Integrating Technology into the Classroom, Part I
Even 20 years ago, some of the technological perks we have available in the classroom couldn’t have been anything more than a figment of the imagination. How can educators and students make the most out of all these novel technologies? Here are just a few technology-powered trends in education, and a brief note on how these trends affect K-12 education today.
The Information Era began some decades ago. Since its inception, though, it has dramatically changed the way we educate our children. We live in a world of rapid change and the resemblance to yesterday is fleeting.
There are so many ways that academics are enhanced by technology that simply did not exist ten years ago. Today, students can benefit from online learning modules if a major illness or suspension keeps them at home. For students who are struggling under the academic and social pressures of traditional schooling, online learning provides an alternative to stay on track from the comforts of home.
And online learning is just a brushstroke on the contemporary portrait of learning technology. Within classrooms, teachers can encourage students to work individually on computer or mobile devices, freeing up some time to work in-person with those who might need the extra attention. Teachers can also communicate more effectively with parents and students regarding upcoming assignments, supplementary lesson plans and areas where students could benefit from extra practice. With browser-based technology, and cloud-based options, teachers can provide easy access to information and parents and students can log in at their convenience.
Technology is transforming the teaching process into one that is more interactive as well. Instead of waiting to see how much a student knows at the end of a term, progress can be measured in real-time – and adjustments can be made. Teaching is becoming less instructor-centric and more of a communal process.
We have seen a lot of advancement in education technology designed for the classroom, and to be effective, educators need to stay abreast of these new technologies and trends.
Let’s discuss some education technologies and trends that every teacher should know about. Some are old, some are new, and some nascent, but they all have viable classroom uses.
The first thing I want to discuss is a concept of technology that basically embraces mobile technology through the devices that students already own. As a kind of movement within education, BYOD has already gained momentum in many districts across the country, but should continue towards mass adoption within this calendar year. Places like Chesapeake Public Schools are already allowed to use privately owned electronic devices to access the wireless network on the school system’s filtered Internet. In Chesapeake, as in the other public and private schools where BYOD policies exist, students must sign a responsibility form that says they will only use the mobile device for academic enrichment while on school property. Students who bring their own devices into the classroom eliminate the initial costs and are also already comfortable with the technology. The downside is that not all students can readily afford such technology. Many must look for schools to develop technology financial assistance programs for families to help offset the full cost and maintenance of school-owned devices.
Customized learning experiences
Self-initiated and self-directed learning experiences are based upon the needs, preferences, and abilities of individual students. The traditional way to look at learning is via the creation and assignment of work by teachers in a one-size-fits-all approach for every classroom. Customized learning, however, allows students to direct focus on feedback techniques that provide strategies for improvement during the process, instead of waiting for a given test period see if the methods are working.
We can see the effects of customized learning at work through an effort made by a Southeast D.C. school to improve the learning outcomes of a school where one-third of the population is homeless. Ketcham Elementary School saw an 11 percent bump in math proficiency this past spring and a 4.5 percent rise in reading proficiency after less than two years implementing a computer-learning model that combines face-to-face teacher instruction with personalized online learning paths for students. To put those numbers in perspective, other test scores in the District barely moved in the same time frame.
Here’s another testimony to the effectiveness of customized learning experiences powered by technology.
It’s been almost a half-decade since education communities started pushing for an iPad for each student in classrooms. The amount of individualized learning available on tablets that are equipped with Internet technology is virtually limitless, making customized learning more possible than ever. Many school districts are still trying to reach this standard, of course, but in the areas where the iPad-to-student ratio is 1:1, that connectivity is making a positive difference.
Recently, Carl Hooker, the creator of iPadpalooza and director of innovation and digital learning at Eanes ISD (TX), was honored as 2016’s Thought Leader of the Year by PR with Panache! Hooker was recognized for his district’s personalized learning initiative that has put iPads in the hands of 8,000 students. He’s also the founder of iPadpalooza – an event that brings together global education leaders to talk about the role of technology in classrooms and beyond. Hooker is the author of the Mobile Learning Mindset series that approaches the technology of learning from a positive place.
In 2014, Hooker was also named Leader of the Year by Tech & Learning.
What leaders like Hooker are getting right is this: technology can benefit teachers and students when it is implemented correctly. Screen time can never replace the benefit of one-on-one teacher contact — but in classrooms where individual attention is scarce (and that’s most of them), tapping technology for customized learning can be a complete game-changer. Finding ways to extend technology resources to the schools that need it the most should be a goal of any progressive education advocate because within technology is the capability to reach more students with more customized learning experiences.
You can learn more about Hooker’s award and work by clicking here.
