We’re long past the question of ‘if’ when it comes to technology in the classroom. Students don’t remember a life before the internet — they’ve got at least one device on hand at any given time, and almost instant access to a vast collection of human knowledge.
Nowadays, the question relating to technology in the classroom is ‘how’. How do we make it learning-focused or more engaging? How do we speak to students personally?
With the right mindset and the right technology, we have endless opportunities to improve the learning experiences of our students. Finding these opportunities and seeing if they’re right for our students relies on a strong understanding of classroom technology.
Here’s what you need to know.
Why technology in the classroom is important
It develops students’ technological soft skills
Our students might be deemed ‘digital natives’ by the media, but this doesn’t mean they are born with soft skills such as:
- navigating new and unfamiliar technologies independently
- communicating effectively with others via technology
- using technology for independent learning
- managing digital resources
- collaborating in digital spaces.
As teachers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to nurture these technological soft skills in our classrooms. They will play an enormous role in our students’ professional and personal lives well beyond school.
It empowers students for the work of the future
Our current students will go into careers and work that haven’t been invented yet, while recent graduates will enter roles that have changed radically in the last five years.
The only thing that’s certain is that the future of work will involve greater and more complex use of technology. And this isn’t confined to STEM — non-tech professions are also beginning to embrace technological change in order to transcend physical boundaries, enhance collaboration, and drive creativity.
Soon, technological fluency will be less of an ‘add-on’ than an expectation for the working world of the future. This means that we give our students’ professional futures a huge boost by investing in their technological capabilities.
It enables us to differentiate more effectively
Differentiation is central to teaching best practice, but catering to different learners in the traditional sense means extra resources, extra instructions, and extra work.
Using technology to meet different learner needs makes it more achievable. For example, our Mathseeds and Reading Eggs programs use a placement test to determine students’ individual ability levels before setting them on an individually tailored lesson track.
Technology can also allow you to seamlessly assign different activities within the same class, or to support students with special needs who struggle with pen and paper tasks.
It fosters collaborative working
Previously, student collaboration demanded that students stay in the same room and huddle around a single physical resource until the final bell.
Technology removes those physical and logistical constraints. Now, students can share and work together so much more effectively, meaning we can grow the scope of their collaborative projects. It’s doubly engaging and makes for powerful learning.
Using technology for student collaboration also develops invaluable online communication skills. In an age where tools from Skype to email are being used to connect people across time and space, these skills have never been more essential.
The increasing demand on educators to deliver quality learning means we have to be as efficient and effective as possible in our teaching. Technology can automate the time-consuming aspects of our practice that get in the way of planning and delivering learning experiences that inspire.
This might include:
- assigning homework
- creating resources.
More importantly, it frees up time that we can invest where it really matters. It might be creating extension or support activities, going the extra mile with a lesson plan, looking at professional development opportunities, or just taking the time to breathe.
How to use technology in the classroom
No matter the tool or the task, applications of classroom technology fall into one of four categories of the SAMR model. These are:
Substitution: Substituting technology for a traditional teaching strategy, without changing the learning outcome or nature of the activity.
Augmentation: Substituting technology for a traditional strategy, adding value to the learning outcome or activity.
Modification: Using technology to significantly alter a teaching strategy — this changes both the learning and the outcome of the original task.
Redefinition: Using technology to do something that would be impossible without it.
When we’re looking to adopt, reassess, or optimize our approach to our classroom technology, keeping the SAMR model in mind can give you a better understanding of the ‘why’ behind its use. Find out more about using the SAMR model here.
It’s important to note that redefinition isn’t the end goal. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, any one of these stages might provide the most effective solution.
The benefits of technology in the classroom
It engages students
Classroom technology can boost student engagement. It connects learning with the digital world your students inhabit, and brings learning to life in a way that paper-based methods struggle to achieve.
It’s an effective mode of formative assessment
Learning apps and programs are an effective means of formative assessment because they can deliver instant feedback. Their engaging nature and student-friendly interfaces also remove much of the anxiety and pressure often associated with assessment.
Gamification motivates and rewards ongoing learning
When students feel motivated and rewarded for their learning, they’re more likely to want to learn on their own. Gamification achieves exactly this.
Technology makes it possible to deliver powerful gamified learning systems that:
- track progress in a visual, student-friendly way
- reward students for learning challenges, via points and other incentives
- stimulate the imagination with interactive visual worlds
- steadily become more challenging over time.
As an example, we brought those elements together in our Readiwriter Spelling and Mathletics programs. Students are given points, visual cues of their success, certificates, and upgradable avatars, and can be automatically pushed to more complex learning paths.
This same system can be replicated across different programs and technologies. What’s important is finding one that works for your class.
It saves time
Technology allows you to get the most out of your day by automating and streamlining the tasks that can easily take up all your out-of-class time.
