Since the introduction of the chalkboard in the 1800s, educational technology (edtech) has only accelerated. From television sets to overhead projectors and calculators, the last 200 years have seen teachers incorporate and utilize some of the major inventions of their age.
But in an overwhelmingly digital era, does modern classroom technology really have any benefits?
This may be a surprising answer given the popular anti screen narrative in the media. But while excessive use and unsafe internet access undoubtedly pose risks to young people, in a well-managed classroom environment there are many tangible advantages to digital aids.
So, what are the benefits of educational technology? Join us as we check out some of the key ways technology contributes to learning. We will also delve into some potential technology risks and how you can mitigate them.
— Ryan Mitchell (@RyanMitchell12) October 2, 2017
The key benefits of technology in the modern classroom
1. Students enjoy it
‘You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ – the proverb may date to the 12th century, but no one quite understands it like a teacher trying to engage a classroom that’s simply not interested.
For students to succeed they need to find something enjoyable in the learning experience. This is where digital devices are particularly effective. Laptops, tablets, or other devices and the apps that compliment them, drive students to actively engage with the subject matter, rather than passively listening… or not listening as the case may be.
It could be conducting virtual science experiments on their screen, competing with each other to answer quiz type mental arithmetic questions or animating a diagram – technology can transform concepts into engaging tasks that really bring a subject to life.
2. Peer to peer collaboration
It’s easy to imagine the digital classroom as an Orwellian nightmare. Rows of young faces bathed in blue light, clicking away at a keyboard for hours upon hours in total silence.
The reality is quite the opposite.
Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education ‘Technology and Education Reform’ discovered that technology facilitates collaboration, cooperation, and peer tutoring. Even when each student has their own device, neighbors were regularly used as a source of immediate assistance and even more pleasingly, tech-savvy students actively enjoy helping their fellows to master the task at hand.
Many devices now have options for students to cast their work to others in order to demonstrate concepts or to collaborate on a single document using annotation software. This allows pupils to learn from each other – encouraging classroom participation and accelerating overall progress.
When students work together to achieve a task, the results are powerful. Embracing technology can help them to achieve this.
3. Everyone can learn at their own pace
Learning is an individual journey. There will always be areas where some people struggle, learning styles which others hate or ways of communicating that simply don’t work for a portion of students. However, in most classrooms, we simply don’t have the time or resources to tailor every activity to account for this vast variety of preferences.
Digital devices allow for a personal learning experience where students are proactive about their own needs and adapt activities to best suit them. For example changing text colors to make passages more legible, creating an infographic from sketches rather than writing out an essay style answer or creating video responses rather than typing annotations. Digital tools can be fitted in a number of creative ways to allow students to truly express themselves and grapple with the subject being taught.
4. Embracing learning disabilities
Quite simply, technology is a necessity for many with disabilities. It gives easy access to a variety of adaptable tools which enable those with learning needs to participate in classroom activities that would otherwise be cut off to them. Everything from mild dyslexia to severe physical impairment can be embraced into mainstream learning with the aid of digital devices.
Furthermore, there are many applications available that can be used by all students, those with disabilities and those without. Why is this important? It means that everybody is learning together and no one is made to feel different. Not only does this make lesson planning logistically easier, it means that mainstream schooling is accessible to everybody and reduces the stigma of being classified as ‘not normal’.
— Trevor Williams (@TrevorTeaches) April 4, 2018
5. Prep students for the modern world
Technology is a staple of modern life, whether it is represented in the classroom or not. Nowadays extorting the benefits of learning perfect cursive handwriting over technological experience is a lot like insisting on the continued use of shorthand – simply not relevant.
Most systems in today’s world are built almost entirely around technology and skills such as coding and digital analytics are highly sought after. Make sure your students are ready.
6. Improving workflows for teachers
Technology isn’t just about the learning benefits (though, as we have seen, there are many). In many cases, technical applications can also make teachers more successful.
Integrated learning management systems, internet resources and digital assignments that can be graded online, save educators valuable time and energy. Streamlined processes make it easier to get down to the task of actually teaching! Be it spending time with students, creating lesson plans or simply getting some well-earned rest, appropriately aligned technology has the ability to improve life for teachers.
Tackling common classroom tech problems
So are there any downsides to embracing technology into the classroom? With anything as broad and varied as the word ‘technology’ there are undoubtedly at least some issues to balance the positives. Fortunately, many of these problems are solvable.
Lack of tech support
For many educators, and indeed students, learning how to use new devices and software will be a challenge. Having appropriate support to guide the initial implementation of these systems is important, but not something every school can offer.
If you are in a situation where you feel uncomfortable with an application there are a few things you can do:
- Take your time: Number one tip – don’t rush into anything you’re not comfortable with. It will likely only make for a negative experience for both you and your students. Instead of throwing yourself straight into a lesson with a new piece of tech, take some time to familiarize yourself with it. Online tutorials or guides can be a great way to get a basic intro to most software. Once you feel like you have a better grasp of what’s going on, consider building it into your lessons slowly, one short activity at a time.
- Ask if there is anyone who can help you to learn: Even if there is not a tech specialist on-site who can help you, potentially there are some fellow staff members who are using the software already or there is a self-declared IT whiz who loves playing with new tech.
- Use your student expertise: They aren’t called digital natives for no reason. Often pupils take to new technology quickly and enjoy sharing their expertise. Creating roles such as tech monitors can harness this and in turn, help the whole class get to grips with using a new application.
— Adam Yoder (@AdamYoder23) April 30, 2019
Online privacy is essential to a safe classroom technology experience. Before contemplating using technology in a school environment, you should first ensure it complies with safety standards. A good place to research is the Common Sense Education site. You can also check software applications compliance with things such as COPPA, FERPA and Student Privacy Pledge.
In the same way that paper, pencils and even windows can prove a distraction, so can screens. The best way to tackle technology distractions is to establish clear rules and expectations around appropriate device usage. This may include things like
- Switching screens off while the teacher is talking.
- Never touching anyone else’s screen – note: this can be particularly useful for peer to peer learning as every action must be explained, not simply done for them by a neighbor.
- Having internet-enabled only when necessary – many apps have an offline mode.
- Educating students on internet safety.
Sitting in front of a screen all day is undoubtedly bad for the body, as is writing hunched at a desk or reading too close from a textbook for long periods.
To avoid health issues from sedentary screen use and close reading, incorporating screen breaks and pauses for movement and activity every 20-25 minutes is a great idea. Not only does it prevent issues like repetitive strain, but it also helps to reduce fatigue and allow students to refresh and reengage with the task in front of them.
Classroom technology holds many possibilities for teachers all over the world. To learn more about the world of EdTech, check out our blog here.