Children and Screens held the #AskTheExperts webinar “Digitally Disconnected: Understanding the Digital Divide During COVID-19″ on March 24, 2021 at 12:00pm ET to address the ways that COVID-19 exacerbated the digital divide for children and families. This virtual workshop explored how children and adolescents had struggled to cope with the demand for constant connectivity with limited access to fast internet and/or the devices they needed to attend virtual school and connect with peers. A panel of multidisciplinary experts from the fields of public health, education, psychology, and parenting discussed how a lack of internet privileges in the digital age affects the socioemotional, developmental, and physical wellbeing of children and what parents, schools, and policymakers can do about it. In addition, this important webinar provided useful resources, tools, and opportunities for communities in need as well as recommendations for how those with ample resources can help.


  • Lee Rainie

    Director; Co-Author Internet and Technology Research, Pew Research Center; Networked: The New Social Operating System
  • Nicol Howard, PhD

    Assistant Professor; Coordinator; Co-Director The MALT Program; REAL Lab; University of Redlands
  • Beth Holland, PhD

    Partner Research & Measurement, The Learning Accelerator
  • Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Professor of Pediatrics; 2018 Past President Keck School of Medicine, The University of Southern California; American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Angela Siefer

    Executive Director National Digital Inclusion Alliance
  • Antwuan Wallace

    Managing Director National Innovation Service

[Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra]: Hello and welcome. I am Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, president and founder of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development and host of the popular Ask the Experts webinar series. We’re delighted that you and 600 others have registered to discuss the digital divide and how we can all work together to establish and maintain digital equity. Whether or not you’re worried about particular children and families with limited access and require practical solutions, want to be involved in implementing solutions for social change in your community, or anywhere in between, our experts have some excellent advice in store for you. The homework gap and inequity in broadband access have been concerns in our community for many years, but with strong advocacy, thoughtful interventions and new legislation the story is beginning to change. In fact the inclusion of 17.2 billion dollars for closing the homework gap in the recently passed American Rescue Plan is a watershed moment for digital equity, but there’s a lot more work to be done. Stay tuned for a lively discussion about what we know, how we’re addressing the concerns, and what steps are required. The group we have convened have reviewed the questions you submitted. They will answer as many as possible during and after their presentations. If you have additional questions during the workshop, please type them into the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. When you do, please indicate whether or not you’d like to ask your question live on camera if time permits, or if you prefer the moderator to ask your question. We’re recording today’s workshop and we’ll upload a video onto youtube in the coming days. All registrants will receive a link to our youtube channel where you’ll find videos from our past 28 webinars, which we hope you will watch as you wait for this video to be posted. It’s now my great pleasure to introduce our moderator. Lee Rainie is the Director of Internet and Technology Research at Pew Research Center, where his team has issued more than 650 reports based on surveys which examine people’s online activities and the internet’s role in all of our lives. We’re delighted that he is here to share his expertise and experience with us today. Welcome Lee.


[Lee Rainie]: Thanks so much Pam. I’m delighted to be here, it’s it’s a real honor, it’s kind of a bucket list moment for me. I’ve watched the growth of the Children and Screens community that you and your colleagues have built and it’s sort of an amazing thing to behold uh and it’s a an important voice now in in a particularly intense moment as we uh are going through the pandemic and its aftermath. We had a little debate amongst ourselves as we were preparing for this about what the Oxford English dictionary word of the year for 2020 should have been and one of the panelists Beth Holland summed it up beautifully by calling it the dumpster fire year. It’s brought more urgent questions to the forefront about what schools should be doing, how society should be serving all of its children, what is the right role of screens and screen-based activities and learning in people’s lives. And uh there are now of course sort of new urgencies to these questions as so much activity is now taking place online. So I thought I would go through a a high-level overview of some of the most interesting and relevant Pew data from from this season and I’m just about to load my slides here before we get to the other panelists’ discussions. This is the core material that we developed at the very beginning of the pandemic so a year ago, April, we asked about the stressors that would be occurring in all kinds of families. We asked um parents with children whose children were sent home from school and were getting remote learning during April 2020. We asked about particular things related to uh digital divides particularly as remote work was now taking place so much online. So we asked what is the likelihood that your child is going to have to do work on a cell phone rather than on a wired computer. As you can see there, 43 percent of low income families said that was very likely or somewhat likely to be happening in the coming year and then subsequent data we’ve gathered on this thing shows that that number actually was lower than it turned out to be the case. We also asked what is the likelihood that your child will have to use public Wi-Fi to finish their school work because there’s not a reliable internet connection at home. Again, 40 percent of lower income children compared with 22 of the full population, so one in five kids were going to have this struggle anyway and it was double that for low income families. So again, it means that they can’t depend on what’s available in their household and they have to go somewhere else or find another route to get access to the kind of remote learning that they were getting. And we asked uh what is the likelihood that your child will not be able to complete their school work because they do not have access to a computer at home, and more than a third of low income families reported that. 21 percent, so one in five children of these children uh were going to experience that across the board across the economic spectrum. The number that’s circled down there in the lower right hand side is if you said yes to any one of these three things. That’s sort of an additive number so some people reported that all three things were gonna happen happen to them but if you said uh yes this was a likely thing to happen uh you got counted in this and it was six in ten lower income uh families were anticipating experiencing these kinds of problems with school and it just added to the uh you know the stress and and  the confusion that greeted so much of the activity during the end of the school year in the spring semester of 2020 and then the fall semester of the next school year that began in the second half of the year 2020. Um, at the beginning of 2021 we asked about the previous year’s experience here and you can see that lower income children were more likely than upper income children to have received only online instruction uh at their schools. And so more than half were reporting that and again sort of in circumstances where that already was a potential problem that was already a relatively hard thing to do, you can just imagine and I know our panelists are going to be discussing how that played out in individual families but it was just, you know, so hard to see and those families were just under incredible amounts of pressure. We captured again sort of looking backwards at the lost year or the lost time that children were in school lower-income families were more likely than other families to say that the loss of that school time was a big concern that their children were going to fall behind at school, that they weren’t getting the kind of access to their teachers, access to educational materials, access to materials that they needed to complete their assignments. And so, you know, this is a big concern across cultures that ground will be lost but it’s particularly acutely felt by lower income families and it’s particularly felt by families that you know were getting remote education as part of the suite of services they were getting from their schools. Um we also picked up on things even before the pandemic that have played out in the pandemic so a big uh concern in the Children and Screens community and a lot of the programming that you have done around these issues relates to the stuff that is happening online, so there’s one level of problem that I’ve just talked about where lack of access is its own struggle and its own problem, but the stuff that’s happening online is also of deep concern to parents and educators. In this particular battery of questions we asked parents about children using YouTube and 80 percent of parents of minor children said that their child was a user of youtube at least in some way and about half of them used youtube on a daily basis. Then we asked um uh about, you know, this activity by by different groups and you can see that black uh  families and hispanic families were more likely to report that their children were heavy YouTube users, getting on daily, or a little bit more often than that. And those families, not surprisingly, were also highly concerned about the kind of content um and the kind of people that they would be meeting as they were in the, in the YouTube environment. They were, they were very likely to report worry about encountering inappropriate content, they were strikingly worried about the things that were going to be advertised for them and the data that were collected maybe around some of that advertising so the kind of functioning of the algorithms of those systems and therefore they were worried about the videos that were recommended to their children because it was a, it was an algorithmic process that was, you know, not in their control and parents are always um concerned about those kinds of things uh as as a as they play out. So that’s a very broad overview. I’m happy to answer more questions later on about the particulars of Pew Research but uh now it’s my pleasure to begin the introductions of the panel members. First we’re going to start with Angela Seifer who’s the Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, uh from physically setting up computer labs in underserved areas and managing local digital inclusion programs, to consulting with the U.S. Department of Commerce and testifying before congress, Angela develops the national strategies and solutions from the ground up and that’s what she’s going to talk about now, over to you Angela. 


