'Digital Learning Day' lives up to its name this year


Digital Learning Day is coming on Wednesday – and this year it’s, well, all digital.

The annual event, hosted by the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education, will feature six webcasts with speakers and panelists who will talk about this year’s main theme, digital equity. There will also be hundreds of smaller, live events hosted by education organizations and associations.

It’s a departure from previous years, when leaders from various school districts flew in to Washington, D.C. for a day in the spotlight. Last year, thousands of education innovators descended on the nation’s capital to hear from school leaders from Baltimore, Houston, California and Arkansas. Officials from the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology also spoke about their Future Ready schools initiative, as well as ConnectED and other edtech programs.

Jason Amos, a spokesman for the alliance, wrote in an email that a number of factors were involved when deciding where to hold the event.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things, from the rise of social media and professional learning networks, to advances in technology and the desire to model good practice,” he wrote.

Amos said travel costs did not factor into the decision, but it’s likely that the smaller events – 1,000 of them spread out across several cities – were less expensive to produce than gathering all the participants at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where the conference was held last year.

Featured speakers in the webcasts include Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has raised awareness about the “homework gap,” which refers to factions of students who are not able to complete schoolwork at home because they do not have Internet access. She was an early champion of overhauling Lifeline, an FCC program that gives low-income families telecom subsidies.

Zac Chase, ConnectED fellow in the Office of Educational Technology, will also serve on a panel. And Rafranz Davis, executive director of professional and digital learning at the Lufkin Independent School District in Texas, will serve as emcee of the webcasts. She wrote a book called “The Missing Voices in Edtech: Bringing Diversity into Edtech,” and spoke at last year’s Games for Learning summit in New York.

“When implemented properly, technology can produce significant gains in student achievement and boost engagement, particularly among students most at risk,” said Bob Wise, president of the alliance and former governor of West Virginia.

“But those students – students of color, students from low-income families, rural students, and other underserved populations – are the ones who typically lack access to the devices and reliable internet connections that can help close learning gaps by providing greater access to highly effective teachers, Advanced Placement and other rigorous courses, and professional learning networks for teachers,” he continued.

According to a Pew Research analysis of Census data from 2013, about one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17, and where incomes fall below $50,000, do not have access to high-speed Internet at home.

Local events in D.C. include a talk at the American Immigration Council about digital storytelling skills for immigrant students and families.

Digital Learning Day started in 2012.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.