Integrating Technology into the Classroom, Part II
In Technology in the Classroom, Part I, I started a discussion on some of the emerging technological trends in education. Here, this discussion continues with some more analysis on the potential effects these trends have on teaching and learning in the classroom.
In other words, how do these technologies help our K-12 classrooms? Here, I will show you how, starting with:
Tablets and smartphones in the classroom are no longer a matter of “if,” but “when, and how quickly?” Administrators and educators can tap into the convenience of mobile technology in the classroom and the potential for student learning adaptation. Over half of school administrators say there is some form of mobile technology in their classrooms and that they plan to implement more when it is financially feasible. School districts should keep in mind that the purchase of mobile devices for K-12 use is only one piece in the learning puzzle. There must be funding for teacher training and maintenance of the devices too.
Let’s look deeper into mobile technology
What about its effect on the K-12 classroom? Tablets have become a learning fixture in many K-12 classrooms. The quick access to information and capability to provide personalized learning are just a few of the reasons why teachers, administrators and parents have been behind the push for one-to-one tablet programs in classrooms throughout the country. While few schools have met the one-to-one goal yet, nearly 60 percent of administrators say they have implemented some form of mobile technology in classrooms.
The push reflects a global trend. Children have access to tablets and smartphones outside school grounds, making the technology in the classroom an easy adaptation. The difference, of course, is that instead of playing the latest version of Angry Birds or Candy Crush, students on tablets in the classroom can tap into the latest reading, math or history app. Administrators and teachers are also interested in the potential for digital textbooks—just imagine a student with no back pain—and life skills tools, like calendars, to-do lists and other time management applications.
Looking at surveys, it appears that the only reason administrators have NOT implemented the one-to-one tablet initiative is financial. The cost of the tablets themselves, along with maintenance costs, higher bandwidth and security features, and more manpower in school IT departments, are certainly obstacles. If money were no issue, though, it seems that most school districts would adapt this cultural push toward tablets as student rights.
But is money really the only sticking point when it comes to mobile technology in the classroom? Are teachers and administrators, along with parents and kids, just caught up in a commercial trend fueled by the companies that design and build tablets and smartphones? By the time classrooms reach a one-to-one point, will it be time already to upgrade to something else?
In a post titled “5 Problems with iPads in Education” digital CEO Mike Silagadze says that getting iPads, or other mobile devices, into classrooms is just the first step. What many school districts fail to consider when budgeting for the initial purchase is the cost of software, not to mention the teacher training that will be needed to make those devices effective. He points out that the current push for tablets in K-12 classrooms echoes the sentiments once reserved for in-class computers. In many cases, the learning promises associated with those computers did not come to fruition, he says, leaving behind a wake of technology-jaded educators. He says:
“We need to be careful to introduce technology in thoughtful ways or else we will be left with another generation of teachers who see technology as nothing but overpriced distractions rather than useful teaching tools.”
He raises a good point though. Can the potential of mobile technology in classrooms really ever live up to the hype surrounding it? Sure, the convenience and ability for student self-direction are benefits but these can also send the wrong message to the next generation. Learning does not always have to have a “fun” portion attached. Sometimes it is just challenging but the payoff is greater. Students that learn to read electronically and to find books at the touch of a button will never know the joy of tracking down a library book, via Dewey Decimal System. The instant gratification tablets in education provide make accessing knowledge easier – but does that make it better?
As more schools get closer to reaching one-to-one tablet goals, more than just budget constraints need to be addressed. Questions of work ethics and the value of traditional, non-digital learning methods need to be asked too.
What about how adopting mobile technology has affected teachers? As mobile technology continues to steal the spotlight in K-12 classroom methodology, certain areas of study tend to be gravitating towards the trends more strongly. In 2014, an Education Market Research report found that 28 percent of class time for math-based courses is spent using digital tools or interacting with digital content. The report goes on to outline a strong shift towards digital teaching methods for math since 2009. While students’ positive response is one of the reasons mobile technology is rapidly gaining speed, EMR’s report says that educator enjoyment of the technology is also a contributing factor to its snowballing implementation.
The conversation about the benefits of mobile technology for students is constant, but should there also be a discussion about educator preference? It seems the debate is always student-centric, but for these students to excel, teachers need to thrive too. This means administrative plans beyond simply purchasing mobile devices, or implementing bring-your-device policies that include teacher empowerment of the technology.
