An Exploratory Study of Online Equity: Differential Levels of Technological Access and Technological Efficacy Among Underserved and Underrepresented Student Populations in Higher Education

Madhumita Banerjee
Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning  •  Volume 16  •  2020  •  pp. 093-121

This study aims to explore levels of Technological Access (ownership, access to, and usage of computer devices as well as access to Internet services) and levels of Technological Efficacy (technology related skills) as they pertain to underserved (UNS) and underrepresented (UNR) students.

There exists a positive correlation between technology related access, technology related competence, and academic outcomes. An increasing emphasis on expanding online education at the author’s institution, consistent with nationwide trends, means that it is unlikely that just an increase in online offerings alone will result in an improvement in the educational attainment of students, especially if such students lack access to technology and the technology related skills needed to take advantage of online learning. Most studies on levels of Technological Access and Technological Efficacy have dealt with either K-12 or minority populations with limited research on UNS and UNR populations who form the majority of students at the author’s institution.

This study used a cross-sectional survey research design to investigate the research questions. A web survey was sent to all students at the university except first semester new and first semester transfer students from various disciplines (n = 535). Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze the survey data.

This research provides insight on a population (UNS and UNR) that is expanding in higher education. However, there is limited information related to levels of Technological Access and Technological Efficacy for this group. This paper is timely and relevant as adequate access to technology and technological competence is critical for success in the expanding field of online learning, and the research findings can be used to guide and inform subsequent actions vital to bridging any educational equity gap that might exist.

A critical subset of the sample who were first generation, low income, and non-White (FGLINW) had significantly lower levels of Technological Access. In addition, nearly half of the survey sample used smartphones to access online courses. Technological Efficacy scores were significantly lower for students who dropped out of or never enrolled in an online course. Transfer students had significantly higher Technological Efficacy scores while independent students (determined by tax status for federal financial aid purposes) reflected higher Technological Efficacy, but at a marginally lower level of significance.

Higher education administrators and educators should take into consideration the gaps in technology related access and skills to devise institutional interventions as well as formulate pedagogical approaches that account for such gaps in educational equity. This will help ensure pathways to sustained student success given the rapidly growing landscape of online education.

Similar studies need to be conducted in other institutions serving UNS and UNR students in order to bolster findings and increase awareness.

The digital divide with respect to Technological Access and Technological Efficacy that impacts UNS and UNR student populations must be addressed to better prepare such groups for both academic and subsequent professional success. Addressing such gaps will not only help disadvantaged students maximize their educational opportunities but will also prepare them to navigate the challenges of an increasingly technology driven society.

Given that it is more challenging to write papers and complete projects using a smartphone, is there a homework gap for UNS and UNR students that may impact their academic success? What is the impact of differing levels of Technological Efficacy on specific academic outcomes of UNS and UNR students?

underserved, underrepresented, technological access, technological efficacy, COVID-19, pandemic
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