It’s time for a bus trip – Technology & Equity – Are they headed in the same direction?

It’s time for a little bus trip as I used to explain to my science students.  I’d say it’s important to try and stay in your seats as best you can, but if you feel that you’ve been bounced out of your seat into the aisle or you are standing at the door ready to jump let me know and have faith that we will circle around and get you back on the bus… and if I’ve run you over with the bus – know that you are okay and we will come back to get you.  Turns out that analogy was one of the best we ever used.  Students weren’t afraid to tell me they were falling off the metaphorical bus.  It was a safe way for them to express their stress.  So tonight’s post is a journey, but stick with me we are going to end up in the parking lot of technological equity 🙂  (And FYI I worked with Grade 10, 11, 12 students) So keep your arms and legs inside the bus:)

The more I learn the less I know for sure?  The Great EdTech debate continued in fine fashion Tuesday night with two intense debates. First up was our discussion of the statement:

Tech Creates Equity in Society?

My first thought …. Does it?  I’m a strong supporter of technology.  It makes sense to me.  It helps me learn.  I’ve seen it work for students, but how often do we stop and think about big picture ideas like this?  Reflection is a key piece of learning how to teach more effectively.

Years ago I worked as a Differentiated Instruction Facilitator (DIF). It was then I had the privileged of learning the role from an amazingly talented DI facilitator. I’ll never forget how valuable the conversations we had with teachers and in particular with each other were to our learning.  Sharing the role gave us us time to process, debrief and examine learning situations from a variety of perspectives. It’s when we had time to step back and look at the bigger picture.  (time… reflection really does take time)  Now… you can have those conversations with yourself and you can blog them like this, but interactive conversation that challenges you to think outside your comfort perspective is priceless, even a little scary, but you will grow (and maybe occasionally get run over by that bus;).

This cartoon reminds me of some of our differentiated learning discussions.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to
climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

Image from Rockin Teacher Materials

Fair doesn’t mean equal.  And equal isn’t the same thing as equity. In Equity vs Equality: 6 Steps Toward Equity, Safir (2016) noted ” If equality means giving everyone the same resources, equity means giving each student access to the resources they need to learn and thrive. As those of us who are parents know, each child is different” (para. 6).  It seems like a relatively simple concept – differentiation. I appreciate Carol Ann Tomlinson’s explanation:

The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.

Common sense:) That’s important in so many aspects.

Safir recommended 6 steps to help create equity.

  1. Know Every Child
  2. Become a warm demander
  3. Practice lean-in assessment
  4. Flex your routines
  5. Make it safe to fail
  6. View culture as a resource “Culture, it turns out, is the way the brain makes sense of the world.”

You’ve heard all of her points before, but as Malcom Gladwell explained in The Tipping Point – in the end it’s the relatively small things done consistently that cause change to tip. I did however learn a new word 🙂 Storientation.  Safir (2015) elaborated in “The Power of Story in School Transformation” that by paying close attention to people’s stories you can transform your classroom.  She highlighted 3 types:

  • Your Story – sharing your experiences shows vulnerability and models social-emotional experiences.  Just think about how you connect when you hear someone else’ story.  (Brene Brown – Daring Greatly is a great read on this topic)
  • The stories of others – truly listening to other’s stories develops trust and connections
  • The organizational story “Organizations carry their own core memories” (para. 8)

I’ve had the opportunity, as a Learning Consultant, to spend time in many classrooms from Pre-K to Grade 12.  It’s truly been the best PD opportunity of my life.  What I can share is that teachers work very hard to differentiate learning for students and to create equitable learning environments.  It doesn’t just happen by accident.  Equity develops in classrooms because teachers create a learning environment where it’s safe for students to learn, mistakes and all.  In life, it’s as much about what we learn from our mistakes as is is from what we learn when we get it right.

Photo Credit: leighblackall via Compfight cc

Still with me on the bus trip?  We are taking a right onto Tech Boulevard. It might feel like a single lane highway with lots of oncoming traffic at times, but we’ll make it 🙂

So let’s add the technology lens.
There are many potential ways that technology can lay the foundation to create equity, especially if you apply the theory of universal design for learning “Many accommodations are “necessary for some, and good for all”, we should remember that assistive tech can support learning of all students” (Sider & Maich, 2014, p.3). Take the Voice note feature in


Google Read Write.  When paired with a graphic organizer in a Google Doc, it can be a very powerful tool for a student that struggles with the act of writing.  Built in features can help a student listen to the text and then record a response.  In this case, it’s about the student sharing evidence of their learning. Writing isn’t a requirement of the outcome. Plus this tool can work for students that struggle with reading and writing and it can also be a useful tool for all of us.  A way to capture our ideas in the moment and play them back so we can organize and make sense of them.

Photo Credit: GillyBerlin via Compfight cc

Effectively matching an assistive tech support to a student is not a matter to be taken lightly.  Each learner has different needs and some assistive tech supports are easier for all students to have access to than others. There are also varying costs associated with assistive tech supports, which may impact who has access to it. Schools can support some requests while others may fall to the parents.

When you think about technology supporting student learning, I think there are two important questions to ask.

1.What’s the need?
(i.e. what specific support is needed to increase successful learning.  Is there a diagnosis? A professional report recommending specific technologies?)

2. What evidence of learning is the outcome asking the student to demonstrate?
(i.e. if there’s no reference to writing in full sentences, could the student just record his/her answer for you?)

Okay, so you’ve figured those out.  What supports are needed to scaffold the technology into the every day learning of the student?  Who’s doing that?

