National Writing Project

Technology, Equity, and Learning in the Digital Age

Date: April 1, 2013

Summary: Executive Director Sharon J. Washington affirms NWP's commitment to supporting equal access for all teachers and young people to "engaged learning and high-quality teaching" in our digital world.


Sharon J. Washington

Email, Tweets, collaborative writing, videos, search engines, online tax returns. Like you, I am reminded every day that "[w]riting today is pervasively and generally digital; composed with digital tools; created out of word, image, sound, and motion; circulated in digital environments; and consumed across a wide range of digital platforms" (Because Digital Writing Matters, Jossey-Bass, ix). The reality of writing in the digital age means that young people and the adults who educate and mentor them face an array of challenges and opportunities in learning and growing in this new world.

On February 6, NWP teamed up with the Alliance for Excellent Education and other partners for Digital Learning Day—a day designed to celebrate innovative teaching practices that make learning more personalized and engaging, and encourage exploration of how digital learning can provide students with more opportunities to get the skills they need to succeed in college, career, and life. Many Writing Project teachers and their colleagues in schools across the country participated in Digital Learning Day. And Janet Ilko, a middle-school teacher-leader from the San Diego Area Writing Project, presented her students' work live to educators from across the country who were both online and in person in Washington, D.C.

Although NWP teacher-leaders are already doing a great deal to encourage digital literacy across the U.S., it will take all of us working together to deliver on the promise of digital learning for all young people. Right now, we know that teachers' experiences with using digital tools in their teaching vary widely. Recently, NWP worked with the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project and the College Board to survey teachers about their experiences with using digital tools in their teaching. The internet, mobile phones, and social media have brought new challenges to teachers, and they report striking differences in access to the latest digital technologies between lower and higher income students and school districts.

Some 92% of advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project teachers say the internet has a "major impact" on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching, and 69% report that the internet has a "major impact" on their ability to share ideas with colleagues.

Yet 84% also agree that "[t]oday's digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts." Fifty-four percent of these teachers say that all or almost all of their students have access at school to the digital tools they need to be academically successful, but just 18% say the same is true for their students at home. And while 70% of teachers who work in the highest income areas report that their school does a "good job" providing teachers with support and needed resources to incorporate digital tools in the classroom, only 50% of teachers working in the lowest income areas respond similarly.

Across the NWP, we are working every day to prepare teachers and young people to use digital tools for engaged and connected learning in and out of school. Our most recent competitive federal funding from the SEED (Supporting Effective Educator Development) and the i3 (Investing in Innovation) grant programs particularly support our work in high-need communities and districts across the United States. I invite you to join us in contributing to a future where every young person has access to engaged learning and high-quality teaching in our digital, interconnected world.

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