[Angela Seifer]: Thanks Lee, it’s fabulous to join you all. It’s great to be here with Lee who you all know, we use Pew data for this work constantly so that’s awesome. As Lee noted, the digital divide is about the access to the devices, the access to the internet, and the digital skills, so it’s really all of those things. When I started this work 20 some years ago we called it the digital divide, our solutions we talked about in terms of community technology, and we often talked about it in terms of having access to a computer, internet was kind of a bonus, right, it wasn’t expected you would have internet in your home 20 years ago. Today, you better have internet in your home, right, like trying to get by today without that is- life’s really hard right that all became really clear during the pandemic, so the way we talk about it now, is that the digital divide is not having access to any of those digital tools that we need to survive today, but for those of us who are in the field working on it, we talk about in terms of digital equity and digital inclusion. And these definitions, these are things that NDIA came up with when we got started about seven years ago because there wasn’t a clear definition. So digital equity is the goal. This is communities and individuals having full access to information communication technology to do whatever it is they need to do. Digital inclusion then is the how. These are the activities that would get us to that digital equity. So this is affordable home broadband uh,  the right device for your task, digital literacy skills training, digital navigation support right, tech support, the things that would help us to be able to fully participate. In our current environment, often the term digital divide is used to refer to infrastructure availability. Does someone have that infrastructure available so that they can subscribe to it? But the pandemic helped show that that’s only one barrier, a much bigger barrier is actually that folks can’t afford it. And as Lee was explaining in his uh going over his data, poverty is a consistent factor in all of this, which gets us to that lack of affordability of broadband at a low income level, but then it’s also the digital skills. So this is one that’s harder to kind of pinpoint and it’s one that I, we at NDIA think had not enough attention has been placed on, that there are some school districts where they’re like okay here’s a hot spot, get to it, and then the parents are you know just kind of standing there with a hot spot they’re like, what did you just, what did you just give me, because we don’t do this in our household, right, like I’m scared for my child’s safety or I’m worried about my own privacy uh  right, there’s all kinds of reasons why someone would not trust the internet, you all know that really well uh but then there’s that whole, how do you safely participate online and if you don’t have support systems for doing that, you’re just not going to do it, right? So my role today is to go over kind of those pieces with you and we’ll dig in some more in a bit. Back to you Lee.


[Lee Rainie]: Thanks so much, I mean it’s really, it’s such an important contribution you’ve made to the conversation by noting that access is the first stage of digital divides and so many other things are now a part of the concerns that people have about it, and one of the ones that we’ve picked up in our work most recently is that people’s personal social networks are under stress and to the degree that they are turning to smarter more tech savvy people in their universe, it’s just harder to do now when people are under the kinds of pressures that they are just to get through uh  the day-to-day stuff, so thank you for your expansion of those considerations and it’s a, it is a tricky thing to measure but it’s a really important thing to understand. It’s now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Nicol Howard, who is an Assistant Professor of STEM Education in the School of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Redlands. She’s also the Co-director of the Race Education Analytics Learning Lab, the REAL lab, in the Center for Educational Justice, and a real sort of giant in this field and it’s my pleasure to turn it over to you Nicol.


[Dr. Nicol Howard]: Thank you Lee for that introduction and what a perfect setup, I hope you all can see my screen okay, sometimes our systems do something different but that’s technology. So I want to talk today with you all about some of the challenges related to some of the things that Angela and Lee have already set up for us. There are these issues related to device access and Wi-Fi connectivity that do persist for our students today at home and at school and even though there are some major concerns and other concerns related to how we’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will talk today and I will speak uh  specifically today on some of those digital inequities. I’d like to take us, as I mentioned earlier just a moment ago, take us specifically to how I’m talking about digital divide and digital equity. Um, digital divide is defined more specifically as this social disparity related to access, or the frequency of use and the ability to use technology to innovate. And when I speak about digital equity, I’m speaking about equitable access to the advanced technologies and the subsequent afforded learning experiences regardless of race, regardless of disability, socioeconomic status, language, geography, gender, and other historically related inequities and so amid the learning shift and in all the changes that happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some challenges and so I wanted to specifically hear from a student about because i’ve done research and asked teachers and educators about their stories and so I wanted to hear from a student about their challenges, so let’s hear uh for a moment from Kamau, what his challenges were.


[Kamau]: Um, the first challenge was getting used to a new platform, the second challenge was adjusting uh to attending zoom and learning new classmates


[Dr. Nicol Howard]: And so you you heard just then that the challenge, the challenge was related to adjusting to the new platform, right so for this is a positive story obviously because Kamau had access to Wi-Fi and had access to connectivity at home and even though the district was not initially one-to-one they did move fairly quickly to make sure that there were devices and hot spots in hand. So he was able to access the learning and then connect with um other classmates and so in this next video I asked Kamau what were the silver linings, like what were some of the positives, and so let’s hear.


[Kamau]: The good things about it are I can easily contact the teacher if I have any problems with the platform that I use through email, or I can come to a second zoom and also tell her there so we can review it and make sure that the problem is fixed. 


[Dr. Nicol Howard]: And so Kamau had uh what he described as access, direct access, not just to the technology but to his teachers as well and what Kamau shared later on is that his use of YouTube actually helped him progress from a fifth grade level in mathematics to a seventh grade level because some of the instructions that were embedded in the virtual learning platform were not um giving him exactly what he needed so having access to YouTube gave him an opportunity to even go a bit further in his mathematics. And so these stories are of course great stories um and there are many great stories that can be shared about how students are learning and students from different backgrounds, but I also do want to talk for a minute about the fact that there are still some some challenges even with the glimmers of hope that we’ve seen. Um Kamau was very fortunate again to be in a district that knew how to respond in a flurry to the COVID-19 pandemic but we, as Angela described, have different ways in which we’re looking at the digital divide. We have what I call that level one, the traditional level one term that we’ve used but we have the issue of access and if we look at the student in the very first box and think about what her story is, that story is, no device at school, a shared cell phone at home, limited Wi-Fi connectivity, technology used occasionally for learning through school, and then maybe lessons um not having the innovative lessons or opportunities to innovate. And then we have the next student who has access at school, has learning opportunities at school and at home, but is not necessarily being pushed to explore and innovate. So these are still concerns, right, that our students have access to the technology, but right now we’re focusing on learning, learning loss. I’d like to say we should be thinking about the learning gains and we should be thinking about the other opportunities that I would even imagine for this next student in that this particular student would have access to teachers who were talking about the current systems when we talk about oppression and these oppressive ideologies and assumptions that we’re confronted with and I mean we can talk later about why it is that our black and latino, latina, latinx students are vastly underrepresented in Silicon Valley. These are things for us that are getting at that next level, it’s that we might have young black girls and black girls code, and they’re doing great work and learning great new technologies and how to use them for learning and they’re exploring, but we still need to address the fact that we have underrepresentation in the fields later on. So again, what’s happening at home um parents and families are, they’re figuring it out. They’re figuring out the fact that, you know, the learning has to continue, yes, but sometimes there are moments for us to step away from the learning and to use our technologies in different ways and researchers have studied the digital divide as Angela has mentioned for decades. However, there are some actions that still need to be taken to address the impacts of digital inequities, the lack of effective support systems for families now that we understand the relationship between specific contexts, such as racial and gender disparities within the districts and communities. We need to also offer educators more opportunities to cultivate curiosity and encourage exploration for their students in order to be able to reach home and encourage the same in families at home. Basically what I’m saying is how do, how do we support families in leveraging the technology that they do have access to, and how do we take those stories that we hear about our rural school districts that do not have the same access and connectivity, how are we taking those stories and offering the counter narrative and talking about the ways in which those districts are engaging in powerful family engagement practices, and how they are still going to homes and figuring out ways to connect with parents. So um, definitely more to talk about and I’d say most importantly we need to continue to hear from our key stakeholders such as students like Kamau and his family. We need a, opening up the academic year for 2021 and 2022 with conversations with families and students and hearing from them about the learning that has been happening at home.


