Implications for educators and technology developers

Even if students have access to the internet and mobile devices, technology-enabled learning must be consciously designed to benefit all learners. To this end, educators and technology developers should strive to offer learning experiences that focus on “accessibility” for a wide range of students, increasing customizability for all users while “ensur[ing] equal access to the roughly 1 billion people in the world with disabilities.”48 In the classroom context, frameworks like “Universal Design” encourage the pursuit of “the design of products and environments [that are] usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or [specialization].”49

Educators and technology developers must also consider the wide range of identities through which students may access edtech. The portrayal of diverse characters in media is crucial during childhood and adolescence, “when issues of self and ethnic identity are especially salient.”50 Taking into account the role of “bias and sensitivity” can help educators and technology developers promote positive learning experiences for students “despite differences in […] disability status, ethnic group, gender, regional background, native language, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.”51 Generally speaking, prioritizing empathy for a diverse array of students – especially early in the design process – increases the likelihood that students from low-income households will be able to fully access the potential benefits of edtech.

For example, Mosa Mack Science develops animated science mystery videos that invite students to continue the story through hands-on activities and engineering challenges. Featuring a black girl protagonist, the episodes create opportunities for students of color to see themselves as scientists. A teacher in Oakland, California, noted that black and Latino students in his classroom have been able to identify with the characters, making the content more accessible.52 In addition to visual and tactile reinforcement, the videos use songs to help make learning more engaging – promoting classroom diversity while supporting increased retention of knowledge.53

In order to reach as many students as possible, educators and technology developers should also consider prioritizing learning experiences that are truly “mobile first”54 and available on a range of operating systems – including iOS and Android55 as well as the web and Chromebooks.56 While most students can access the internet via smartphones,57 many students from low-income households lack access to high-speed broadband connections at home.58 To support these students across learning contexts, technology can enable flexible implementations that are “delay tolerant” or otherwise friendly to low-bandwidth users.59 Some school districts are also experimenting with solutions like Wi-Fi enabled buses to extend internet access directly into the communities they serve.60


48. Google, 2016, para. 2
49. Burgstahler, 2015, para. 3
50. Ward, 2004, p. 290
51. ETS, 2012, p. 4
52. White, 2016
53. Crowther, 2006
54. Wroblewski, 2011
55. Elmer-DeWitt, 2016
56. Schaffhauser, 2015
57. Kabali, 2015
58. Marx, 2016
59. Sahni & Ramamritham, 2007, p. 2
60. Clapman, 2016