Mobile technology has potential to change the student-teacher dynamic for the better but only if implemented correctly. Here are a few ways I think all teachers can benefit from smart mobile technology use:
Higher engagement levels. At least at the outset, use of mobile technology in K-12 classrooms will mean more students are interested in the class material. It remains to be seen what will happen once the novelty effect wears off, but perhaps by then mobile learning will be even more advanced than it is today, capturing students’ attention in new ways. Part of the interest in mobile learning from students’ perspectives is the flashy, fun element but the bigger attraction is empowerment. Lessons leave the blackboard and take place at the desk, giving students more control over it. Higher engagement from K-12 students who use mobile technology is a direct result of a feeling of ownership on the part of the student, whether perceived or not.
Convenient progress tracking. Mobile education applications keep electronic records of where students succeed and where they need more help. This provides a great service to teachers who lack the time and resources to create customized learning plans based on student work profiles (though there are certainly some teachers who do put in this time, painstakingly). When students learn through mobile technology, teachers benefit from the convenient reporting. There is no guesswork on what skills need sharpening, particularly in areas like math. If an entire class population is struggling with a skill, the technology reporting signals to the teacher that the topic needs to be revisited. On the flip side, excess time is not spent on topic areas that are already learned.
Less paperwork. Mobile learning gives copy machines a break and amounts to less paperwork for teachers. Instead of students waiting for an in-class assignment to be graded and then redone, mobile applications allow immediate opportunities to try again. Sure, this is a practical perk of mobile learning, but it’s not to be underestimated. It makes the teaching AND learning process less cumbersome. In addition to fewer loose papers, mobile technology limits the amount of textbooks and other hard class materials that need to be carried around and stored in classrooms.
Anything that makes educators’ jobs a little easier, without sacrificing student achievement, benefits K-12 learning as a whole. The discussion of mobile technology in classrooms as it relates to students is vital but the teaching aspect matters a lot too. Schools need to provide resources for teachers to feel comfortable teaching though in mobile technology formats. This needs to happen in order for educators to really notice the positive impact it makes on their jobs.
There are many applications and services that are taking advantage of the trend toward mobile usage.
StoryBots is one of them. Founded in 2012, StoryBots focuses its educational resources for kids between ages 3 and 8 with personalized content. The mobile apps have been downloaded 3.4 million times, videos viewed 300 million times and books viewed 8 million times. Already 10,000 teachers across the country are in the StoryBots Educator Network which gives free access to the resources.
StoryBots Classroom helps ease the transition from pre-K to elementary by getting students excited to learn. Some of the specific offerings include:
- Math skills guidance, including standards-aligned math games
- Teacher planning tools – including class roster, lesson planner, group builder, and other tools that help educators manage their classroom and create custom plans to best suit their students’ unique needs
- Learning videos, with a library of 110+ animated musical videos that explore a wide range of topics, from shapes to healthy eating to outer space information.
- Learning video eBooks that help kids practice reading
- Activity sheets that include 20 printable books and 350+ sheets for teachers to use in their classrooms
Why might something like StoryBots be important?
The kids showing up to Kindergarten classes are much more tech-savvy than their predecessors five years ago. These digital natives are only a little older than the iPhone and they are used to a world where they are surrounded by technology, and where technology has evolved as they’ve grown.
Northwestern University reports that among children 8 years of age and younger, 21 percent use smartphones regularly for activities that range from texting to using educational apps. Common Sense Media found that 72 percent of children age 8 and younger have used a media device for watching a show, playing a game or engaging with educational apps, and that 38 percent of children under 2 have used a mobile device for media.
Children are no longer satisfied with seeing their favorite characters on a TV screen; they want to interact through mobile applications, YouTube videos and more. It presents new challenges for the early teachers these kids encounter who must find ways to keep students’ attention while focusing on the important early lessons of their academic careers.
It seems that technology companies caught on early that there was a demand from parents for high-quality educational apps and other tech offerings that targeted young children, but the road to creating that content for classroom settings has been slower. That’s starting to change though, much to the benefit of teachers.
StoryBots, originally envisioned as an early childhood education resource for parents, has just launched its Classroom platform. It takes the best of what StoryBots has always offered — learning videos, interactive reading, activity sheets, and more — and ramps it up to work for classroom settings.
