Why technology may not be the best at closing college achievement gaps

By Meris Stansbury
August 18th, 2016

First-of-its-size study shows the simple act of storytelling can close the achievement gaps of first-gen and minority students in college by a large percentage.


There are a lot of technologies mentioned when discussing achievement gaps and low persistence and attainment rates, especially for first-generation and minority students: online admissions tools, software that targets at-risk students, textbooks with built-in learning analytics, et cetera—and this publication covers them all.

But, according to researchers at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin, there is a specific set of interventions that have nothing to do with technology that can boost success for these students; and the boost is noteworthy (40 percent). What’s also noteworthy is the massive scope of the research: more than 9,500 students were studied.

“One reason these findings are so exciting is that they validate and replicate findings from earlier research conducted with a much smaller set of students,” said lead author of the study David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford alumnus, in a statement. “With more than 9,500 students, these studies provide an unparalleled test of the replicability and policy-relevance of such exercises to help students anticipate common challenges in the transition to college.”

So What’s the Intervention?

In what could be considered a common sense psychological intervention that is oftentimes overlooked, students part of the study were told stories by older students from similar backgrounds on the challenges they faced coming into college and how they overcame them. The study participants were then asked to write about challenges they anticipated and how these challenges could change over time with help and support.

(Next page: More on the intervention and data-backed results for closing achievement gaps)

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