Technology could be the great education equalizer

Integrating a student's online interests and related resources could put them on track for a successful academic career.

Integrating a student’s online interests and related resources could put them on track for a successful academic career.

One of the many criticisms lobbed against the modern education system is the widening gap between wealthy and needier school districts. For all the newfangled pedagogical theories that get spun out, the quality of a child’s education frequently comes down to available resources and opportunities. There’s no question that a student attending a private school that can afford a state-of-the-art computer lab and keep excellent teachers on staff is going to receive a more well-rounded education than a student in a resource-strapped public school district. Once a student graduates into higher education, that divide becomes even more pronounced, as the cost of a four-year university stay can severely limit a prospective student’s options. The expansion and dwindling cost of technology, however, could help level the playing field. Campus Technology recently examined a report published by the Connected Learning Research Network on the topic of “connected learning“. The news outlet found that fusing a traditional in-class lesson plan with personal online pursuits can offer students’ a richer education.

The current educational inequity
The report, titled “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design”, identified a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots as the cause for educational dysfunction. According to its analysis, students from low-income households are more likely to drop out of school than their wealthier counterparts. For schools already strapped for cash, bridging that gap with additional funding would be an unsustainable measure. The report’s authors suggested strengthening a student’s education by taking advantage of the instructional, collaborative and supportive resources already at his or her disposal.

Connected learning seizes upon a student’s already established interests and integrates them into the educational experience. By using a child’s passions as a foundation, instructors can build an education that better fits that specific student. The report cited a high school student who spent her free time crafting character profiles and histories for an online role playing game. She was able to translate that skill into her creative writing classes and found a new education path as an aspiring writer.

Supplying students with resources and support
What separates connected learning from the age-old wisdom of honing a student’s established strengths, is the idea that technology can supplement the limitations of the classroom experience. In the previous scenario, the student had access to an online community filled with like-minded peers who could inspire, encourage and critique her writing progress. Instead of writing papers to match a single teacher’s preferred format and style, the student was honing her writing skills outside the classroom for the sake of simply becoming better at something she loved to do. In another instance, a student found his calling as a web artist using online tutorials. The average public school would be inadequately prepared to provide students with similar resources. In this case, the student’s education could not exist using his classroom computer and required a supplemental online option.

Public schools in poorer districts are always going to be at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier alternatives. In the face of dwindling resources, creative steps must be considered to strengthen educational directives. According to a study conducted at the University of Central Florida in 2001, researchers found that students who were exposed to a curriculum made up of both in-class and online coursework were more successful than those who participated solely in the classroom. The internet is a vast sea of informative and supportive resources. Taking advantage of its ready availability and integrating it into a child’s education may be the difference between a lackluster academic career and the beginning of a lifelong ambition.

Should in-class lesson plans be supplemented with a student’s outside interests? With the rise of integrated classroom technology, is education moving away from uniform curriculums and toward individual learning experiences? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.