Students who are labeled “at risk” face a unique set of learning challenges than their peers. They run a wide variety: ones who belong to ethnic minorities, those who are academically disadvantaged, those who are disabled, those with a probationary status, and those from low-income or poverty-stricken households. For example, for the 16 million students who live below the poverty line in the U.S., many do not own computers or have Internet access. In high-poverty schools, only 3 percent of teachers agreed that students had the digital tools they needed to complete assignments at home. For students coming from a single-parent home, their parent may have less involvement in their learning progress and day-to-day work. And a number of students have changed schools at inconvenient times, held below-average grades through middle school, or were held back a grade – and may require additional support and personalized attention from teachers.

District leaders and educators are growing increasingly aware of the achievement gap problem. Many are discovering how the latest technology trends could improve engagement and results for at-risk students. Here are three big ways that technology is changing how teachers are able to support them.

Use Technology to Explore and Create
In one research study, they found that a class of at-risk students performed better than their peers when asked to create a research-based website instead of writing a traditional research paper. Through technology, they can see content in all forms. The best design is to ensure that lessons maximize participation. By providing multiple means for learners to grasp difficult concepts, it will improve long-term retention of concepts. At-risk students learn more when they use technology to create content themselves, and they’re not just the recipients of content designed by others. In one of the studies on the effective use of technology for practicing skills, they found a large number of at-risk students in ninth grade who outperformed higher-tracked students on state tests. Their surprising success was attributed to a high-tech classroom leveraging a variety of digital and interactive activities over traditional ones – discussing literature in blog discussions and creating materials for a mock business, to demonstrate deep reading comprehension and mastery of technical skills (e.g., tracking expenses in Excel, creating a website).

Actively Engage Students with Interactive and VR Technologies
Many researchers have reached the same conclusion: interactive learning is a proven method for engaging at-risk students in the classroom. The importance of a one-to-one device policy is important to ensure digital access for every student, but merely offering online content isn’t enough to succeed. Virtual reality technology is a major emerging trend rising in application in K-12 and higher ed. For example, the zSpace virtual reality mobile classroom travels to different public schools across the country, enabling high school students to interact with 3-D diagrams of the human brain as a more impactful way of learning health science. At community colleges, instructional designers are using augmented and VR for a crime scene class. In this environment, VR tech empowers students to practice their investigative skills in a way that can’t be recreated in a physical space.

Achieve the Best Mix of Teacher Support and Technology
Most of all, technology is not the ultimate solver for at-risk students who struggle in education. The biggest gains in achievement among those students resulted from classrooms who used technology to quickly identify at-risk students and enrich the teacher-student relationship. It is equally important to combine technological tools with teacher supports and peer/social interaction. In studies comparing blended and online learning success, minority students progressed through learning sessions by completing online tasks on their own, receiving real-time digital feedback from the teacher and their peers, and engaging in group activities. Teacher assistance is often mandatory for the online learning of underprivileged students, so that they can receive the right mix of encouragement and more immediate support through the online platform.