking at equity of access to learning experiences that prepare students to be computational thinkers, responsible users of technology, and problem solvers using technology.

"Our main focus is on student-centered outcomes; we want students to have an experience that meets their needs and prepares them for lifelong success"

For example, our school division is working hard to ensure that teachers across the school divisionhave access to a similar set of learning and teaching tools. It could be the laptop they're using, the software installed on it, or the types of systems they use to facilitate learning. At the end of the day if we know a particular set of learning and teaching tools best meets the needs of our teachers and students in a particular subject or at a particular grade level, then we should have processes in place to make sure access to this specific set of learning and teaching tools is equitable. Our main focus is on student-centered outcomes; we want students to have an experience that meets their needs and prepares them for lifelong success.

How would you describe the impact of Covid-19 on the education space?

The most significant thing we did as a result of Covid was to support the school division with shifting from face to face teaching and learning to completely virtual schooling. Because of this shift there was a greater emphasis on what technology would support or enable or limit. Fortunately, our school division focused on digital equity for a number of years prior to the beginning of the pandemic and students grades 3-12 already had an assigned learning device. We were successful in making a quick adjustment to purchase additional K-2 devices to shift from a 2:1 to 1:1 ratio. 

We also supported and continue to support families with poor or no home internet connection as part of our ACPS@Home project. Because this was well underway prior to the pandemic, we already knew families had home internet challenges because of financial reasons or their physical address. Consequently, we worked with local internet providers to provide families with lower-cost internet service options. We also partnered with schools to provide families with hotspots if they indicated the need. We also continue to partner with our local government to advocate for the local expansion of affordable and accessible broadband options for all community members.

Can you cite an example of any project initiative that you have led at Albemarle County Public Schools?

We are working on two projects currently that have digital equity considerations. The first is a computer science project where our department is partnering with the department of instruction to support elementary schools with providing high quality learning experiences that map to our state’s computer science standards of learning. As a part of this project we identified and purchased technology tools that best support the curriculum. We are also partnering with educators at our elementary schools to continue to build out additional learning activities. 

The second is our interactive display project where we are starting with all elementary and middle school classrooms. We partnered with educators in our division to identify the best display solution for these grade levels and purchased an interactive display for classrooms in grades Prek-8. We want to guarantee that every teacher and student in these classrooms has access to the same teaching and learning experiences supported by a robust display solution. Our next step with this project is to secure funding and work with educators at high schools to determine the best display solution for their classrooms.

What advice would you give to upcoming professionals in this field? 

My advice to colleagues in the field of educational technology is to begin with the end in mind. For us it is critical to always hold ourselves accountable to what is best for students. We make a lot of decisions day to day that have accumulating or direct impacts on the student learning experience and it is important to pause and reflect frequently and ask ourselves are we doing what is best for students. When it comes to digital equity in particular, if we map backwards from what is best for students to the decisions we make about hardware and learning tools, network and device configurations, connectivity outside of school, and providing high quality learning experiences we will have more confidence in our choices because they are being informed by processes that support what is best for each and every one of our learners.

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