Jacob on technology and educational equality in Journal of the Social Sciences

October 6, 2016
"Can technology help promote equality of educational opportunities?" a journal article by Brian Jacob, Dan Berger, Cassandra Hart, and Susanna Loeb (MPP '94), has been published in the September 2016 edition of the Russell Sage Foundation's Journal of the Social Sciences.  


Although technologies such as virtual instruction and the suite of programs known collectively as intelligent tutoring offer great promise, they are not guaranteed to improve educational equality. Use of these technologies often reduces oversight of students, and that can be particularly detrimental for children who are less motivated or who receive less structured educational supports at home. These technologies may also be less effective in engaging reluctant learners in the way a dynamic and charismatic teacher can, suggesting that even if educational technology improves quality overall, any “peak” education experience it provides may fall short of a “peak” face-to-face experience. Perhaps more importantly, technologies such as intelligent tutoring and systems that blend online and face-to-face (FtF) instruction are notoriously difficult to implement well. There is a substantial risk that they could be ineffective or even harmful in places that lack the capacity to implement the technologies with fidelity.

In this paper, we assess the potential for these “next generation” technologies to promote equality of educational opportunities. To begin, we focus on virtual instruction, which is arguably the most visible and controversial of the new technologies. Utilizing detailed administrative data from Florida, we describe which types of students are most likely to take virtual courses, and how students who take virtual courses fare in comparison with their peers taking FtF courses. We then discuss the theory behind and evidence for intelligent tutoring systems. In the final section, we discuss the implications of the findings reported here for education policy in the future.