By Rebecca J. Blankenship
Since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s among radical criminologists, social-justice research has certainly evolved from the initial focus on injustices and inequities within the criminal-justice system to become a peripheral research interest among other disciplines. Within the field of education, social justice through equal access to technology has become a research area of particular focus as existing and emerging technologies have significantly changed teaching and learning in the 21st century.
Although the increase in technology use has, for the most part, significantly impacted pedagogy and instructional practice in a positive way, issues of equitable access frequently overshadow the anticipated benefits of providing students with alternative ways to engage with instructors while enhancing deeper cognitive development. This is particularly the case when engaging with vulnerable (marginalized) student populations, which has certainly changed the focus of the instructional technology and pedagogic narrative among educators and educational researchers.
These inequities in technology access require the redefinition of equitable engagement, understanding the current state of technology access among vulnerable populations and persistent barriers to access including hidden curricula, and proffer a change in the narrative towards more sustainable and equitable practices as educational theory and technologies continue to evolve in the new decade. Accordingly, the conversation among teacher preparation programs, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and transition to complete remote instruction in the spring of 2020, has shifted from preparing future educators to implement best face-to-face practices to how teachers can translate those practices into a virtual classroom setting.
Additional considerations in terms of online best teaching practices parallel the narrative of equal technology access from the standpoint that many students transitioning to online learning did not have a computer or Internet access in their home. Further, for a large percentage of marginalized students, their only opportunity to interact with computers and mobile technologies is in the face-to-face school setting, which results in an imbalanced technical skill set for them compared to their non-marginalized counterparts.
Thus, the transfer to remote instruction created three imbalances in teaching and learning:
- Classroom teachers must now teach traditional face-to-face content in a virtual setting,
- Classroom teachers must now teach digital-literacy skills so that all students can actively engage with content, and
- Classroom teachers/school administrators must now ensure that marginalized students have equitable access to technology in addition to enhanced support services in order to actively and positively participate in the virtual classroom setting.
- Classroom teachers/school administrators cannot work in isolation. In order to move forward, it is imperative that all stakeholders work in tandem with local, state, and federal agencies to secure funding and support services through specialized grants and programs that direct funds specifically to address the ongoing educational and technology access among historically underserved populations.
Thus, teacher preparation programs moving forward in the new post-COVID era of virtual instruction are now charged not only with helping pre-service and beginning educators implement best online teaching practices, but also to do so in such a way as to ensure their practices are equitable for all students, especially those most vulnerable among marginalized students. Suggestions for program changes moving forward include:
- Provide additional field clinical experiences that include working with sociocultural and socioeconomically diverse student populations,
- Provide enhanced field clinical experiences that include working in more Title I and similar schools with large marginalized populations,
- Redesign existing technology—key assignments to include more assistive technologies for marginalized students, and
- Provide ongoing support especially for beginning teachers navigating the uncertainties of teaching marginalized populations face-to-face and virtually in the post-COVID era.
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Dr. Blankenship is an Associate Professor and TESOL Program Director in the College of Education at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Dr. Blankenship teaches ESOL Endorsement and Compliance courses required by the state for professional certification. Dr. Blankenship’s research interests include the development of virtual training environments for pre-service teacher candidates, the digital agency and literacy development of pre-service teachers and university faculty, and the effects of politics and social media on the teaching profession.