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Section 4: Impact of Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom on Instructional Practices of Educators

Student access to digital learning resources (DLR) outside of the classroom may impact the instructional practices of educators. However, based on the results of the literature search of empirical studies published in peer-reviewed journals and government reports from 2005 to 2016, existing research on potential impacts is lacking. Thus, the included studies and their results may not be representative. The handful of relevant studies present very limited evidence regarding the relationship between teachers' knowledge of student access to and experience with DLR outside the classroom and instructional practices. A larger body of research is available on the challenges and barriers teachers and schools face in adapting instructional practices to further develop students' digital literacy skills for use of DLR both inside and outside of the classroom.

What limited research is available on teachers' perceptions of disparities in student and parent internet access at home suggests that these perceptions may impact their instructional decisions. For instance, a study conducted with 36 elementary and secondary school teachers who created course websites found that contextual barriers, including teacher perceptions that students could not access the Internet from home, resulted in the majority of teachers not using such websites on a regular basis (Friedman 2006). Teachers were concerned that parents who lacked home internet access would miss out on potential communication benefits between home and school, and that students who lacked home access would not have an equal opportunity to view and complete assignments posted on the course website. Other research found that teachers tended to underestimate student access to DLR outside of the classroom because the teachers tended to focus primarily on access to computers and did not take into account student experience with other digital technologies, such as video game consoles (Henderson 2011; Honan 2008). Based on these perceptions, the author concluded that teachers tended to focus their lessons on familiarizing students with operating computers (Honan 2008).

As student access to DLR outside of the classroom increases over time, educators may need to adapt instructional practices in an effort to incorporate home-based technology into teaching and learning. A literature review conducted by Buabeng-Andoh in 2012 discusses individual, school, and technical factors that researchers have found to be associated with teachers' use of information and communication technology in the classroom. Conclusions from the literature review suggest that at the individual level, teachers are less likely to use technology in the classroom if they lack the confidence, skills, and pedagogical training to do so; if they do not perceive a benefit of using a new technology over current instructional approaches; or if they anticipate the new approach will be difficult or time-intensive to adopt. At the school level, technology experiences may be limited by organizational structures, such as an emphasis on traditional assessment and instructional methods or on restrictive curricula. Technical-level barriers include the absence of current and well-maintained hardware or appropriate instructional software, and limited access to technology resources in the school. For example, a study by Reinhart, Thomas, and Toriskie (2011) found that teachers in more affluent schools were more likely to have access to a technology facilitator who supported teachers with additional training on how to use technology to promote higher-order thinking skills.

A second literature review conducted by Fu (2013) identifies similar barriers and challenges faced by teachers and schools as they work to integrate technology into the learning environment. Benefits of using technology-based instructional activities in classrooms can include providing tools for students to access digital information effectively, supporting student-centered and self-directed learning, providing a creative learning environment by accessing text through different types of DLR, encouraging collaborative distance-learning, offering opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, and facilitating access to course content. However, findings from the literature review suggest that schools may face challenges or experience barriers to technology use due to students' inadequate technical skills that hinder their ability to participate in a classroom that uses DLR, students' lack of timely feedback from instructors, and their reduced interaction with classmates and teachers. In addition to the teacher- and school-level barriers noted in the Buabeng-Andoh (2012) review, Fu also breaks out the influences of DLR use into external and internal components. External factors include the availability and accessibility of technology equipment and logistical constraints such as faculty teaching and planning time and technical and administrative support. Internal factors include teachers' beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about technology use and integration, self-confidence and technology self-efficacy, and readiness to use DLR in the classroom. Fu concluded that both internal and external factors impact the level of effort teachers put into integrating technology into their instruction.

A more recent study of 24 middle school science teachers and 1,060 students in two states also found that teachers experience barriers in their efforts to integrate technology into instruction (Wang et al. 2014). Researchers found that while teachers and students use a variety of DLR outside of the classroom, teachers' application of technology in classroom use was limited due to a lack of access to technology resources and support, a lack of technology integration skills and strategies, and a lack of time to plan for technology integration. Although students used technology outside of the classroom to work on school projects, the study found that most students were not familiar with the skills needed to use technology to solve problems, enhance productivity, or develop creativity. This study's authors concluded that after teachers introduced a new technology to support learning, students typically learned it quickly and were eager to use more technology in their classrooms.