Another app, the award-winning Bloomz app, is a teacher communication application that provides real-time updates, event and volunteer coordination (including parent-teacher conference signups), and community-building tools to engage with today’s generation of parents. The highly rated app also allows schools to be proactive with their communication, helping teachers reduce communication and coordination time, and getting parents and families involved.
Then there is ClassFlow, an award-winning, free collaborative learning application from Promethean. ClassFlow helps teachers create interactive lessons and assignments that encourage the active participation of every student. The latest expansion includes thousands of ready-to-teach interactive lessons curated by experts, extended collaboration opportunities for students, free student accounts, and rewards to reinforce students’ positive behaviors.
With the latest release, ClassFlow now offers free, teacher-approved interactive lessons and collaborative lesson building. With collaborative lesson building, students can now simultaneously build projects together as a team. They can also create lessons together, demonstrating mastery of concepts—an especially useful tool for flipped classrooms and blended learning environments.
This evolving concept in K-12 classrooms is different from educational data mining. It focuses on individual students, teachers, and schools without direct implications to the government. Learning analytics are the education industry’s response to “big data” that is used in the business world for improvements and redirection of focus. Learning analytics show students what they have achieved and how their achievements match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.
One education database, eduCLIMBER, was actually created by a school employee and her systems engineer husband. Essentially Jaime Harris, a school psychologist at a small school district in Southern Wisconsin, started telling her husband anecdotally what type of a data system would help her to help more students. Matt Harris took those suggestions seriously, and built her a basic data source that centralized Jaime’s system of spreadsheets. She started using it, and so did some of the other school employees in her district. Soon, neighboring districts were asking for it too.
That path all started back in April of 2014. Today, eduCLIMBER is used by nearly 100 school districts and employs five people in addition to Matt. Jaime still works as a school psychologist and advises on ways to tweak eduCLIMBER to better fit the needs of educators.
In a nutshell, eduCLIMBER automates data activity and organizes it in ways that educators, administrators and district-level employees can actually use.
Districts that implement eduCLIMBER have access to a data warehouse. Matt Harris says he built eduCLIMBER to handle just about ANY format thrown at it so that schools do not need to re-build their data to make it adaptable. Educators spend less time collecting and organizing their data, and more time analyzing it. The Data Wall feature color-codes and organizes a lot of the information educators are currently doing longer ways – with colored pencils, magnets, hand-written notes and more. The eduCLIMBER data feature is a time saving efficiency that Matt says resonates most with users.
The eduCLIMBER system also features:
- data tools which are designed so educators can make adjustments during the learning process, and not simply analyze data at the end
- a fully customizable Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports suite to help students improve – and educators to track that improvement
- support and training, as it is important to Matt and his staff that everyone subscribed to eduCLIMBER knows how to actually use it.
The rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, has trickled down from college learning to K-12 education. Increasingly, K-12 educators are also coming to believe that all information on any given topic already exists. In effect, a growing number of people believe that content does not need to be re-created or purchased, and the idea has gained steam among K-12 educators specifically. Within the next three years, expect more shared content available to teachers and to students. Open textbooks, resources, and curricula are not the only benefit of an open content push; shared experiences and insights are also valuable teaching tools.
Are MOOCs the wave of the future, though?
With a steady stream of news that the price of college is quickly becoming too high for many Americans to afford, an alternative form of higher education may be how some future students learn. MOOC, or massive open online classes, offer free lectures and web based courses by some of the world’s best universities.
But according to NPR.com, MOOCs popularity never really took off. Because the courses are free and open to anyone with an internet connection, many believed that this type of offering would soon be the death of college.
Not so, or at least not yet.
According to a paper produced by Harvard and MIT for MOOC courses that both institutions offer, more than one million participants entered a HarvardX or MITx course between 2012 and 2014.
While those numbers may seem high, it is important to remember that each course is free, though participants may choose to purchase a certificate of completion at the end.
The paper also found that nearly 40 percent of those surveyed who took one of the MOOC courses had a teaching background.
Overall, the study showed that MOOC is growing at a steady pace but not enough to pose a serious or significant threat to brick and mortar institutions.
That doesn’t mean that these free courses will soon be de-funded or that they will go away, this simply shows that it needs more time to cultivate and to figure out its appeal.
MOOC may still represent a new wave of how students will digest education in the future. Free may be good but quality has to be attached to it. As long as institutions that offer MOOC continue to give valued information through these courses, our future workforce and economy may be better because of it.