[Lee Rainie]: Hey Nicol, it’s wonderful that you got Kamau to address one of the questions that had come into us um about the silver linings and he was so beautifully articulate about that and in a world where so many people are now going to move to tele-everything you know this skill set will serve students like him pretty well as they move into the future. And you’ve already lit up the question board so a question has come in about whether um you’re finding that students with learning differences are also uh  being affected by the situation and sort of what are their circumstances. 


[Dr. Nicol Howard]: Yes they definitely are being affected. I, I think one of the greatest stories I heard from a school district, it was about how they are setting up learning. We heard about the learning pods that were happening organically between homes. And sometimes that was even creating an inequity but now we’re hearing about school districts that are setting up opportunities where families with students who have been identified as having learning disabilities, they’re able to come in and work directly with educators and that’s been helpful. but it has been a challenge. 


[Lee Rainie]: Talk about a pandemic hack, I mean the creation of learning pods is such an interesting innovation and it’s nice to see as you’ve mentioned that school districts are now handling this rather than sort of affluent parents doing it alone for  their own kids. 


[Nicol Howard]: Absolutely.


[Lee Rainie]: So now, we get to hear from Dr. Colleen Kraft, who’s a Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Through her work as the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 Dr. Kraft is known for her advocacy to optimize the health of all children through technology and innovation and I know she’s been a participant in the Children and Screens community for a long time. Colleen, take it away.


[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: Thank you so much. Great to have the opportunity to present here. And I’m going to to talk a little bit about health and very interesting, a lot of the same issues that we see with education we’re actually seeing on health, and much of it is very much related here. So I’m going to go through three basic patients and scenarios that we tend to see. Alex is a young teenager who has ADHD and anxiety disorder, and throughout time before the pandemic, he always worried about the consequences for his poor grades and poor behavior at school. He was always the class clown at school and when he wasn’t being the class clown he worried about what his friends thought about him. Well what happened to Alex during the pandemic and the divide, is that he actually thrived in virtual school because he could do this, he could attend his classes and focus on his work without having to draw attention to himself, and then he could have virtual meetings with his friends. He was able to reach out to his teachers, he was able to reach out to his counselor, and then he had his time with his friends. And Alex is actually many of my patients so I have had lots of patients who do have learning differences, some of whom have really thrived. What’s been interesting from my own perspective is that I could not tell you who would thrive and who wouldn’t, but a number of my kids really have. So supporting teens like Alex, you know, we’re going to want to continue options of virtual classes, offer school-based behavioral health services virtually as well too, and really focus with these kids on cognitive recognition. You know, you’re doing really well, what is it that’s helping you do well? And what is the insight that you gain that can be applied to some of your other situations when you are in person, in class, or with friends, or with family, and then taking the time and the ability because of that virtual connection to partner with the teams to make small changes. Some in-person classes and activities would still help socialization, even for the kids who thrived online, so choir, band, theater, art, photography, sports, wherever that child has some interest, they can practice some of the skills that you build through their insight and working with them virtually into an in-person type of arena. And again, this is something that we’re learning and it is very much a silver lining of the pandemic and of going onto things virtually that could help a lot of our kids. So my second one is Keisha. Keisha is a good student, she has lots of friends at school, she has several close friends, and she’s very involved in basketball and in band. But she had a very different experience during COVID-19. She attends online school, her grandmother was hospitalized with COVID-19 for three weeks, and she really couldn’t focus on her schoolwork at that time. Her grades were dropping and her mental health problems manifested as having episodes of chest pain. She went to the emergency department twice. She’s had difficulty sleeping and she really hasn’t wanted to virtually meet with her friends because she’s feeling bad about herself. One of the things that often happens with many of my kids like Keisha as well too, is that being at home and not having that physical outlet like basketball, has led to weight gain, and so they feel self-conscious, they don’t want to be around with other friends as well too. This is again where the divide is more than just broadband access and computer access. It is digital but it’s also social, it’s where kids don’t do well digitally socializing with other kids. So how do we support a kid like Keisha? It’s essentially recognizing her losses during this time. Her family member illness, her separation from friends, and her loss of efficacy at school. What can be done? And again, her advantage is that she does have adequate broadband to do some cognitive training via broadband initially and now in person as soon as possible. So to ask her things like, what can you do to connect with your grandmother? What can you do to have fun with a friend? And then resetting those school expectations and addressing perfectionism, which is a big thing in many of our kids with a digital divide. The divide again isn’t always the devices, it is how you perceive information, how you take in and learn information and how that affects your overall mental health, which is health. And again virtual counseling can help but maximizing those safe in-person activities is really important for kids like Keisha. And then my little girls Genesis and Grace. They are good students, they’re in fourth and fifth grade, they live in a two-bedroom apartment with their parents, aunt, and uncle, very close-knit family. And one of the things that they have received at school have been breakfast and lunch. And this is many many of my kids, and sadly these are the kids who really fell behind in COVID-19 and the health effect is very much with what happened to their family. When we’ve talked about kids in health and COVID-19, what people have said is that kids don’t get as sick with COVID-19, and that is true. Some kids get very sick with it but most of them have mild illness. But what’s happened is many of them have lost family members from COVID-19. I recall one evening in clinic where I had four children in a row who had lost a parent to COVID-19. And we don’t think about this when we think about the divide and health effects, but for these little girls their father died of COVID-19 and their uncle died. These are people in their 30s and 40s. Their mother and aunt became ill, but now they’re the breadwinners, they’re out doing domestic work and a lot of these kids are being left alone with their zoom school, with their virtual learning without adequate broadband, without adequate access to computers. And that their way to get education and health care and counseling really is something that is impacted by the digital divide. What we learn is that the digital divide becomes even more divisive when you throw in poverty and when you throw in illness. And so what we know about the digital divide and health is this, is that it affects our most underserved children and families. And it is somewhat because of the access to broadband and equipment, but it’s more because of what’s been affected in the adults who are caring in the lives of these kids, that there’s been more death and disability, and more loss for these children. And there’s the loss of school as that safe place for learning, and for food, and for socializing. Children are home at much younger age due to parental death and disability and need for work and we are seeing this a great deal. We’re seeing ten-year-olds who are taking care of their seven-year-old and three-year-old siblings at home because their parents don’t have an option. If they can get funding, if they can get money from doing any type of work, they’ll go out and do it. Food insecurity and inequity in educational resources is really paramount. At the same time, we often see both overnutrition and undernutrition with these kids. So obesity is actually, our rates of obesity have skyrocketed. And that we’ve had increasing reports of accidents at home. There are increasing reports of both child abuse and domestic violence. So how do we support these kids? Policies to support struggling families is going to be really important. And as we are looking at opening up schools again using school as that hub for food, for broadband internet access, some of our schools are giving out the Wi-Fi hotspots. I think a better solution would be a partnership with a Verizon or a Spectrum or some of these companies that you think about who’s done well during the pandemic, think about the broadband companies. Could they not partner with a school to help them out and help help out these kids who go to that school, rotating on site as much as possible. And one innovative recommendation that I’ve seen some schools do is actually hire the parents for child care at school, for activities, for art, and music, and physical education, for cooking. If they are going to be providing food and food home in a backpack, hire a parent to do some of that work. They can be on site there when their children are rotating in that area and stop sharing here. But I think that the important part is that the digital divide has just really augmented the divide that we see in health with all of our kids, and having access to a caring adult in their life, having access to equity in terms of broadband and equipment, and really recognizing the tremendous loss that these kids have received in their families first and foremost, but in their education, is really going to be part of how we strategize how to do better as things come back into play.


