Technology is an increasingly powerful and necessary tool for learning, but many students have limited access to digital resources. So how can postsecondary instructors harness technology in a way that is both effective and equitable? The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning offers five evidence-based recommendations that address this challenge. Of the key guidance, Recommendation 2 is to "use varied, personalized, and readily available digital resources to design and deliver instructional content." In other words, educators can focus on personalizing resources to embrace classroom technology for learners of all backgrounds and bridge the digital divide.
How can educators embrace technology for all learners?
Before diving into the digital realm, you should understand the needs of your students. Just like you wouldn't expect a piano student to excel without an instrument or proper training, you can't expect college students to thrive in digital learning without reliable, relevant tools or the skills needed to use them. To tailor instruction to a classroom's needs, the Using Technology practice guide recommends that instructors begin the semester by inviting students to fill out a survey—created by you or your school—to report their access to and experience with digital tools. By gauging students' familiarity with different technologies, you can create or modify achievable lessons.
With insights from students, consider which types of digital tools to bring to the classroom. This involves choosing between hardware (mobile devices or laptops) and software (mobile applications, social media software, or online tools) to create the most effective and accessible lessons. Digital tools often carry hefty price tags, so be sure to seek technology that is free or readily available. If it seems daunting to select individualized tools, you can always lean on online programs to assist with the planning process—for example, the WWC-recommended MERLOT collection holds thousands of online learning materials, from case studies to animations. Through this process, you can avoid potential barriers and provide access for students to embrace digital or blended learning.
Incorporating digital tools can be a complex process, so it's best not to go it alone. You can seek support from your school and tap into existing resources and avoid problems that may arise. Be open and ready to collaborate with administrators, IT departments, and support offices like Financial Aid to address potential costs and ensure your institution has the infrastructure to use technology as planned. Though campus technology won't match home-based learning, where students can engage in course activities at any time, it offers a valuable workaround for students with limited access.
Whether you plan to lead fully remote classes, blend technology with classroom instruction, or use specific applications to support lessons, your plans will only be as successful as the tools you employ. By varying digital resources based on students' access and school buy-in, you can find a balance between the benefits of creating tech-driven instruction and the challenges of finding equitable resources, ultimately unlocking the full potential of technology in education.