And there’s yet another contributor to individualized learning experiences that might surprise you.
Artificial intelligence: is it the next big wave in edtech offerings?
NPR reports that Pearson, the world’s largest education company, says artificial intelligence is already showing up in classrooms and could offer plenty in the way of assessment. An example of artificial intelligence at work in classrooms could entail software to provide instant feedback regarding students’ knowledge, progress and method of learning. This could potentially lead to the elimination of the need for standardized testing (it’s important to note here that Pearson controls up to 60 percent of the U.S. testing market, by some estimates). With more intuitive systems, however, students could feasibly be evaluated as they go — which leads to the next big question: Will this technology help or hurt students?
Current computer systems are able to provide the benefits of one-on-one tutoring and learning modules. This has allowed for customized learning options that were not even an option a decade ago. Additionally, these systems are also able to moderate and facilitate group discussions. These options allow flexibility and also give teachers more of an opportunity to guide advanced and remedial students at their own pace. In most cases, educators have embraced this type of technology because while it does automate some tasks, it benefits all parties.
Will artificial intelligence learning have the same reception though? At Pearson, the suggestion of a “lifelong learning companion” is in the works. These companions would escort students throughout their life assessing, encouraging, offering resources and suggestions to difficulties. Your companion would learn what you know and follow you throughout college and beyond. Can a “teacher” that lacks a human element really guide students in the best way, and understand the nuances of each individual learner?
The question of artificial intelligence in education is not really one of “if” but of “when.” It is projected by The World Economic Forum that by 2020, at least 5 million jobs worldwide will be automated. With computers taking over more jobs, it is imperative that we become advanced at building and interacting with software tools. To this end, President Obama has made a conscious effort to incorporate computer science courses for all U.S. students. If humans are no longer doing the jobs, perhaps they can invent the technology that does. This tech literacy is vital to the future economy but the implications are a bit overwhelming if you really stop to think.
While most of the education AI software is still in the development stages, advancing technology could drastically alter the landscape of how students learn. Will it end up improving classrooms and teaching methods? Or lower the standard of what is taught to our K-12 students?
Now, considering pros and cons of this concept, we must note that customized, or personalized, learning is often met with hostility, especially as teachers must relinquish some classroom control for this trend to really work. On the flip side, though, customized learning has the potential to incorporate a variety of resources, such as virtual learning, to aid in the learning process while allowing teachers to moderate one-on-one learning experiences in practical ways. I think that the idea of handing control to students is frightening to some educators and administrators but once attempted, even on a small scale, it is easy to see the benefits of personalized learning.
Virtual learning is certainly not new to the K-12 scene, but its increasing popularity is difficult to ignore. Once, only the world of distant learning embraced the process of online learning. Today, though, online learning is segmented and increasingly a part of a more traditional learning experience. It is no longer all or nothing. Distance learning has become mainstream and will continue to transform in-classroom learning in the coming year.
Virtual learning also makes it possible for parents, teachers and students to have access to information they may need regardless of their actual physical location. In essence, it expands the classroom and gives students more time and space to complete and comprehend their lessons.
Virtual laboratories are popping up in school districts and online learning curriculum across the country and making it easier and less expensive for students to do experiments remotely.
Benefits of the virtual labs include:
Flexible access. Perhaps the most often cited benefit of any online learning is convenience. The same is true of virtual laboratories if the experiments are on the student’s own time. In some cases, a virtual lab may be used during regular class time but still, in such instances, there is flexibility for the teacher who is not limited by using resources within a strict timeframe
Instant feedback. Students can redo experiments on the spot if needed. All the results are recorded automatically, making communication between teachers and students more efficient too. Experiments no longer have a “one chance” option and students can analyze what went wrong immediately and critically.
Schools and students using virtual labs have access to cutting-edge technology when it comes to experimentation. Companies that build and maintain virtual labs must compete with each other to stay ahead of technology progression and that raises the quality of student options. With a virtual lab, students do not have to settle on outdated, yet expensive, equipment because a school cannot afford to replace it consistently.
There is a fee associated with using virtual labs, but the capital and maintenance costs are drastically reduced. Instead of one school footing the bill for resources, the cost is split among the clients of the particular virtual lab. This allows school to provide a better learning experience for students at a fraction of the cost. Like all classroom technology, virtual labs demand scrutiny to ensure that behind the flashy capabilities, their true purpose is being met. That will take some time and testing, of course, but I think it is possible with the right combination of in-person and remote lessons.
