Digital Inclusion for Online Learning Research Initiative
In early 2022, Digital Technology initiated the CEWA Digital Inclusion Initiative, a year-long research study in which a sample group of digitally excluded students from 3 regional and metro CEWA schools were provided with access to technology to study the impact on learning.
Background The Digital Inclusion Research Initiative was intended to help identify possible solutions to close the access to learning gap for students outside the classroom. The year-long research study provides digitally excluded students with access to hardware and accessories (laptop, laptop bag), internet access at home, digital skills and cyber safety training, and support. The initiative involves internal and external partnerships. Within CEWA, Digital Technology has been working closely with Teaching & Learning, CEWA Research, and teachers, staff, and school leadership from participating schools to ensure that students, families, and teaching staff are able to participate with as little disruption as possible. External partners for the initiative include Auda Foundation, Catholic Network Australia, nbn™, Western Sydney University, Enigma Business Partners, Aussie Broadband, SkyMesh and Comp Now. Funding for the initiative stems from an Auda Foundation grant, Catholic Network Australia funds, and CEWA Digital Technology funding.
Research Initiative Having the tools and confidence to learn online is increasingly important for every student’s education. As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, ensuring students are set up for success at school and home is critical.
Investments in improved online access, digital learning, and child safety for vulnerable students and families should increase future employability of the learner, creating a more equitable and just society.
The Digital Inclusion Initiative investigates online learning challenges faced by disadvantaged students and offers access to solutions in a controlled manner, which is monitored throughout the research session. The focus of the initiative is to support families facing connectivity challenges by providing access to technology and guidance to gain comfort and confidence in engaging in online learning.
The initiative started Term 1, 2022 covering the full school year and included 69 students across 3 metro and regional CEWA schools with a high indigenous population, high number of students with disabilities, high population of English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD), and low Direct Measure of Income (DMI) scores.
Participating families have been offered access to home broadband, a laptop (if needed), a laptop bag, cyber safety and digital training, and technical support. Initiative research is led by Western Sydney University’s Young and Resilient Research Centre in accordance with University and CEWA ethical review. CEWA is running this initiative for the greater benefit of Catholic students across the country. The research will involve students, families, and school staff participating in a series of surveys and ‘Living Lab’ workshops that explore the root causes of digital exclusion and identify the obstacles that must be overcome to sustain digital inclusion in the future. The resulting research will be made available to CEWA, Catholic Network Australia, nbn™, and Western Sydney University.
Increased understanding of the digital divide – Research outputs will provide an organisational understanding of the causes of digital exclusion of disadvantaged families.
Increased digital literacy – The program aims to increase the digital literacy of all participating students and families. This will help them gain confidence and ensure that child safety concerns involving technology are fully understood.
Increased awareness of disadvantaged student needs – The initiative will result in increased awareness by school staff regarding issues faced by vulnerable families, particularly, but not limited to, digital access. Through including teachers and school staff in the Living Lab activities, these school employees will gain invaluable knowledge of the issues facing disadvantaged students and families.
Established education and industry partnerships – The initiative will result in new partnerships being established between schools, nbn™, Western Sydney University and other technology organisations involved. These partnerships will open the door for future opportunities to further advance digital inclusion for students and families.