5 Strategies to Reach At-Risk Students with Technology

Teacher assistance is key to a successful online learning experience, researchers say.

A new report has shown that technology can produce significant gains in student achievement and engagement, particularly among students most at risk.

The report, Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning, was released Sept. 10 by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington D.C.–based policy and advocacy organization.

In the study, two Stanford professors and a doctoral student gathered educational research in an effort to determine how technology has made a difference for students in danger of failing or dropping out of school.

“This report makes clear that districts must have a plan in place for how they will use technology before they make a purchase,” wrote Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, in the report.

Interactive learning and the use of technology to explore and create are proven methods of engaging with at-risk students, according to researchers. But Wise noted that finding the right blend of online learning and teachers is the linchpin for success.

"Strong gains in achievement occur by pairing technology with classroom teachers who provide real-time support and encouragement to underserved students," he wrote.

Researchers recommended the following five guidelines to improve achievement in at-risk students:

1. Adopt a one-to-one device policy.

Researchers found a positive link between student learning abilities and the availability of one or more devices for each student in the class. It should come as no surprise that providing instant access to the online materials can lead to further engagement.

2. Secure a speedy Internet connection.

Streaming educational video content is a booming industry. It's more important than ever that educators have access to a solid Internet connection; students can quickly become frustrated if the connection is slow or intermittent.

3. Choose technologies designed with high levels of interactivity and engagement.

Merely providing online content isn't enough for students to succeed. If the content doesn't engage the student with the material, it can actually be harmful, researchers wrote. Data tended not to stick when taught using learning materials designed to drill information into students’ minds, whereas content that involved students in the learning process by way of an interactive lesson resulted in higher grades, according to the report.

4. Show students how tech can create content as well as help to learn material.

Content creation can be a key to engagement among students looking to do more than provide the right answer. In one instance, researchers found that a class of at-risk students outperformed their on-track counterparts when they created research-based websites instead of traditional research papers.

5. Create blended learning environments.

A combination of online and in-person instruction proved successful. Students who worked with teachers as well as online were more likely to develop an interest in the subject and succeed in class.

"Teacher assistance seems to be mandatory for the online learning of underprivileged students," according to the report.

The full report can be accessed from the Alliance for Education website.

Sep 15 2014

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