Tech Access Benefits Students of Color Inside and Outside the Classroom

Research on High Achieving Students of Color in STEM
Dr. Jennifer Collins
Research Scientist, College of Arts and Sciences
At a Glance: 
  • Successful completion of chemistry among high achieving students of color in STEM was significantly influenced by the strategic use of their iPad.
  • Students used their iPads to model exam conditions and more effectively study for rigorous exams.
  • Outside the classroom students used their iPads to stay connected and care for their mental health.

When Dr. Jennifer Collins received a grant from the Office of Student Academic Success to research the factors that contributed to the success of high achieving underrepresented students of color in STEM fields, access to technology quickly emerged as an important finding. Through a series of individual Zoom interviews, students candidly shared about their lives and experiences in the classroom, providing a more complete picture of the role of technology in their lives. 

“Students possess the expertise to tell us what works and doesn't work in terms of teaching and learning,” said Dr. Collins. “My research places considerable emphasis on giving students opportunities to candidly share their perspectives on how they navigate the educational environment. It is important to learn from students about the barriers and opportunities that influence their learning and engagement in STEM.”

Most STEM students at Ohio State begin their educational journey with foundational chemistry courses. Successfully completing chemistry courses is critical to their overall academic success. Dr. Collins’ research makes it clear that the successful completion of chemistry among STEM achievers was significantly influenced by their strategic use of their iPad, both inside and outside the classroom. 

“Collectively, the 26 STEM achievers I interviewed expressed immense appreciation for the iPad and indicated the influential role of this device in their academic success at Ohio State generally and particularly in general chemistry,” remarked Dr. Collins.

For example, students cited the iPads’ importance in general chemistry exam preparation, allowing them to complete practice exams under the same conditions that they would experience during the real exam. Because the Chemistry department used Examplify, an iPad app for evaluation, students were able to strategically replicate conditions and use the software to better understand areas where they needed additional study time. 

“The instructor would give us the practice exams a week before the midterm exams. So, we were learning how to sort of maneuver around Examplify and take practice exams like it was a midterm,” said one student research participant. Modeling the exam environment during studying is critical to build familiarity with the structure of a typical STEM-related exam structure. As one student reported, “I timed myself and tried to stick to that structure because I wasn't really used to taking a timed exam of that rigor.” 

Additionally, Dr. Collins found the benefits of the technology to the STEM achievers extended beyond the classroom. In addition to using their iPads to take notes, connect with advisors and engage in the classroom, the technology also allowed students to focus on their own spiritual, emotional and social wellbeing  especially during the shift to virtual instruction as a result of COVID-19. 

"I have the Quran app on my iPad. To free up my mind, I open the app and start reading the Quran,” remarked a STEM achiever interviewed as part of Dr. Collins’ research. 

Final advice from Dr. Collins to instructors considering integrating iPads into their STEM courses?

“Normalize the use of iPads during lecture time. The affordances that the iPad offers to students goes beyond just academics. The iPad enables students to stay connected with their parents and friends especially during these challenging times.”

“I also highly encourage faculty and others who work to support students’ success to leverage our STEM achievers, who are clearly strategic iPad users as the study indicates, to help our first-year students of color develop the necessary study skills and effective technology use. Offer formal opportunities to these STEM achievers to lead study workshops or give them a few minutes during class time to speak to incoming students. Underrepresented students of color in STEM are more likely to put into practice the strategies they receive from their peers, especially from those who’ve been in their shoes and experienced the challenges of being a student of color in college,” said Collins.

Try it Yourself 

Reconsidering assessments in your course? The Keep Learning website has helpful considerations and tool suggestions to assist as you plan. 

Visit the Teaching and Learning Resource Center to find quick start guides and helpful information for making the most of the software offered by Ohio State.

Visit the Digital Flagship curricular integration guide to learn more about how you can meaningfully use iPads in your course. 

If your students need extra guidance on using their iPads apps and features, they can schedule tech tutoring appointments with Digital Flagship's Student Mentors.