Technology Problems and Student Achievement Gaps: A Validation and Extension of the Technology Maintenance Construct

Gonzales, Amy L; McCrory Calarco, Jessica; Lynch, Teresa
Communication research

How do physical digital inequalities persist as technology becomes commonplace? We consider this question using surveys and focus groups with U.S. college students, a group that has better than average connectivity. Findings from a 748-person nonrepresentative survey revealed that ownership and use of cellphones and laptops were nearly universal. However, roughly 20% of respondents had difficulty maintaining access to technology (e.g., broken hardware, data limits, connectivity problems, etc.). Students of lower socioeconomic status and students of color disproportionately experienced hardships, and reliance on poorly functioning laptops was associated with lower grade point averages. Focus group and open-ended data elaborate these findings. Findings quantitatively validate the technology maintenance construct, which proposes that as access to information and communication technology peaks, the digital divide is increasingly characterized by the (in)ability to maintain access. Data highlight overlooked nuances in digital access that may inform social disparities and the policies that may mitigate them.