College

How Technology is Leveling the Educational Playing Field

For many school districts it can be difficult to provide courses that enable all students to challenge themselves. It's not that educators aren't trying, but that there just isn't enough funding to provide advanced classes and technology for more than a few students -- meaning that even though the students are ready for more challenging coursework, educators (and schools) can't afford the resources. Unfortunately, this can result in many students missing out on great educational opportunities before college. While students in rural districts aren't the only ones that frequently lose out on these more advanced opportunities, low-income districts and those hosting a large minority-based student population fall into this category, too. However, with new technological advances comes an opportunity for schools to implement new, interactive learning techniques into the classroom. For many schools it's a good start toward leveling the playing field for students coming from all backgrounds, locations and economic statuses -- but only if the school can afford it. Virtual Classrooms Using virtual platforms such as Second Life, teachers are able to create spaces specifically designed to teach certain topics, such as Roman history or economics, to students in a life-like online world. Because students create their own "avatar" (with regulations specified and approved by the teacher), they are not limited by the same capacities they might be in the classroom. For instance, students that are prone to anxiety in large groups can interact with everyone from a quiet location. These types of classrooms have become so popular that many college universities like Rutgers, Boise State and Ohio University have even implemented them into their online curriculum. There are virtual High Schools online that are used to help struggling students graduate and get back on track. Educators have reported that through the use of these tools they have been able to pinpoint areas where students are having trouble and use that information to supplement their in-class teaching. Job Skills in Tech Integrating technology into classrooms has also opened numerous doors for students to learn skills that can turn into real careers regardless of economic status. One example is through high school level geographic information system (GIS) courses. GIS is mapping software that is being utilized in nearly every industry from law enforcement to real estate and is rapidly becoming a significant advantage to anyone’s resume. Students at Washington-Lee high school in Arlington, VA have had the opportunity to take a GIS course where they get to choose a local company or agency and tailor a project to fit that company's needs and interests. One student in particular was able to present his project at the ESRI User Conference -- a conference attended by the top dogs in the GIS industry. A Level Playing Field Schools that are working to integrate technology in their classrooms have been shown to have higher test score than schools that don't. One study in Auburn Maine showed that kindergartners who used iPads had higher literacy scores. As technology becomes more affordable and available, more schools are integrating it into their lesson plans. Some are even taking tech integration a step farther by rebuilding education from the ground up by partnering with large companies to teach students modern skills. Many of these students are leaving high school with Associate’s Degrees or even jobs at places like IBM. Technology doesn’t take into consideration if students are in a well-funded high school or a low-income school. Likewise, it doesn’t care if the students are wealthy, poor, male, white, black, Hispanic, handicapped or not. All of these unintentional barriers that present themselves are removed when technology and opportunities abound.