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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Gonzales

Underserved Students and Technology - What You Need to Know

We often think that technology equates to improved student academic performance.

And when used intentionally and specifically, that thought is true.

However, a decade of research on the use of educational technology for underserved students raises points on HOW the technology can best impact students.

Remediation isn't the answer. Drill and kill doesn't work well on paper, it doesn't work well in conversational activities, and it doesn't work well for technology applications. Putting an iPad in the hands of students who use it as an electronic form of flash cards is selling short the technology and the students.

Digital tools should be used to support analysis, synthesizing information, problem solving and even the 4 C's of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Basic skills that are lower on Bloom's Taxonomy, such as memorizing, listing, observing, naming, summarizing and demonstrating (aka knowledge and comprehension) are not the way to increase achievement of underrepresented minority students.

Create original digital content. Deeper learning takes place when students are able to create content, using their skills of communication to creatively share their ideas. This would include using websites and apps to create multimedia stories (in the place of traditional book reports), designing interactive posters on sites like Glogster (with embedded videos, music and hyperlinks), and publishing on wikis, blogs and on social media.

Projects and activities that students work on should designed for a broader, often global audience. And any opportunity they have to begin to build digital portfolios means they can reflect back on their designs and use them to further deepen the application of their knowledge of standards. While it may take more instructional time to have students respond to projects, the time spent is much more critical for underrepresented students who may not have access to technology outside of the school and need those opportunities to expand their skills in the use of technology.

Digital tools should be interactive. The tools that students work with should allow them to design models of their thinking, including pictures, videos, digital interactions and more. Think of innovative and engaging when you think of the tools students need. They can't be passive learners with technology, but be required to think, defend, respond and qualify their answers.

Finding that balance. We've seen classrooms and models that have no technology and we've seen the other end of the spectrum with programs that rely so much on technology, the role of teacher can all but be replaced.

Balance, balance, balance. Students - all students - need a balance of technology and teacher time. Gone are the days where effective instruction is the sage on the stage approach. Teachers need to understand how to use technology and interact with digital materials, and students need regular interactions with a variety of tools in thoughtful digital learning environments.

The four suggestions here certainly can be build upon....and the more approaches can be effectively implemented for students, the better. Because our underrepresented minority students often have gaps in their learning, the approach of remediation may be needed, but expanding on technology to effectively deepen their students is what they deserve. Access does not minimize the divide - intentional, authentic tasks that support higher level thinking skills do.

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