[Lee Rainie]: Thank you so much. It occurs to me hearing you talk that you’re really dealing with two big systems here: the health care system as well as the education system. And many of the people watching this program are advocates or facing situations where they know their pockets of resistance in their local school systems and in the in the in the health community where telehealth isn’t necessarily underwritten by insurance and things like that. One of our questioners points out that children themselves now have a really interesting, important political profile. They want to be advocates, they are really engaged with a variety of issues, and the questioner wonders whether the students themselves can be marshaled to maybe address some of the recommendations that you just listed.


[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: I think certainly older students could be. Um, I think that, you know, Nicol’s um presentation and showing the voice of that student is so powerful. And to be able to have our students speak out to what it is that they need um because the assumption may be, well we just need better broadband, or more equipment, but it may not be that. it may be that we need sports and we need to be able to do our sports, we may need to be able to do our band and other activities, things that are social, that are social activities where we can have face-to-face interaction with our peers is going to be important. Or it could be a team coming out and saying there were some really good things about this virtual platform that worked for me and helped me out with my learning disability, could we continue to do part of my education this way? But I think that the voice of children is important. 


[Lee Rainey]: Wonderful, thank you. Um, and now it’s my pleasure to turn to Dr. Beth Holland who is a partner at the Learning Accelerator, where she leads their research and measurement work as well as Digital Equity Advisor for the Consortium of School Networking. She has over 20 years of education experience in various teaching administration and research capacities, so it brings to this subject a real applied sensibility. Beth, over to you.


[Dr. Beth Holland]: Great, thank you so much Lee. It’s really a pleasure to be here and to work with everybody and to bring the school side of this into the conversation because I think the, you know, schools have really gone through a herculean effort in the past several months really trying to address this issue of the digital divide. And in thinking about how to best frame everything today knowing that honestly I rely on your data way too often, um I decided to take more of a historical perspective because I think one thing that has been, I won’t call it a silver lining but maybe a tin lining, is that this current pandemic shined a light on a problem that we’ve been talking about for years. And so thinking through this in 1996 Larry Irving who at the time was the head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration, first coined this idea of a digital divide and said, you know, there’s a definite discrepancy between who does and does not have access and what are we going to do about it, this has long-term ramifications. And his coining of that phrase also should be noted that it comes at the end of decades of conversation between various communities about who did and did not have access to the technology being developed. Dr. Charlton McIlwain at NYU talks about what he called the black vanguard as well, saying that there’s so much of technology that’s not just about access, but who’s being given the access, and who’s being represented by it when we think about it by race. And so along the lines of you know Larry’s coining of this term of the digital divide, there was also the very very first National Education Technology Plan that came out that year and it was the first time that official documentation from the Department of Education said schools need to support this process and start to look at how are we going to get our schools connected. And you know 96 was a very busy year, at the same time the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission instituted the E-Rate program and this is a program that was specifically intended to offset the cost of getting internet access directly to schools and libraries. Now what’s frankly kind of amazing is there wasn’t, even though there were a lot of researchers and a lot of people documenting the problems of the digital divide, the challenges of which students were having not just access to technology but as Nicol said, really meaningful learning opportunities with technology. We got all the way to 2016 before it came back again in a National Education Technology Plan, and at that time they started talking about the digital use divide, meaning that some students have access to the technology but solely use it for remediation, test prep, basic content consumption, you know very passive experiences, while other students were having these really rich meaningful opportunities to connect with experts in the field to, you know, construct their own understanding of complex ideas, to start building and coding and developing. And they also raised a point where technology should be used to create conditions for universal design for learning, meaning every student can actually access the learning experience. And there was a question earlier and Colleen touched on it some, about students with different learning differences. And when a universal approach is taken, the technology can provide really meaningful scaffolds and supports to help all students be able to learn, whether that’s closed captioning, or text to speech, or dictation, changing fonts and colors, lots of options. So in 2016 things started rolling again and in 2017 current acting FCC Chair, Jessica Rosenworcel, made a comment of the homework gap is the cruelest part of the digital divide, and she really started seeing that there was this major discrepancy between those students who had access at home and those didn’t. And in 2019 where I’ve been working at CoSN, there was an infrastructure report. And in the infrastructure report, 92 percent of our technology leaders who were surveyed said that their schools could meet the minimum bandwidth requirements as defined by the FCC to ensure that their students had internet access, but only 10 percent knew that all of their students had access at home. And so if we come back to last spring, Common Sense Media did a survey to find out well what is the real extent of the digital divide, and they found that approximately 30 percent of public school students have no access to the internet or devices to sustain effective distance learning. And so when we start to think about that and break it down, you know, approximately, you know, a quarter of students even in high connected areas still lack adequate internet access and that goes to half when we start talking about maybe rural communities or places with affordability challenges. And critical in that, we have to remember that there’s 400,000 teachers who can’t teach because of lack of internet access and so these numbers, I think, were really astounding and got a lot of attention. And so Common Sense, and the um Common Sense the Southern Education Foundation, and Boston Consulting Group put another report out this fall and they found that with all of the efforts made by teachers and schools and administrators, they have closed about 20 to 40 percent of that digital divide, but they really identified that it came down to three things: affordability, accessibility, and adoption. And I know that Angela is going to talk a lot about the affordability and accessibility component but I want to address the adoption piece, where 40 percent of disconnected students could have access, could potentially afford it, but they don’t necessarily know how to get that access and that could be because of english language challenges, it could because of undocumented status, it could be because of housing insecurity, and so i think this is really where schools have stepped in with solutions. There’s a lot of different ways that they’ve thought about doing this, community hot spots, so creating Wi-Fi access in parking lots, fields, patios, partnering with local businesses and libraries to say okay you can go to this safe space and get access, not ideal in a pandemic, but it is an option. There is low-cost broadband from most of the major service providers AT&T, Comcast, Cox. Typically schools are finding that is not sufficient to support distance learning, like it doesn’t allow for the zoom meetings like what we’re experiencing right now. Districts across the country right now in response are starting to build their own networks. And this comes a little to Colleen’s comment about well what about the major providers and the major providers are still sort of looking for their profit margins and so it’s really come down to how the schools are building their own networks. And then that last piece has been talked about a lot is this idea of mobile hotspots, the putting hot spots on buses giving kids hot spots to go home and how that’s been able to create essentially a band-aid to this problem. I know that Antwuan’s going to talk more about policy but I feel like we have some good news coming in right now where there is a lot of money that the federal government through the American Rescue Plan is using to specifically address the digital divide but I want to touch on this concept, that equal access does not mean equitable access and Nicol brought this up, and Angela brought this up, that we really need to think about when we talk equity that we’re thinking about the narratives, the conditions, and the opportunities that really support and benefit all of our learners. A technology director in Illinois, Oyen Idoru, made a great point, she said one to one doesn’t mean that we’re done with digital equity. And so to leave you with sort of this broader idea at the Learning Accelerator and with CoSN, we’ve been really talking about how do we look not just at these digital foundations but also those essential supports for learning, and then the opportunities that exist from it. And so I would say we definitely need to broaden that idea. And Lee, I will turn this over to you.


