Using Technology to Support Academic Achievement for At-Risk Students Thesis

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¶ … Technology to Support Academic Achievement for at-Risk Students

In an era of high-stakes testing, the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act and school district budgets being stretched ever thinner because of dwindling state and federal budgets, identifying opportunities for improving the delivery of educational services to at-risk students has assumed new relevance and importance. Although the fundamental purpose of education has remained the same over the years, innovations in technology have presented a number of ways in which high-quality educational services can be delivered in the classroom and through distance learning programs. While at-risk students are different from their mainstream academic counterparts by virtue of a wide array of disabilities and other constraints to learning, they are also so-called "digital natives" who have grown up with technological innovations and typically share the ability to use computers and computer-based applications in highly skilled ways.

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Because resources are by definition scarce, it just makes good educational and business sense to take advantage of the cost efficiencies that technological solutions to the problems that at-risk students may be experiencing offer, and to identify what works best and then do more of that. In an effort to identify recent trends and innovations in the use of technology to assist at-risk students and a general set of best practices, this paper provides a review of the relevant juried and scholarly literature concerning the use of technology to support academic achievement for at-risk students, followed by a summary of the research, a discussion, conclusions and recommendations for those involved in technology planning and implementation in schools in the concluding chapter.

Section 2: Review of the Literature/Research

Thesis on Using Technology to Support Academic Achievement for At-Risk Students Assignment

According to Fagan and Warden (1996), it is the law of the land in the United States that at-risk students receive a free public education that is appropriate to their individual needs in the least restrictive setting possible. The controlling legislation for this mandate can be found in the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) passed in 1975 which was subsequently reauthorized in 1990, at which time it was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was amended and reauthorized once again in 1997 (Drasgow & Yell, 2000). It is the responsibility of the public schools to develop educational initiatives that can satisfy the mandates of this controlling legislation. In this regard, Drasgow and Yell emphasize that, "Since the passage of the original law, educators have been charged with the responsibility for developing and delivering a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. A FAPE is a publicly funded and individually designed educational program developed to meet the unique needs of eligible students with disabilities" (2000, p. 205).

Since the passage of IDEA, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has also compelled educators and policymakers to identify improved approaches to providing educational services to at-risk students, but progress in the United States has been mixed at best (David-Medrano, 2003). In reality, all students are "at risk" of becoming poor academic performers over time because of significant changes in their home life, evolving relationships with peers, involvement with substance abuse and law enforcement authorities and so forth, but the term is generally applied to those students who are currently experiencing problems in school. According to Dunn (2004), "When students' home resources and experiences differ from the expectations on which school experiences are built, they are often at risk of not realizing their personal and academic promise" (p. 46). Clearly, not all "at-risk students" share the same circumstances that have caused them to be categorized in this fashion, and some may simply be the victim of circumstances such as frequent family moves or broken homes that have contributed to their lackluster academic performance. This point is made by Armijo, Stowitschek, Smith, Mckee, Solheim, and Phillips (1999), who cite the results of a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that found 12.5% of students aged 16 through 24 years are high school dropouts. These authors emphasize that, "While many of the individuals cited in this report are younger students at risk for strictly academic reasons, many more are at risk because of family-related problems" (p. 66).

Despite these differences in circumstances, the term "at-risk" continues to be applied in a wholesale fashion to all students who are in jeopardy of failing to achieve up to their potential. In this regard, Dunn emphasizes that, "Because the term 'at-risk' focuses on individual characteristics, it labels and stigmatizes the learner. However, although objectionable, the term 'at-risk' persists because of its wide acceptance and research base" (2004, p. 47). By and large, the term "at-risk students" typically refers to several groups of students, including those who are (a) ethnic minorities, (b) academically disadvantaged, (c) disabled, (d) of low socioeconomic status, and (e) on probationary status by virtue of disciplinary actions or poor academic performance (Heisserer & Parette, 2002). This definition of at-risk students suggests that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to helping these young learners overcome the constraints and obstacles in their lives through the use of any single educational initiative, but the use of various technologically enabled approaches have been shown to provide some substantive benefits for this purpose.

Young learners today who have been termed "digital natives" are accustomed to using technology because they have been exposed to it all of their lives and these students are capable of working and playing at a completely different pace from previous generations in what has been termed "twitch speed." In this regard, Salopek (2003) offers a definition of the new learning environment for young learners in the United States at the turn of the century as follows: "This generation grew up on video games ('twitch speed'), MTV (more than 100 images a minute), and the ultra-fast speed of action films. Their developing minds learned to adapt to speed and thrive on it. The under-30 generation has had far more experience at processing information quickly than its predecessors, and is therefore better at it" (p. 17). Digital natives are characterized by several other differences from past generations as well, including the following:

1. They are skilled at multitasking and parallel processing;

2. Hyperlinking has accustomed them to random access of information, instead of linear thinking;

3. Graphics are important;

4. Asynchronous worldwide communication gives them a sense of connected-ness, affecting the way they seek out information and help;

5. Active is better than passive;

6. Work and play are increasingly blended; achievement and winning are important concepts; and,

7. They have much less patience with experiences that lack obvious payoff (Salopek, 2003, p. 18).

Because some at-risk students may not enjoy the same level of computer and Internet access in the home as their more affluent counterparts, though, they may not bring the same level of technological expertise to the classroom as other digital native students. The term "digital divide" has been applied to these types of situations where there is a gap between those who have ready access to technology and those who do not; between those who have the expertise and training to utilize technology and those who do not (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). The digital divide is generally used today to describe the gap in access to technology and information between groups by any of the following: (a) income, (b) race, (c) gender, (d) location, or (e) education (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). Therefore, the same technology-enabled approaches to education that may be effective with computer-savvy students may not be as effective with at-risk students unless steps are taken from the outset to ensure that they possess the skills needed to take advantage of these initiatives.

Despite these differing degrees of computer expertise, a growing number of educators, researchers, and policymakers at all levels of government have emphasized that technologically enabled classrooms that include the use of computers, educational software, and the Internet provide all students with a wide array of educational advantages (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). In addition, computer-based technologies can provide both students and teachers with a rapidly increasing body of knowledge that is easily accessed; create opportunities for reinforcing learning basic, new, and higher-order cognitive skills; and increasing student interest and motivation, parent-school communication, and parent involvement (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). Consequently, these technological innovations are expected to produce improved educational outcomes for at-risk student achievement and reduce school attrition rates as well (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). The research to date has generally supported these expectations, and studies have identified positive relationships between school, home, and community uses of information technology and a wide range of academic outcomes for at-risk students and other students alike (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). Nevertheless, there remains a dearth of timely studies concerning the use of technology in the classroom from the perspective of the students themselves. In this regard, Ballard, Carroll and Stapleton (2004) report that, "The use of technology in classrooms has changed in recent years to include the use of course Web sites as a supplement to face-to-face instruction. Despite… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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