Skip Navigation

Section 3: Challenges Faced by Students Who Lack Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom

As discussed in the previous section, some students may not have home access to digital learning resources (DLR) for various reasons, including financial constraints, a lack of internet service in the area where they live, and concerns about online privacy, cybersecurity, and personal safety. These barriers to DLR may hamper students' ability to fully participate and engage in school. In contrast to the extensive body of research literature on the use of technology in classrooms (Donovan, Green, and Hartley 2010; Mouza 2008; Kent and Moore 2014; Rosen and Beck-Hill 2012; Eseryel et al. 2014; Larkin 2011), research on the relationship between students' access to DLR at home and their participation and engagement in the classroom has been more limited. This section begins with a summary of prior research on the relationship between students' home access to DLR and homework completion. Next, eight indicators present analyses of the most recently available nationally and internationally representative survey data that explore associations between DLR access at home and academic achievement for students with different individual and family characteristics.

Homework Completion

DeBell and Chapman (2006) used data from the 2003 Current Population Survey to analyze student habits with computers and the Internet inside and outside of the classroom. The authors found that the majority of students in sixth grade and above used computers and the Internet to complete their homework, with the percentage increasing as students advanced in their educational careers. The transition from traditional, paper-based homework assignments to online homework offers both advantages and disadvantages (Dodson 2014; Katz, Lee, and Byrne 2015). Shifting to an online homework approach may enable teachers to keep curriculum and materials current and relevant to classroom discussions, increase students' efficiency in submitting assignments and teachers' efficiency in providing feedback, and reduce the cost of paper materials. On the other hand, students may lack easy access to the Internet outside of school, experience problems with the software or platforms used for online homework, and be distracted by multitasking; there may also be a greater potential for academic dishonesty.

Gui, Micheli, and Fiore (2014) used reading literacy data for Italy from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to investigate whether students' academic performance was related to their home internet use and socioeconomic background. They found that moderate users of the Internet—those who used it at home for schoolwork once or twice a month to once or twice a week—had higher scores than those who used the Internet more than twice a week (frequently) and those who used the Internet less than once a month (infrequently). This pattern was observed for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Another study of 435 eighth-graders from five randomly chosen schools in Istanbul, Turkey, found that students enjoyed using computers and Internet tools for homework, and they developed a positive attitude toward doing homework on the computer and the Internet (Ongun, Altas, and Demirag 2011).

While the focus of this report is on children between the ages of 3 to 18, research on the online homework experiences of postsecondary students may nevertheless be relevant. Doorn, Janssen, and O'Brien (2010) surveyed college students in 14 sections of seven economics courses on their attitudes and practices related to online homework. Over 90 percent of the students who were surveyed reported that online homework was beneficial to understanding the material and preparing for exams. Students liked the flexibility and immediate feedback associated with online homework, and they found it at least as easy to do homework online as it was using traditional means. The study found that students' previous experience with online systems, year in school, gender, and learning style had little relationship with their attitudes toward online homework, which indicated that its perceived benefits were not limited to a particular group.

Associations Between Home Access to DLR and Academic Achievement

There is less research on relationships between students' access to DLR at home and their participation and engagement in the classroom than on other topics more narrowly focused on classroom activities. However, some studies explored relationships between student computer access at home and academic outcomes, with mixed findings. While some studies of home computer access revealed positive correlations with academic performance (Jackson et al. 2006; Beltran, Das, and Fairlie, 2010; Espinosa et al. 2006; Fish et al. 2008), others found no relationship or negative relationships between home computer access and student achievement (Fairlie and Robinson 2013; Hunley et al. 2005; Vigdor, Ladd, and Martinez 2014). In addition, research on the impact of instructional computer use in schools on academic performance, including some randomized control trials and several quasi-experimental studies, found mixed results (Campuzano et al. 2009; Dynarski et al. 2007; Goolsbee and Guryan 2006; Shannon et al. 2015; Suhr et al. 2010; Chambers et al. 2011).

The eight indicators in this section describe differences in academic achievement associated with home computer use and internet access for students with different individual and family characteristics. The results from the indicator analyses of national and international data sources consistently showed higher average achievement scores for students who used computers at home and/or had internet access at home than for those who did not. This pattern was observed for students' reading, mathematics, and science performance (Indicators 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, and 21) and for students' knowledge of information and communication technology (Indicator 18). However, the size of the achievement gaps between those who reported using a computer at home/having access to the Internet at home and those who did not varied by student and family characteristics. For an international reference point, Indicator 22 shows that a higher percentage of U.S. 16- to 19-year-olds performed at the lowest proficiency level in problem solving in technology-rich environments than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average.

The indicators in this section present bivariate statistics from a variety of sources to compare students' computer use and internet access at home and their academic achievement. One of the limitations of bivariate statistics is that they describe subpopulation differences without taking into account the influence of other individual, family, school, and environmental factors. Many of the academic achievement variables examined in this report may be related to other factors outside of students' access to and use of computers and the Internet in their homes. For example, achievement gaps between those who reported using a computer at home/having access to the Internet at home and those who did not could be influenced by other factors, including socioeconomic background characteristics such as parents' educational attainment and family income. Associations between socioeconomic characteristics and DLR access are presented in Section 1 of this report. The design of these surveys combined with the lack of comprehensive socioeconomic metrics limits their use on this topic to primarily descriptive indicators. Future research using more complex methods, such as multivariate analyses, can further explore relationships between student home computer/internet use and academic outcomes after taking into account other characteristics of students, families, and schools that are also related to academic performance.