[Lee Rainie]: Great, um we’re gonna um uh give you a question right away from one of the participants in the in the in the zoom meeting, uh Lee Davenport will be asking the question in um a moment.


[Dr. Beth Holland]: Great. 


[Lee Davenport]: Hi guys, uh my name is Lee Davenport, I’m with U.S Ignite. Can you hear me? 


[Dr. Beth Holland]: Mhmm


[Lee Davenport]: Oh good. So again, thank you Lee, other Lee, for introductions. Um, I work at a research nonprofit. We’re about to spend about 2.7 million dollars of the NSF’s dollars, the National Science Foundation’s dollars, to really understand how we can increase access to students to populations that are currently underserved. We’re going to spend a fair amount of time working with faculty locally, across these pilots to understand in what ways the introduction of internet access um can have positive social impacts. And so maybe you could give me some pointers on where we can start. And to you and to your work, what ways has the introduction of internet access been studied to show positive impact on student success during the pandemic, um and maybe if not during the pandemic, and before that. 


[Dr. Beth Holland]: So I can, that’s an excellent question and two pieces. So the first one is Dr. Johannes Bauer at Michigan State University at the Quello Center, put out a report right before the pandemic actually started, and his group did a study of students in rural Michigan and one of the things that’s amazing they found is when they controlled for race, they controlled for gender, socioeconomics, they found a direct correlation between high speed internet access and education attainment. And they defined education attainment as grade point average, SAT score, and desire to attend higher education. And what they really attributed it to was if students had this continuous access to high-speed internet, they were curious, like they wanted to learn more. If they had a question they went and explored it, it wasn’t just, oh my gosh, I have to do this one assignment and a very laser focus. On the more of a during COVID, and I can put the link somewhere, I did a small study with a district in rural California last spring, it’s a 98 percent hispanic latino community, it’s mostly, it’s almost 100 percent considered below poverty, it’s a district that had invested in community Wi-Fi invested in one-to-one programs. Technology was not the issue, and yet still some of the challenges that they found going into remote learning was students still really struggled to be self-directed. They were desperate to still have those social connections and they were so happy that the district placed a focus with their teachers on how do we cultivate community? How do we make sure that we’re building in social supports for our students? And it was very active professional learning on the part of the district to work with the teachers. So what’s the social emotional learning component? How do we make sure our students know how to monitor their own progress? How do they know how to reach out for help. And so you know again that’s a very very tiny little study that was done on you know teacher perceptions of the student experience, but I can at least point you to that data, but the Quello Center one I think is one of the best ones that has come out recently on that topic.


[Lee Davenport]: Thank you very much.


[Lee Rainie]: Thank you so much, Beth. We’re going to turn back now to Angela Seifer, the Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance to talk a little bit about now, federal policies that support bridging the digital divide. So back to you Angela.


[Angela Seifer]: Thanks Lee. So Beth was telling us some of the policies that the federal government is now getting into around the digital divide particularly the affordability question. So previous to the pandemic the federal government was really only addressing the digital divide in terms of the availability of the infrastructure and so now I think big hallelujah from lots of folks that the recognition that affordability is a problem, and that they are addressing it through the Emergency Broadband Benefit and the Emergency Connectivity Fund, both of which Beth mentioned in her slides. What we’re not yet seeing from the federal government is addressing , um so the devices kind of get mixed into that, let me note that like often it is connectivity and devices, so then you have to cover both of them with one pot of money so it’s not, the device’s part just kind of gets thrown in. But then the part that totally gets skipped is that digital navigation, tech support, digital literacy kind of guidance. A really important note um for anyone who’s in this work is that as I like to say, kids don’t live alone. So it kind of drives me totally bonkers when we focus all of our efforts on just the students because we all know the data is super clear that the more engaged the parents are with the students education, you know, the increased impact on that student’s education when the parents are engaged that if the parents don’t have access to the internet and the digital skills to use it and the device then they’re probably not talking to the school, particularly right now right interaction with the school is very digital. So being able to address the whole needs of the family is essential and that digital literacy part is where, can the parent help the student, right when the technology isn’t working, when the application just isn’t coming up right, when they lose their password right, that there’s a structure a way to support the students in that way. Um, there was a mention earlier by Colleen about internet service providers and Beth mentioned it also that, yes, they can be part of the solution um and as Beth also mentioned do not expect that they’re just gonna hand over some solutions to get at this. Uh, in the internet, in the United States internet service is a commodity right, we pay for it. It is not a utility. It’s very lightly regulated; the internet service providers their end goal is profit and that’s not I’m not judging them, that’s just a fact right so we all need to work within the realities of today, which is that that’s how it works. So if you want to look for solutions around internet service provision, it is partnering with them, but you’re going to pay for it, or as Beth noted, maybe you want to create your own solutions. A quick note on hotspots, hotspots are often the solution we go to. They are as Beth said, a band-aid. The wire line solutions that are more reliable, uh that are faster, that are less likely to drop service, in the end that’s where we want to get everybody to, is that reliable service and in the short term yes, hot spots, but those are not for the long term.


[Lee Rainie]: So Angela, it occurs to me that even with this, the new benefits that uh we’re talking about through the, through the Biden stimulus plan, the policy environment um in and around the the kinds of families that we’re talking about is, you know, full of important issues. The the general nature of high quality education, adequate medical care and insurance um housing issues, so i’m wondering as you watch the politics of this unfold in the policy environment unfold, how, how effective do you think um digital divide advocates are, and and sort of treating the broad you know the access issues and the funding issues in a broader context of families that are in need of a of a bunch of different kinds of help? 


[Angela Seifer]: I think we’ve definitely missed that piece that it’s not just the device and the connectivity but it’s also that digital literacy tech support. I think that’s the biggest part that we haven’t been able to get at, and that’s not because folks don’t care, lots of folks care right, the local response by school districts and other community based organizations has been just phenomenal right, going out there and figuring out how to get connectivity into homes has been incredible, and I think it’s just a learning piece to learn like oh, we’ve also got to address this digital literacy situation, or that guidance to to help folks.


[Lee Rainie]: Thanks so much and there’s a I guess there’s another question now coming from another panelist who we will be able to bring onto the screen to to ask the question, Dr. Rd Tse.


[Dr. Ed Tse]: Thank you so much for this very important work um, I was wondering what policies would you say would most help the low-income learners who don’t have access to broadband internet? What would help them the most, would it be like getting say, a Wi-Fi hotspot, or would it be like having print media? Is there particular policies that you think would work best for those learners? 