Also known as prototyping, 3D printing will allow K-12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications. The STEM Academy has already partnered with Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company, to start integration of the technology in programming classes.
Holography was just science fiction a few years ago, but it’s now becoming a reality in some fields, such as medicine. This imaging technique, which allows one to see a 3-D view of an image, has yet to become a part of everyday classroom activities. Holography introduced in classroom activities would change entirely how some subjects are taught. Biology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry could be taught on an entirely different level (S. H. Kim & Bagaka, 2005).
These tools are variations on calendar software. They can be used to schedule your appointments, or you may want to take advantage of more complex features. Some tools can be viewed online, affording access for more than one student at a time. A teacher can arrange appointments or make a note of due dates for assignments so that all students in a class can keep track of such details. Most of these tools allow the option to put some information in private mode, too, so the administrator can choose which calendars people can see and which cannot. Most of these tools include a feature allowing teachers to arrange meetings and groups.
Experiential education has been used as an instructional method for years. Field trips have always served to introduce students to real-world issues, to supplement learning by helping students get a fresh perspective on what they have learned in books. Technology using virtual reality, however, has introduced new levels of experiential education. Virtual 3-D worlds allow students and teachers to visit places otherwise impossible to visit without it. They can go to space, deserts, or foreign countries without physically traveling there.
Natural user interfaces
In its simplest definition, a natural user interface (NUI) uses the body’s movements to achieve certain outcomes. In the consumer market, examples of NUIs include the Nintendo® WiiTM, Xbox KinectTM, and the iPhone virtual assistant, Siri. The potential in the field of K–12 education is still being realized but will certainly lead to developments in the next half-decade. Students who are blind, deaf, or have physical disabilities or autism can better learn through use of this still evolving technology.
We are living in the midst of a tremendous upheaval in the fields of technology and communication. Advances in technology have influenced every aspect of modern life and are having an enormous impact on education. Technology can promote student engagement, immerse students in real-world issues, enhance discussions and workshops, and facilitate formative assessment.
Students today are often digital natives, very familiar with technology. But there’s a significant digital divide between students with access to technology and students, mostly from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who don’t have the same level, range, and consistency of access.
The new technological advances can be helpful, but there are some associated problems. Students may spend too much time using their devices and the Internet includes information that may be harmful as well as helpful. Without clear parameters, teachers may become overly focused on technology to the detriment of information transfer.
Although there are pros and cons to most forms of technology and most technology-related education concepts, there is so much to look forward to when it comes to K-12 classrooms. The concepts and technologies that I have discussed will allow educators to better prepare students for the rest of their academic careers and for lifelong success.
Help! I’m worried about the tech takeover of the K-12 classroom
With all these exciting and powerful advances, can technology in the classroom possibly be bad? Would it be best to leave technology outside the classroom?
Most of the so-called “disadvantages” of technology in K-12 classrooms cannot be avoided, even if every instructor in every school swore off computers, mobile devices and all other forward-thinking educational platforms. Whether teachers use technology in lesson plans or not, it exists outside classroom walls and therefore influences the way children learn. Perhaps the biggest downside when it comes to rapid technology change is that children now expect instant answers. Screen culture has made it so finding the solution to problems takes only a few seconds (with the help of a search engine) and so any long version of finding an answer is viewed negatively.
The ever-present educator mantra of “show your work” is devalued as K-12 students look only at the practical side of obtaining knowledge and care little for the process involved in finding their own answers in their own ways. This instant knowledge gratification impacts educators who must now teach the material at hand but also impart value for learning. Finding the answers used to be part of the academic challenge for students but now that search process has been significantly shortened. For educators to truly give students the tools to succeed, they must impart a passion for the pursuit of knowledge and break some of contemporary students’ reliance on technology to find the answers.
Love it or hate it, today’s teachers must embrace technology as a way of life in their classrooms. Resistance is futile at this point so educators must find a balance between the flash of technology and its practical benefits in the learning process.
To sum it up, communication has changed, and an enormous variety of information is now accessible to almost everyone at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger. Old-fashioned classrooms equipped only with books and chalkboards are long gone. In their place, we have new teaching techniques such as Internet research, experience-based education, virtual learning, and online live assessments are being introduced to meet educational needs in the Information Era.
Since technology is not going anywhere and does more good than harm, adapting is the best course of action.