Don’t assume all the stakeholders are on board. Parents can offer insight into how they can support.  The teacher will need to be willing and able to incorporate this into their teaching and they will.  Just remember to check in with them and see where there comfort level is at.  What PD is needed?  What’s the time commitment? Lastly, don’t forget the student.  You can purchase the tech to support the student but if the student decides it makes them look different or doesn’t want to use it… that’s a whole other bus trip.

Photo Credit: pantheist_bear_god via Compfight cc

Let’s step back for a moment and consider they ways in which technology isn’t creating equality but rather increasing the digital divide. The disagree side shared an insightful and provocative article by Audrey Watters entitled Ed-Tech’s Inequalities.  It will make you think about the proclaimed powers of Ed Tech – Techno-Solutionism (“the simplification of complex societal problems into apps and algorithms.“)  While tech may offer potential solutions, the reality of our world is this: Of those with access to technology and internet the benefits the people gain is related to their socio-economic status. The Matthew Effect… the rich get richer and the poor get poorer… in terms of tech use it means that what a child does with their internet access is tied to their parents which it connected to their upbringing and socio-economic status.  Students from more affluent homes will use technology in more creative ways to develop their digital literacy all while more likely being engaged with a parent. Children from lower socio-economic families tend to have very different expectations about the use of technology and how they engage with it. Often more drill and practice than engaged thinking.  It’s not just that we have access it’s how the tech is being used. Watter (2015) noted it’s even who is developing it in the first place that affects how tech develops.

Photo Credit: Programa Acessa São Paulo via Compfight cc

Back up the bus…. how does all of that play out at school?  Have you stopped to consider just how much your actions and selection of technology potentially impact student learning? Have you stopped to look at how your students are using the tech? You can use the SAMR model to help guide your reflection.

Image is the creation of Dr. Rueben Puentedura, Ph.D.

Tech certainty has the potential to give students a voice and empower them to demonstrate their learning in many ways, but don’t forget to step away from the hype.. or for me to step away from my love of tech (note to self = not everyone loves tech as much as me).  We need to step back and consider:

What’s the best tool (tech or perhaps it’s a pencil with the revolutionary eraser that I referred to in an early post)?  In the end, what’s going to have the biggest impact on student learning?

And with that our journey ends in the parking lot of technological equity…. does it exist? I guess that all depends what side of the bus you are on:)

Thanks to my ECI830 classmates for raising so many thoughtful points. Be sure to check out their blog posts this week:

Stay tuned for links to some of my favourite reads from this week.

  • Elizabeth drew my attention to Janelle’s post about that asked what kind of service are we doing to people if we just hand out assistive tech and don’t actually help students or teachers learn how to use it.  Providing support for new technology whether assistive or not is good practice. I think what’s really interesting is what happens to the tool when the support moves on… does that habit stay?
  • Danielle reflects on the topic from a variety of perspectives and encourages us to look at both sides.
  • Kyle reminded us that it matters that we invest in the people who are helping the students learn the technology. Creating opportunities for teachers to connect with Ed Tech support or Digital Consultants generates learning opportunities that go beyond the tech they are using, they have the potential to change a way a teacher teaches…. and that affects many students for years to come. !




16 thoughts on “It’s time for a bus trip – Technology & Equity – Are they headed in the same direction?

  1. Hey Stephanie. I think your bus analogy is great. It works from a lot of different angles. And thanks for the heads up about my blog link not working yesterday – it was considerate of you to take the time to let me know. Much appreciated 🙂 angela

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Stephanie! You have so many ideas here to reflect upon, I don’t even know where to start! Really, I have to start with the visuals. I feel as though students understand better – particularly the differences between equity, equality, and what is fair – when you see these visuals. All the animals taking the test to climb the tree is a great one, as well as the kids standing on the boxes. I have used these before and students really understand the value of them; it works better than me simply saying fair isn’t always equal. I also can’t disagree with you that the more I learn, the less I know for sure. After every debate, I feel as though I have more questions rather than answers! Even after reading your post I feel like that, which I appreciate! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you:) I agree that visuals are a great way to help people understand and perhaps something that I can use more when talking with parents. Glad that someone else also feels like they have more questions than answers after our readings and debates 🙂


  3. As a visual learner, I appreciated your photos on your blog as well. The one of the animals all trying to make it up the tree, keeps me thinking. Possibly the finish line isn’t the biggest obstacle, rather it’s the journey in getting there. If the fish had a river (yes this is hokey, but follow me… lol) up the tree, it could get to the top. If there was an elevator for the elephant, it too could make it there. Maybe this visual is more of a reminder for us a teachers and professionals, that it is not so much the finish line that needs differentiation, but rather the journey and supports that we provide for our learners along the way!

    As always, i enjoyed reading your blog! Very insightful, informative and full of great wisdom! Thanks for posting! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank-you for your kind words Danielle!! I love your explanation. It truly is about how we differentiate the journey. We all have talents. It’s our challenge to help the students find their bright spots and build on their strengths and partially to help create an environment where they are willing to step out of their comfort zone and practice something different.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! What a wonderful post this week. You have really captured this weeks debate and readings. I really like your bus analogy as well. I can see how this makes student’s feel more comfortable letting you know when they are have fallen off! I also think it is important that you have pointed out that not all students enjoy technology. I immediately thought of a previous student who typically asked if she could not use a computer to type up her final drafts in writing. Sometimes we need to take a step back to take a look to ensure we are in fact meeting student needs appropriately.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Another great post! Clearly judging by the comments your hard work in these blog posts and and attention to detail with the debate topics has paid off, Stephanie! Keep up the good work as the semester end (and school year end!) nears!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Heather! I appreciate your kind words and the encouragement to keep going especially at this time of year. Almost done this class then 1 more to go and my program is done:) Feel a little like Dori in Finding Nemo… Just keep swimming….


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