[Angela Seifer]: Yeah that’s that’s a great question. In situations where the infrastructure is not physically available, that’s when we need the creative kind of solutions where it’s the Wi-Fi on buses or it’s print right, because getting them a hotspot isn’t going to work if there’s really nothing there to connect to. But in areas urban, and rural, and suburban, where the infrastructure exists, we all as a society have to say those students having less is not okay, right. Just because they live somewhere where they can’t afford it doesn’t mean that it’s okay to give them less of an education than we, than we are providing to everyone else. That’s a great question, thank you.


[Dr. Ed Tse]: Thank you. 


[Lee Rainie]: Thank you Angela. Now it’s a real pleasure to introduce you to Antwuan Wallace who’s a researcher by training and a social justice advocate by choice. He’s the Managing Director for the National Innovation Service where he provides thought leadership in evaluation research design to appreciate and understand latent data and emerging trends in order to scale equitable solutions. Antwuan, your turn now.


[Antwuan Wallace]: Good afternoon everyone. I couldn’t be more pleased by this conversation for um having in the arc of this conversation heard the arc of the work over the last 20 years, um many of the things that I’ll cover today actually were well covered by people in this uh call um which was not always the case. And so the the social justice advocate in me um says that there is direct action and movement um in various parts in multiple places across this organization, across the United States um and I want to talk a little bit about the intersection of that uh as it relates to empirical data. And so um the agenda was to you know run through these definitions I think that have been well uh talked about in terms of digital divide, digital inclusion, and digital excellence. I think our ability to align around working definitions of this uh become very important. I’ll talk a little bit about the techno-social measurements of safety and thriving and exactly what that is, and the phenomenological approach that we took to COVID into racial dis uh disproportionality and what that has meant for what we call digital plurality. So we talked about the access and you know these very uh basic conversations of digital divide that have evolved over time. The digital excellence piece has been where are the, and we’ve talked about it in terms of sentiment, but we haven’t really talked about it in terms of what have been some of the operating operating things for um guidelines and metrics for private industry. We’ve talked about you know the generosity of of firms who provide broadband um connectivity, but what might be some of the federal metrics for interstate commerce in terms of providing this ubiquitous broadband service. Uh digital inclusion has been well talked about in this call, I just want to double down on the affordability question and also on the veritable question of broadband speed right um in place and I think this question about digital literacy is absolutely right. I think the question is, is there ubiquitous access, not just access, I think we have to put qualifiers on what what that access actually means for digital literacy and training and I’ll talk a little bit about what we found and I think we have to qualify what technical support looks like, right, I think there’s variability across the country depending on where you live and I think high quality standards across this is a good place uh if anybody from nist is on the call uh it’s a good place to think about what standards might be in applications and online content. And then this question of digital equity I think has evolved out how can all of the people have all of the things that they, that they need and I think this is operating inside of the way that we think about the provision of public goods even by private actors. Um, and so what is the opportunity here today? I think inside of this call I think is where NIS comes in which is the National Innovation Service, we began talking about um safety and thriving metrics and what we, what we meant when we said safety and thriving were were questions about how to end the digital divide and and think about digital inclusion rooted in equity. These questions came out about in response to at home empirical data on broadband because many of our service provision providers in COVID, were people who were homeless and experiencing homelessness and or had um, lived experience with homelessness. And so safety was like, what did people need from their public systems in order to feel safe. This was data collection that we’ve done across the the uh country and various cities um particularly working in uh municipal governments working within the Office of Neighborhood Safety in order to create community metrics about broadband um, in order to address the digital divide and and actually instantiate those inside of questions of public safety. And also this question of thriving, we ask, were asking people, what do they need to thrive inside of an economy, um when they feel safe? And some of these questions that we’ll talk about today, people are naming broadband and I want to drill down inside of the questions that we were talking about, the animating question for the work was like, how might we strengthen parental efficacy and promoting protective factors for children. And the questions and this is the the the uh the lit that we used, the question, the reason that we came up with those measures were we were thinking about this conversation and the arc of the conversation as we do systems work right where you ignore people in their marginal lives towards like what does empowerment actually look for it’s when people are actually defining those terms for themselves. And this is the, the intersection of vulnerability and so people who were experiencing homelessness we were doing research in communities with people who were with young folks, youth and young adults, who were experiencing um homelessness and family units that were experiencing homelessness who were not able to um get broadband access inside of shelters. And so the the way that this began to think about what these techno-social measurements were like, what would happen if we started to really, inside of our public institutions and service provisions, instantiate these type of metrics where we actually defer to people’s needs inside of understanding this question about digital divide and in very particular this conversation is about our process of review so we begin this phase one of digital equity roadmap we actually begin to identify this problem among homelessness uh populations, people experiencing homelessness, but we saw this as much broader issue as we were thinking about children who were arriving in shelter right school in distance learning where there was no, they had a computer, they had a they may have even had a router, but in uh while experiencing homelessness in shelter, did not have a place where they could actually be engaged in the in the school day. And what we know about this question that we have about in loco parentis as we think about schools is that the opportunity then and the onus was then pushed back onto parents and the question that began to bubble up out of the lived experience was, what was the parental efficacy to be able to approach uh parents to be able to help their kids in order to address this thing that they didn’t even know was a question around this homework, this homework gap. Through a series of uh interviews and workshops we began to, across the country about seven cities, to think through, like what were some of the actions that people needed in order to move through this work. Where we currently are is starting to work on this early phase of this work around drafting this road map to really appreciate what are some of the service cliffs inside of public institutions where where we don’t necessarily think about broadband connectivity, or this ubiquity question um and yet we have this obligation um both in with now elective uh return to school in some places and mandatory stay at home for for others and what are the applications when people are homeless and don’t have homes. We’ve interviewed about 50 people uh systems leaders across the country, 620 participants from community-wide discovery workshops uh, we’ve done a systems audit of policies and processes that we’ve looked at, we’ve engaged parental uh advisory committees to really understand people who have lived experience both with homelessness and also with digital divide as parents who are trying to address some of these issues all for the purpose of a single vision of what a digital inclusion system transformation might be rooted in equity. We are now in the analytical process bringing together all of those transcripts um and what that what we have honed in on is a part of our uh participatory action research for empirical data which is the parental efficacy self-report um as as compared to the homework gap which is this uh artifact of the digital divide as we understand it and what might be some of the other data in public policy that we might need to to be able to really appreciate what the gaps are in current data and then where are the opportunities uh to create what we call meso level data. I too am often uh like many people uh relying on Lee’s data, great data at Pew, but sometimes that data isn’t as granular as we would need it in some of the communities that we work in, in terms of some of the other systems that we are finding people such as ACS, child protective services in terms of youth homelessness, particularly when we’re talking about neighborhood safety and questions of school attendance um and FTE’s as it relates to some of the uh racial gap related to school funding. These are some of the very important questions that we would like to bring community data to in order to address some of these outcomes. So what are we looking at? We’re looking at technosocial measurements um of connectivity, speed access, device um the demographics that we have looked at is household incoming, earnings. I was very um pleased to hear about uh the study that where where we were controlling for those things and looking now specifically at broadband speeds as an independent variable to explain some of these some of the uh outcomes for uh students. I’d be very interested in what that looks like at the early childhood level and particularly like what are the opportunities to do that inside of Head Start particularly what we know about first five years and early learners of zero to three. Um, the current state right is that this is all over the place, we are gathering ourselves to really address this issue. Um, I think the current legislation goes a bit far but I think when we start to think about all of the additive issues in the intersections, it’s not a well orchestrated should stop? and so one of the things that I think we want to think about is, what is the coordination, the accountability, and the community driven processes to be able to have protective factors for children and families. And I think one of the the last part, I know I’m almost at time, one of the last part is like how might we work together and what should teaming and collaboration look like across this work and what are some of the new practices and structures that need to come out as a as we think about this work.


