Inequity and Technology: Why Supporting Teachers Matters

equity tech post


Last time I wrote on the blog, I explored equity and technology in classrooms with a focus on students; this week, my focus is on teachers.  Outside of just having access to tech, teacher expectations of students and technology as well as teacher support around implementing the technology in their classrooms greatly impact student learning.

Let’s start with expectations.  Warschauer’s research found that students in low-SES schools were more likely to receive instruction centered on basic computer skills, possibly due to concern that the students lack access at home.  However, in high-SES schools, many teachers assigned homework that required a computer and/or posted materials for students to access online, perhaps because almost all the students in the high-SES schools had computer and internet access at home.  This freed up more class time to focus on completing more complex projects rather than teaching basic computer skills.

It’s unfair to expect students with vastly different access to tech resources and support to achieve the same things, and in many places, lack of internet or device access make it extremely difficult to assign technology-centered work.  However, Warschauer’s study found that teachers in low-SES schools tended to overestimate the number of students who lacked computer and internet access at home.  In many cases, teachers in low-SES schools could have, with added student supports, assigned work similar to what the higher-SES students were doing.

This is a single study and we shouldn’t assume that its findings apply to all high-SES and low-SES schools.  However, to ensure tech doesn’t go to waste, all schools should be aware of what technologies students use and have access to outside of school.  This could be done by having students and parents fill out surveys at the beginning of the year about their access to and level of proficiency with technology.  With this data, teachers can plan lessons accordingly and administrators can adjust computer lab access hours and form partnerships with local libraries and community centers to provide additional access for students who don’t have it at home.

One other fact that really struck me was that high-SES schools are more likely to encourage communication and collaboration around best practices for using technology in the classroom and are also more likely to provide professional development and support staff.  This likely led to these teachers having greater confidence in the technology being available and in working condition when it’s needed, making them more likely to plan to use it.  Teachers in low-SES schools were more likely to avoid using technology in lessons out of fear that it wouldn’t work when they needed it and they would have to have a fallback activity planned, creating extra work for them and in their minds, wasting valuable instructional time.  Even when schools have the devices, inequity in instruction and use can persist because of failure to consider differences in implementation.

What I find most baffling about these findings is that teachers who teach in low-SES schools are less likely to receive support around using technology in their classrooms despite the fact that  they tend to have less experience and are less likely to be fully credentialed than teachers in high-SES schools.  The students and teachers who most need additional support around using technology are less likely to get it, impacting student learning and making it likely that inequity will persist.

In order to remedy this situation, changes need to occur in a variety of areas related to increasing educational equity.  Changes related to technology should include:

  • Providing additional support staff and training would help teachers implement technology more effectively and decrease inequity in technology use in the classroom.
  • Data on student access to and proficiency with technology would ensure teachers can use instructional time well.
  • Technology companies should ensure that products being used in low-SES schools include quality support materials for teachers, as they may not have adequate support on their own campuses.



Learning in the Cloud: How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Media by Mark Warschauer

Third Annual Brown Lecture in Education Research: “The Flat Earth and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future” by Linda Darling-Hammond

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