For example, in Readiwriter Spelling and Mathletics, we’ve automated marking and made grouping, homework assignment and reporting accessible in a few clicks.
Other systems, such as LMSs, make it easier to manage resources, update parents, and communicate with students outside of class.
It harnesses multimedia for more powerful learning
Technology can make classroom activity and student projects more dynamic by incorporating multimedia. With audio, visual, technical, and textual elements, learning material can take new and exciting forms.
For example, a group presentation can encompass text, audio, and visual components in the form of a short film, podcast, or tutorial. The different media components afforded by technology play to the strengths of different learners and make it all the more engaging.
The increasingly fast-paced information culture our students inhabit also means we have a responsibility to develop their visual literacy skills and help them become savvy consumers of information.
It makes resources and information more accessible
Instant access to information takes the burden of knowledge off educators and opens up a world of possibilities for independent learning. Fact-checking can be done in real-time, students can independently research topics of interest, and they can consult digital resources to extend and support what they do in class.
It also allows students to find the information delivery mode that resonates most with them. Some will gravitate toward video, some to written content, others to podcasts, or even forums.
It empowers teachers
Understanding and implementing technology is a core part of our professional development and one that allows us to push our teaching further.
This includes our usage of technology outside the classroom. For example, we might implement programs for more effective data analysis, resource management, or parent communication.
It gives everyone a voice
Online spaces can make it much easier for students to find their voice. Without the pressure of speaking up in a live classroom environment, you will find that even your quietest students develop the courage to make themselves heard.
Technology makes communication easier for you too. You can reach students and parents whenever you need, and get messages across clearly without losing anything in translation.
It allows for individually tailored learning
The insights and data provided by classroom technology can be implemented for more individually tailored learning approaches. For example, our Mathseeds and Readiwriter programs allow you to see students’ weekly progress at a glance; you can then use this to generate groups differentiated by ability level.
This is just one example of how technology can help foster a more personal classroom approach. With data that reveals the where/what/why of your students’ challenges, you are much better placed to deliver instruction that meets those specific needs.
Pros and cons of using technology in the classroom
While technology does provide some amazing benefits, there are some downsides to it as well. However, most of these can be managed with a little further thought and effort:
Engagement vs. distraction
The dynamic and modern nature of technology makes it an engaging medium for teaching and learning. However, this engagement can easily turn to distraction when technology is not used in a meaningful way to support learning.
Return on learning vs. financial outlay
Technology provides a cost-effective alternative to many traditional classroom staples. For example, a Reading Eggs subscription comes with a library of 2000 eBooks and removes the need for costly textbooks.
Yet implementing classroom technology does come at a price. Determine what your students need and what presents the best value investment for your school.
Information access vs. unreliable information
Technology puts a limitless world of knowledge at your students’ fingertips, and makes independent learning much more accessible.
However, not all digital information is reliable or useful. Technology also necessitates that we teach our students to assess the validity of the information they access online and through other sources.
Saving time vs. taking time
The automation and efficiency of technology saves you time you can reinvest in the areas that need it most: student support, extension, and lesson planning.
Learning to use technology requires some time investment, but it can be made easier by consulting support resources. These might be product-based supports, such as the 3P Learning Help Hub, or colleagues with knowledge to share.
It also helps to consider the pros and cons of not adopting classroom technology. For example, there’s an undeniable advantage to sticking with familiar and tested instructional methods, but the same methods might seem out of touch to students who live in a complex digital era.
Improving your understanding of technology’s role in the classroom
Here are the most common terms you’ll hear around classroom technology and what they mean.
LMS (Learning Management System): A central platform for digital learning accessed online. Teachers can use an LMS to share resources with students, send messages, and stage discussions.
Blended learning: A learning approach that blends traditional classroom learning with online learning. For example, students might combine their classroom learning with the use of an EdTech program for homework. Blended approaches are set to become more common as schools embrace the flexibility offered by online learning.
Flipped classroom: A teaching strategy where teacher instruction is viewed online by students at home, so that class time can be given over purely to practice, support, and hands-on activity. This approach also gives students the advantage of watching the teacher’s recorded instruction as many times as they like.
Gamification: A teaching strategy that frames learning as a game with rewards, challenges, and levels. Learning apps and programs make use of effective gamification to drive student engagement and motivation.
SAMR model: A model of classroom technology implementation developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. The SAMR model places classroom technology into six categories of increasing sophistication, ranging from simple substitution to technology that redefines the entire learning experience.
For decades, teachers and researchers alike have suggested that a blend of digital and traditional strategies will characterize the learning of the future. Now, after
Differentiated instruction is still a challenge for teachers because of the logistics and time required to implement it. We know it’s important, but we’re often