The right blend of teachers and technology is critical to student success, the report observes, because teachers and students’ peers offer “strategic support” and peer interaction. In fact, numerous research studies point to the fact that at-risk students experience success when they have access to strong teacher support in the fact of interactive technology-based learning.

Students display increased engagement and stronger skill development when they use technology to explore concepts and create content–a result proven by many studies, the report notes. Content creation could come in the form of digital storytelling, creating graphic representations of data, video production, and more.

Technology access and implementation varies widely between low-income schools and more affluent schools, the report notes, and low-income students and students of color are less likely to own computers and use the internet. Teachers in low-income schools more frequently cite students’ technology access as a major classroom challenge. The report cites research noting that just 3 percent of teachers in low-income schools “have the digital tools they need to effectively complete assignments while at home,” while 52 percent of teachers in more affluent schools agreed with that statement. In addition, 70 percent of public K-12 schools lack high-speed broadband to support teaching and learning, while 30 percent of households do not have high-speed broadband access.

“These differences mirror the disparities in other learning resources–dollars, teachers, and instructional services–experienced by students in different schools,” the authors note. “For at-risk students, they add the additional disadvantage of reducing their readiness to engage in the primary means of information access and transfer in a technologically based society and economy. The good news is that research shows that if at-risk students gain ready access to appropriate technology used in thoughtful ways, they can make substantial gains in learning and technological readiness.”

“This report is incredibly important, because it will help districts everywhere ensure that their efforts are grounded in both research and best practice,” said Tom Murray, AEE’s state and district digital learning director, during a webinar with Darling-Hammond and Zielezinski.

When low-income and minority students do have at-home internet access, they’re likely to use a mobile phone as their device, said Zielezinski, citing 2013 Pew Research Center data.

“You can imagine that using a mobile phone as your only internet access really limits a student’s capacity to engage in content creation and other much more meaningful technology activities,” she said.

“There is a disparity in computer access in terms of the frequency and use–the frequency of use between high- and low-income students–and there’s a huge difference in the types of activities these students are being exposed to.”

Five recommendations outlined in the report can, if paired with professional development for educators, promote technology use and benefits for at-risk high school students:
School leaders should strive to provide one-to-one computer access
High-speed internet should be a priority
Technology that offers interactivity and engagement is best, and data from that technology use should be available in multiple forms
Students should use technology tools to create content, in addition to using technology to learn
Policymakers and educators should aim for blended learning environments and offer a combination of teacher support and collaborative learning among students

“I think sometimes we lump technology into one word as though it’s a single thing, but really, the way in which technology is used is part of a whole ecosystem of different variables, and those include the things like what kind of hardware is available, what kind of bandwidth is available, what kind of access is available, what kind of software are we using, what are we asking students to do, what are the supports in that environment,” Darling-Hammond said. “And really to understand the outcomes of technology, you have to think of all of those different factors in what we call a digital ecosystem, along with the different goals you might have.”

Based on that, the authors attempted to identify “what kinds of settings, with what kinds of supports, with what kinds of software are helpful in producing what kinds of outcomes,” she said.

The report reviewed more than 70 research studies to pinpoint specific examples of when technology has improved student outcomes for those at risk.