Equity in the classroom
Public schools especially, but also private schools, have been reckoning with disparities in learning outcomes based on a variety of factors, including race, income and learning differences. Educators are tasked with recognizing these disparities in the classroom and working to combat them. Being open to new models of instruction and integrating technology can be instrumental in addressing educational inequities.
There are several ways that K-12 schools and teachers have been choosing to address these issues.
- Mastery learning
Mastery learning is the concept that all students should progress at their own pace, ensuring they grasp the material before moving on to the next level or subject. This will look different depending on the school, classroom and teacher. Students might work independently on computers, meet individually with teachers or work in small groups. One challenge of mastery learning is ensuring more advanced students aren't idling or doing busy work while their classmates catch up.
- Differentiated instruction
Each student learns differently. For example, some students have learning disabilities that make it more difficult to remember information for tests, but are strong writers. Likewise, some students absorb information better by listening, while others learn best visually.
Differentiated instruction identifies students' individual strengths and adapts lessons to their needs. For instance, a differentiated approach might allow an introverted or shy student to write an essay for a history class, while several more outgoing students might team up to create a presentation on the subject matter.
The challenge of differentiated learning is that it's incumbent on the teacher to be able to judge individual students' mastery of material without relying on a standardized rubric of assessment, such as a test.
- Adaptive learning
Adaptive learning employs artificial intelligence to create personalized learning programs for individual students and recreate them in real time. Adaptive learning dismisses the "manufacture date" system of learning that groups students by age rather than skill level. The technological advances of AI learning allow students to benefit from one-on-one mentorship and learning without putting the responsibility on teachers to individualize a curriculum for each student.
Adaptive learning systems, such as IBM Watson and Microsoft Power BI, can analyze a student's performance and comprehension in real time and modify the teaching methodology accordingly. Adaptive learning may be especially well-suited for students who struggle with foundational skills such as reading, which is more likely to occur among low-income students.
In a world that’s increasingly ethnically, culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse, it’s vital that teachers regularly adjust their pedagogical approaches. Educators need to learn how to help students understand the differences and similarities among cultures.
An important part of globalization and the future of education is creating a link between students' school and home lives. Teachers can accomplish this by honoring and celebrating cultural differences in the classroom. It’s increasingly part of a teacher's job to prepare students for a globalized world and create a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between international and local perspectives.
Globalization also relates to critical race theory, since globalization can affect our understanding of race and racism. It’s been theorized that perceptions about African-American Vernacular English, also known as AAVE or Black English, is partly responsible for an achievement gap between White students and students of color in language arts classes. Recognizing and educating on these concepts is the first step in achieving equity in the classroom.
The marriage of globalization and digital technologies can also have a strong influence on teacher preparation programs, educational policies and practices.
- Online and remote learning
While the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted much of the world into almost total reliance on technology for education for a time, the return to in-person learning and seat time won’t signal the end of online learning. Rather, the online learning strategies that evolved during the pandemic are projected to expand.
Software platforms that allow students to work at their individual pace offer 24/7 access to content and give teachers the opportunity to monitor student progress (such as Google Classroom, Canvas and Moodle) will continue to grow in prevalence. Software as a service (SaaS) tools help students collaborate on projects from their own homes.
Online learning can create different challenges and advantages depending on the subject. In March 2020, the American Historical Association offered some tips for history teachers who were transitioning to leading their classrooms remotely. These included:
- Choosing whether to make classes synchronous (in real time) or asynchronous.
- Using platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts to foster engagement via debate, brainstorming, role play and mapping.
- Providing students with frequent and substantive feedback, so they would remain engaged.
Online teaching capabilities have permanently altered how teachers are able to deliver instruction and interact with students and families, including monitoring academic integrity.
- Cloud technology
Cloud-based technology has been instrumental in addressing educational inequity, particularly in STEM learning. Schools often lack the resources to incorporate high-level science and technology courses. This has led to challenges for students of color who want to study STEM topics in college but lack exposure at the K-12 level.
The future of education will increasingly depend on technological advances like cloud programs to help close some of these equity gaps. Cloud-based STEM programs can help expand learning opportunities to more students, since an increasing number have access to programs via either personal devices or school computers. Cloud computing is also beneficial for teacher training, group projects and monitoring student work.
- Immersive learning with virtual/augmented reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality technology are promising additions to the ed-tech space due to their immersive nature, according to a 2021 report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Integrating virtual reality/augmented reality technology into classroom learning helps break down physical barriers. History students can virtually travel to new places, while science students can perform experiments in virtual laboratories. Programs like BioDive, a web-based marine biology virtual reality game, allow Earth science students to get up close and personal with the material.
VR/AR programs such as KaiXR have also introduced enhanced language learning by adding real-world settings that make the experience more immersive and inclusive. Virtual and augmented reality can enhance teaching in arts and humanities subjects and create virtual field trips, such as using the VR/AR technology to "visit" an art museum. This addresses equity issues by responding to opportunity gaps in education.
Virtual and augmented reality programs have also shown promise for students who are neurodiverse or have learning differences. Tools are available to help students learn social competency, emotional development and behavioral skills.
Earn your education degree online from Arizona State University
Increased focus on technology and globalization in education have opened up new opportunities for future teachers and educational leaders, including educational software developers, instructional designers, online learning specialists, technology coordinators, early childhood educators, school superintendents and curriculum designers.
For those interested in education as a career path, Arizona State University offers three programs, all of which are available online.
- The Master of Education in learning design and technologies online focuses on advances in technology.
- The Master of Education in global education online emphasizes the impact of globalization.
- The Doctor of Education in leadership and innovation online is designed for professional educator-leaders who are looking to transform their practice and create better learning opportunities.