Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students

More than one million U.S. high school students drop out each year and more than sixteen million students live below the poverty line. Children in poverty now make up nearly half of our public school students and many of them are underserved by their school systems. In the area of technology access, there are disparities in ownership and internet access across all socioeconomic groups. There is good news, research shows that if ask-risk students gain ready access to appropriate technology used in thoughtful ways, they can make substantial gains in learning and technological readiness. 

Effective Technology use for At-Risk Students

All too often we have seen the computer “take over” for the teacher, presenting information to students, who work on practice problems until they demonstrate “learning” and move on to the next batch of information. This is no different from a workbook, moving students through information in a passive manner. Often, programs have been geared toward improving student performance on competency tests. Results from technology utilization like this have been disappointing for students.

Research has indicated three important variables for success with at-risk students: (1) Interactive learning, (2) Use of technology to explore and create, and (3) The right blend of teachers and technology.

Interactive Learning

One of the benefits of well-designed interactive programs is that they can allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations. When students use simulations that allow them to manipulate information, followed by more exploration, and were then prompted to explain and elaborate on things they observed, the students demonstrated high level thinking and problem solving skills.  Through the use of technology, students can see content in many forms such as videos, maps, hyperlinks to definitions, questions with feedback, and more. Technology can be used to enhance student achievement by providing multiple means and methods for learners to grasp difficult concepts.

Technology to Explore and Create

Studies show that students learn more when they use technology to create new content themselves, rather than being the recipients of content designed by others. A number of studies have found that students demonstrate stronger engagement, self-efficacy, better attitudes toward school, and improved skill development when they are engaged in content creation projects.  Projects can include engaging in multimedia content creation to communicate ideas about the material they are studying by creating reports, graphic representations of data they have researched or developed, websites, PowerPoint presentations, video production, digital storytelling, and other means. One key to content creation projects is the use of scaffolding to guide the students through a series of increasingly more complex activities that build on one another.

The Right Blend of Technology and Teachers

In all of the examples of successful outcomes, students had access to one-to-one computing opportunities with adequate hardware and bandwidth to support their work. Research shows that when students are given one-to-one laptop access as well as access to the internet at school, they made use of this opportunity at least several times a week, for purposes ranging from seeking background knowledge, facilitating “just in time” learning, and supporting research projects. Results are best when the use of technology is combined with teacher support. Students who worked with teachers alongside their online experience were much more likely to say that they developed an interest in the subject. Studies show that students do best in the blended learning environment because of the real-time support and encouragement they received from their teachers. 


Research indicates that the proper use of blended learning can help at-risk students succeed and close the achievement gap. It should also be noted that adequate professional learning opportunities for teachers on how to use the technology and pedagogies are necessary for success. Providing one-to-one access is not enough, without the proper support and training, computers can become nothing more than fancy workbooks. At PRIMED, we provide the training and resources teachers need to properly implement a learning management system so that it helps improve student achievement and metacognition.



Darling-Hammond, L., Goldman, S., and Zielezinski, M. (2014). Using technology to support at-risk students’ learning. Alliance for Excellent Education.

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