[Lee Rainie]: Well the big old smile you see in my face is listening to a researcher talk about research design is like catnip for me so that was wonderful. Uh you actually were sort of flicking at it in your in your final comments, could you put on your futurist hat a little bit and talk a little bit about what happens after the COVID money is uh is spent and we’re in in the next era?


[Antwuan Wallace]: I think, I think that’s a a great question because I think what we’ve seen in both in terms of federal dollars for uh ESG dollars and CSBG dollars and all of these are planning dollars for various agencies to address uh either housing, homelessness, um uh Head Start, some of these other programs, is that we don’t have explicit requirements inside of those planning dollars to think through this question of digital inclusion, of digital literacy, and digital equity, and because it’s not an agenda setting item for a lot of people who have many other urgent priorities, it’s one of the things that I think is going to fall to the back burner and that’s what, that’s my fear. I think what the opportunity is inside of that is to really think um more prospectively inside of OMB right with these new measure measures that they have around racial disproportionality and racial equity to really center these questions about uh broadband connectivity um and digital literacy as one of the components of thinking about that architecture across agencies.


[Lee Rainie]: Now reach the Q&A, general Q&A uh part of the of the program and there was a a sort of uh technical question that came from the crowd about the specifically, the 2.7 billion dollars that is part of the broader stimulus effort on broadband. Can someone speak to sort of um what is, where is that going and what it, what it’s going to do? 


[Angela Seifer]: There’s a lot of money out there, I’m not sure where the 2.7 billion came from. There’s 7.17 billion for for the emergency, Emergency Connectivity Fund which is the idea that there’s money for schools and libraries, there will be some money it’s not quite functioning yet but there will be money for schools and libraries to request for them to cover the cost of the internet access and this is likely to end up used, being used for those sponsored agreements or single-payer agreements where the school and now more so the library has gone out and said okay we’re gonna buy um you know 500 accounts of this broadband service and then they help get it into those homes. Um, then there’s also the 3.2 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit and I think the piece I meant to mention that that i missed was that there’s also 350 billion dollars, the amount of money folks is just kind of on my head just spins with all of it, 350 billion for local and state governments to do whatever it is they need to do with the pandemic. And we know that this is one of the big issues that has hit us during the pandemic so the idea that local and state governments could use some of that money to address any of the barriers that we’ve discussed that’s all very real. And that’s where um for advocates to discuss that with their elected officials because you know there’s not much money involved the elected officials were going to want to be involved and now that money is spent, so i would talk to your elected officials about how that money is going to be spent and encourage them to use it for the addressing the affordability right, paying for somebody’s internet, making sure the whole family has devices not just the students because how are parents going to apply for jobs or get a vaccine or anything without a computer these days. And then that digital literacy support. Who’s answering questions?

[Lee Rainie]: Uh, Nicol, you you really um hit on a note that that was so striking about 2020. It was not just about the pandemic but they were they were the racial justice protests, there was an election that was um crazy and I, I wanted to invite you to talk more about the the things that you were talking about how this conversation fits into the broader conversation about what’s going on in the culture and maybe sort of helps address some of the things that are going on in the culture.


[Dr. Nicol Howard]:  Yeah, certainly you know I think you know some people have named it as we’re we’re experiencing more than one pandemic during this time period and we are dealing with a lot right now we’re also seeing how our students are using social media and using digital technologies in a very different way to communicate with each other outside of our traditional learning um landscape. And in a recent study done with our California Council on Teacher Education, we talked with some teachers about what their concerns were going to be moving forward and where we heard a lot initially about learning loss, we’re hearing more that it’s about um the social supports, right social isolation was a concern but our students are actually, when we did talk to Kamau about the concern socially, the the response was well no you know i’m still connecting with other students that’s not the concern of mine. So it’s it’s really about um, yes we have to address these larger issues and finding different ways to hear from our families and hear from our students and then how can we give attention to our current crises and how to support. I think Colleen hit on this too when talking about how our students are experiencing losses at home. Well, in addition to experiencing direct loss in their families whether it’s a parent or an aunt or an uncle who may die of COVID, they’re seeing other things in the media and they’re seeing other losses that are happening. Um, people being murdered and the injustices and so I think that’s impacting our students as well and so that is a form of technology that they have access to. And I’m not suggesting that we turn off the screen but we need to think about other ways to engage in conversations and um how do we find out the supports once we do know what the supports are that are needed for our families. We need to go further than just figuring out what they are and we need to actually put in, put in some action plans to better engage and support our families. If we’re saying the data say engaging families is important then let’s let’s actually do that, right?


[Lee Rainie]: Nice, um let’s go back um to maybe even pre-internet days there’s a smart question here about um the capacity to use ubiquitous technologies like the television to address some of these issues. It’s, it’s been largely an internet related conversation, but I wonder if other, if you you have ideas about how other media can be marshaled in sort of new and better ways to address some of the things that we talked about. It’s sort of open-ended question. Who, does anyone want to tackle that? 


[Dr. Beth Holland]: I’d like to jump in. I actually i think it’s a great point about television and in fact when the pandemic hit last March there was a group of us in a meeting with the Department of Ed, I happen to have done my postdoc work as part of working on a project through the Department of Ed’s Ready to Learn program, which is what’s funded things like PBS Kids and the Center for Public Broadcasting, you know Sesame Street was initially funded as part of a Ready to Learn program, we were working on the Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! as a way of introducing science and engineering principles to preschool kids. And so there are opportunities to think about how do we leverage public television or public radio as a way of reaching kids that may not be connected. The challenge of it and Larry Cuban who’s a historian and a Professor Emeritus at Stanford actually did a great article about how during the Spanish Flu, they were trying to use radio to get content to kids when schools were shut down. I think the challenge of that is it’s one way, it’s a, the students are passive consumption and the media is pushing out the technology and so it’s almost what like, Paolo Ferera would call like the banking model of education like, I put it out, I deposit it into your brain. Where the internet becomes so powerful is it’s created the opportunity for that two-way engagement, you know the students can be more active learners and so while yes programs like Ready to Learn are amazing at getting opportunities pushed out into communities and getting content out there, we have to remember that so much of learning happens through interaction, through communication, through social learning, and through really meeting students where they are in terms of meeting their needs. So yes it’s a wonderful mechanism and we need to think about how we really create these rich meaningful learning environments that support our kids. 


[Angela Seifer]: Lee, can I add the, the equity lens on what Beth just said if it, if I feel like my child should have that two-way learning, why is it okay for a poor child to not have that two-way learning?


[Antwuan Wallace]: And I think also right even as we think about PBS, right and we think about the content of PBS and and the and inside of the racial disproportionality that we see, we need direct content that speaks directly to people who are most marginalized, right. And so there is a cultural artifact that needs to be generative inside of the community that is disproportionately left outside of that conversation, and I think the innovation is possible inside of asking those communities what needs are currently unmet inside of this portfolio of both digital and analog media, right, and, and we might see generative solutions that bubble up out in from those communities.

[Dr. Nicol Howard]: I’d also like to add to that even in our use of the digital tools and classrooms and how I speak of this often how some students are able to design themselves in characters and other students are not because they can’t see themselves through the tools that are being used or there might not be a young, uh the ability to to create a character that has an afro and has um browner you know deeper toned skin complexion and so sometimes students disengage from those tools not just because they’re not exciting, but also because they can’t see themselves through those tools that are being used.


