Digital devices have clearly become the mainstream mode of interaction among America’s youth. Rather it’s to communicate using snapchat, text, Facebook, messenger, or any number of channels to convey information, today’s students elect, more often than not, to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas virtually. Furthermore, they research topics, questions, or simply explore content using the Internet. Some have even transitioned to regularly avoiding tactile communication with their devices and relying, instead on the likes of virtual facilitators like Siri or Alexa. While this approach to exchanging information may have begun as a fad and introduced through apps, it has become a new way of life, unlikely to return to the digital matrix from where it originated.
Today’s youth were born into this digital world where information access is immediate and current. They have no background on which to understand an environment where notes were taken by hand, where ideas were only discussed and debated in open forums, or where conversations were primarily conducted using a vintage approach called eye contact. It is no surprise, therefore, that their assessments which rank them individually as well as their schools and states uniquely, would be newly crafted using an online format.
The equitability challenge, however, may lie well within the online delivery mode itself. While all students engaged in online assessments may be given similar devices to access the testing questions, they are not given historical comparability when it comes to comfort in using such devices. For example, it is no surprise that students living in poverty face additional struggles in academic arenas based on their limited access to extended vocabulary development at a young age; to focused, early intervention supports; to travel enrichment opportunities; and to early access to the latest technological tools.
Certainly, when one is faced with taking a high stakes examination using a computer interface, those for whom life was nearly formulated using technological tools are more likely to experience a less stressful interaction. More importantly, it is not just that children in poverty need to be given access to a select group of technological tools to even the academic proficiency platform. According to Columbia College Chicago’s Kathleen Paciga, a presenter at this year’s National Association for the Education of Young Children in Atlanta, children need “social and linguistic support, to help solidify the learning” accessed on digital devices. This type of interactive dialog support is often lacking in environments which are less than academically focused and may have deficits regarding consistent access.
Employing online interactive tools and devices to facilitate learning is a powerful strategy to enhancing student interest and understanding. However, it is paramount to note that these devices in isolation cannot allow students to realize the necessary academic gains required to continue to make progress. It is, instead, the consistent and interactive interface established by supportive educational environments both at home and in the classroom which are key to ensuring that students are comfortable with digital devices and competent to apply their accumulated knowledge to solve the complex problems presented.
Dr. Angela Farmer is a lifelong educator, a syndicated columnist, and an author. An Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership for Mississippi State University, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org