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Digital Literacy

Lack of Tech Savvy Holding Back Developmental Ed Efforts

Research released this past fall found that technology is not the silver bullet needed to help students in developmental education — without a few other elements in place as well. For example, according to a report by the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR), it's a mistake to assume that "digital native" students can handle the education tech they're expected to work with.

Developmental ed is described in "How and Why Higher Education Institutions Use Technology in Developmental Education Programming" as the instruction and academic support given to students who enter college without college-ready skills in reading, writing or math in order to develop the skills they need for doing college-level work.

Based on "semi-structured" interviews with 127 staff members in 31 two-year public colleges, 11 four-year public colleges and 41 state-level organizations overseeing such colleges, the researchers identified three different kinds of ed tech that dominate in developmental ed:

  • Instructional tech, which frequently takes the form of software used to complete homework assignments or serve as a content-delivery and assessment system in online, hybrid or computer-lab-style "emporium" courses (where students work on individualized lessons while instructors circulate around the room to provide help). Also in this category of ed tech: instructional videos, online textbooks and open educational resources.
  • Course management tech, which organizes and presents course structure and materials on a digital platform.
  • Student support tech, which addresses students' academic performance, such as online access to tutoring or early-warning programs that help institutions identify students in danger of getting off track in their studies.

At the top of the list of challenges commonly referenced was a lack of tech savvy among students and faculty, mentioned by nearly half of interview subjects (just under 45 percent). For instance, it isn't uncommon for students to lack keyboarding skills, the researchers noted. Likewise, some faculty members don't have the "requisite skills to use technology effectively." The challenge was exacerbated, some respondents added, when in-person interaction is removed from the activity; frequently, even when teachers would make themselves available to answer questions or assist students, the learners "were more hesitant" to seek help, the report stated.

About a quarter of respondents said that a lack of "sufficient resources" created challenges in the use of ed tech. Oftentimes, the organizations would end up compromising on their solutions, either by choosing one option over the other or giving up a program altogether. A lack of funding also hit upon one vulnerable but essential area: professional development.

The report offered a few recommendations. Among them, the need for vendors and schools to provide more robust and ongoing training for all users "on how to use the technology." As one example, the researchers suggested that professional development for faculty might focus on how they can help students progress through course lessons in instructional settings that provide more flexible pacing. And institutions might even "consider mandating training" for students to learn how to use the ed tech being employed to advance their studies.

The bottom line, as the authors wrote in a blog post: "Campus leaders and policymakers should not assume that today's college students are naturally well versed in the use of technology or ready to work as independently as some technology may allow."

The full report is openly available on the CAPR website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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