[Lee Rainie]: Colleen, um you know you you have a panoramic view on so much of this. I, I, what’s the right way to think holistically about this? If, if you were gonna meet the needs of of all families and all children what other pieces would you add to this? 


[Dr. Collen Kraft]: I think I would really be working on on the pieces, certainly the digital divide is one thing, but I think that really working with families on what can you do together with the adults and the children in the home with being active, with interactive activities that that you can have with another human being inside your your home. And being very mindful of that’s something that becomes part of your routine every day so, so for so many of my families what they found is just taking a walk outside um, shooting some hoops uh, reading a book, things that are that that really you can do without even having to think about the digital divide is something that’s really important and something that we we really want to remember even if it’s one thing that you do. Even if it’s cooking one meal together, even if it’s reading one book together, if it’s taking a ten minute walk, that’s something that actually helps to build those connections, it helps to build the frontal lobes in those young children, in those middle childhood kids, and even in those teenagers, to continue those connections despite what your your barriers may be with the divide.


[Lee Rainie]: Very wise. Um, it’s maybe we can start with Antwuan on this but all of you might be interested in addressing it, and it’s a, it’s a, it’s it’s too bad I even have to ask this question um, but but all of us um have been thinking about this in an evidence-based way, and our politically polarized culture um, how much of a problem is it that evidence doesn’t seem to matter sometimes? And are you finding ways to be persuasive even in an environment like this? 


[Antwuan Wallace]: So, so it’s an important, and your your question begs important to whom, right? And it names a power dynamic that we all live inside of, right, and when we’re talking about race and race of disproportionality we’re talking about power disproportionality right? Um, and and and to the extent that that even Colleen’s question about about being able to take a walk in a community means that you actually have access to a walkable community, right? Um and and if you have a walkable community you probably have more access to broadband than you than you would not have, right, and if you actually have a home versus being inside of these institutions so, I think um the the question about uh the redistribution of power inside of these conversations are absolutely important. And what that means is, and I think Angela is to be congratulated here, is building the constituency to be able to move policy levers, right? In the home district of those elected officials is a part of the question, right? And I do think the the last year of politic, the political economy has shown us that getting people’s interest and and empower, enfranchising that right, getting people to the polls is not a separate and disparate conversation, it is a collective question and I think the question is, how many more public goods right, might we be able to create out of this crisis? That is the question that continues to be animating my thinking about it right, not how many more private goods and billionaires and and how many more public goods that that have positive externalities might we be able to invest in? And the numbers that Angela talked about portend an opportunity to really realize that. And the distribution of those, of those goods and and externalities and and spillover effects have to be intentional to the people who have been previously left out of the conversation and the equation, and for whom the equation says less than and we have to be explicit about that in our public policy and in our advocacy. 


[Lee Rainie]: Well we’ve just got about five more minutes or not not even um so, I, there was one final question that um I hope you all can um be very practical uh in in in addressing your final thoughts what what’s one practical tip that the parents who and the parent advocates and others on the on this call can uh take away to help shore up the digital divide or help buttress the arguments that are made to defeat the digital divide? What, what can parents do and what can the people on this call do? Let’s start with Angela, we’ll just go in the order that we first spoke.


[Angela Seifer]: I, I encourage the parents to understand broadband. Broadband has previously been this thing that like, oh I don’t know it just works, like understand it like know how it works and encourage others in your community to know how it works because then we then have that power, right, the power had not been with us and I think Antwuan’s points are really valid about about understanding who has power. If you don’t understand how something works, what do you do, you relegate power. So understand how it works right, understand that it is a commodity, that we purchase it. And know where it comes from and know what the alternatives are. Beth’s description of how some school districts are creating their own solutions, that’s amazing right, they are not saying uh we don’t have, we don’t have a solution to this, they are out there creating solutions by god, like let’s lift up those, but at the same time that doesn’t work for everybody so we don’t want to be like this is the only answer, sometimes there’s another answer but know what those different options are. What’s the difference between cellular and a wire line? Why do you have both your mobile phone and Wi-Fi in your house? What are the, why do you pay two different bills for that? Like, know why those situations are, and then that gives you the power and then that, if you can spread that knowledge, that’s going to change the equation. 


[Lee Rainie]: Thanks so much, Nicol.


[Dr. Nicol Howard]: Family engagement in the form of conversations is one of the stronger predictors of a child’s success. And so even as we talk about technology, I’d say my tip would be to keep the conversations going with families, keep encouraging conversations between families and their children, and be community builders in terms of supporting how families are building community, whether it’s with the use of technology or without technology, so sometimes we just have to pick up the phone again and call and check in so those would be my practical tips.


[Lee Rainie]: Wonderful, Colleen.


[Dr. Colleen Kraft]: I would just remind parents that they are the most important person to their child in terms of their growth and their development and despite what else is going on time with your child 15 minutes a day to do something interactive with your child is something that will build their brain and will build their resiliency. And when all else fails, you can always read a book, you can always talk about something, you can always interact with your child and that’s a positive. 


[Lee Rainie]: Fabulous, Beth.


[Dr. Beth Holland]: Yeah, I’m going to build on the great statements before and I, I think it’s really critical for parents to realize that they are just as responsible for helping to teach digital literacy as the schools. And if they don’t know to really think about how are we partnering with our child’s school to make sure that you know they understand how can the technology be put in the service of helping their child develop as learners because this online learning isn’t going anywhere, and so how do we make sure that they’re really helping to set their kids up for success. 


[Lee Rainie]: Wonderful, Antwuan.


[Antwuan Wallace]: I, I really would would just take all of these things into a bit inside out and I want to turn that parental responsibility into parental efficacy, which is which is to say that parents no matter their, their socioeconomic status and their literacy that that share with your child what is important to you and then when you find those stolen moments because I was a, was a child of working parents, when you follow those stolen moments, go to the internet and look up those questions and share with your child your interests there, and then critically inquire about what your interests are so they might be shared interests. And that is, i think one of the protective factors inside of this crisis, which is, inside of our families, inside of that that that interaction between parent and child is the opportunity to leverage whatever digital apparatus we might have to be able to create a protective factor.


[Lee Rainie]: Beautiful. Hey, Pam, uh what a nice job just assembling this bunch of big brains and wise people was a great idea. So I’ll turn it back to you with all of our thanks.


[Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra]: Thank you so much Lee, Nicol, Colleen, Beth, Angela, and Antwuan, for sharing your incredible knowledge, insights, and experience, and for empowering us all to be part of positive change. And thanks to all of you, our zoom participants for joining us. To continue learning about this topic, please be sure to visit our website at and read our tips for parents and other resources on the topic. We’ll also post a video of today’s webinar on our YouTube channel to which we encourage you to subscribe and share with your fellow parents, teachers, clinicians, researchers, and friends. For more information about Children and Screens, please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at the account shown on your screen. Our conversation addressing children’s well-being and digital media will continue on April 21st as we tackle the question on all of our minds, which is how do we transition out of this pandemic with respect to our digital media use at home, at school, and in our communities? Stay tuned for more information about what we hope after uh what we hope will be a lovely uh Easter, happy Passover, and beautiful start to spring. When you leave the workshop you’ll see a link to a short survey, please click on the link and let us know what you thought of today’s workshop. Thanks for joining us today, everyone stay safe and well.