Autism and iPads
Depending who you ask, the iPad has varying effects on children with autism – but most parents and teachers would say that the device has made in-roads in their students’ attitude towards learning. Experts at Apple say that iPads “cure” sensory overload and give autism children control, along with opportunities for effective communication. Using less extreme language, researchers at Vanderbilt University say that speech-generating devices, like iPads, can encourage late-speaking children with autism spectrum disorders to speak. In other words, the basic technology that is readily available in classrooms and many households may also support learning initiatives for children with a specific disorder that impact traditional learning.
The online tutoring company HelpHub uses an innovative way to match tutors with students, 24/7 and at times that are convenient for both. The unique platform connects students and tutors with each other over interactive messaging, web video and phone features that mean a tutee can find answers and help in the moment. Each interaction is analyzed and information that is helpful to the larger HelpHub community is used to begin online communities that center on particular schools, networks or topics. By utilizing the instant access to technology that already exists, HelpHub connects students and tutors in a moment and ensures that a frustrated student finds needed help quickly.
Online learning has revolutionized the way K-12 and college students are able to accomplish academic feats, despite circumstances that may have stood in the way of their success. Access to learning materials and even instructors via webcams provides flexibility to students who need options outside the traditional classroom setting.
What about tutoring, though? The supplemental education services industry is expected to make over $10 billion per year annually in North America by 2017, and it’s no wonder. As students face higher pressures in classrooms, companies like Sylvan and Kumon make millions every year by encouraging parents to bring in their students and pay a premium fee to have them tutored one-on-one.
Aside from the cost, tutoring outside school hours is inconvenient for both parents and students who already have tight schedules. After a day in school, kids are not keen to head back into a traditional learning environment, which can mean a lot of extra tension between parents and kids that surrounds an already-anxious experience. No one likes to feel lost in subject material but the traditional tutoring setup is just too rigid to work for everyone.
But what if the same flexibility that is afforded to regular K-12 and college classes was extended to tutoring too? Of course, many online tutoring options are already available, but as an industry, online tutoring lacks the sophistication of the larger-scale academic offerings. As demand for this form of flexible learning rises, though, tutoring in remote ways will see a spike in popularity and availability.
Students are already native online learners and virtual tutoring could open the doors for a lot of breakthroughs – and at a greater convenience and lower cost to students. These emerging companies just need to look for ways to set themselves apart from the outdated model of in-person tutoring to provide the most help and succeed.
Cloud computing has taken the business world by storm. Climate controlled rooms full of servers are quickly being replaced by remote storage technology, whimsically referred to as “the cloud.” Over half of U.S. businesses use some form of cloud computing to back up their important data and improve productivity. Instead of trying to find the capital to pay for a secure server structure, businesses are subscribing to cloud services and paying for more storage as their needs grow.
The practical uses of cloud computing technology also translate to K-12 classrooms. When it comes to greater educational collaboration, cloud computing has unlimited potential. This is true for teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent, and teacher-to-student applications. By using a common location, academic expectations can be better accessed, along with actual student work. Instructors can also share learning materials and experiences through the remote opportunities that cloud computing provides.
Simply put, cloud storage saves space, money and time for teachers, parents, students and administrators. A report by CDW Government found that over 40 percent of schools use cloud applications to store their data and by 2016, schools are expected to spend 35 percent of IT budgets on the cloud. The savings add up though. Right now K-12 schools report that their cloud initiatives are saving them an average of 20 percent on IT costs. By 2016, those savings are expected to reach 27 percent.
So how exactly are K-12 schools using cloud computing and what are the benefits? Let’s take a look:
Stronger communication through access. Through K-12 cloud platforms like Edline, teachers have better communication with parents and students regarding assignments, tests and projects. Parents can log in from anywhere (including their phones or tablets) and instantly know how their kids are progressing. Teachers can post important messages and keep an archive of completed work in one spot. Depending on the school, cloud forums may even allow parents and students to contribute in the application for a two-way dialogue.
Disaster planning. Schools collect a lot of information on their students and that data impacts decisions and the well-being of the kids. It takes a lot of time to build student databases and maintain them. If a man-made or natural disaster threatened the physical location of school records, whether hard copies or stored on servers, it could mean a catastrophe when it comes to student information. Using cloud computing ensures that student records are secure and accessible, no matter what happens to the physical school building.
One-stop shopping. Cloud platforms are able to bring together data pools that were previously unconnected so that educators and administrators have everything they need in one spot. Since there is no physical equipment that schools must purchase to get started with cloud computing, there is also a pay-as-you-go mentality. Schools do not need to pay upfront for infrastructure and can add cloud storage as their needs increase. It saves money, space, time and other resources.
Fast recovery of data. If you’ve ever experienced a server crash on a personal or professional level, it can be a long time while you wait for your information to come back. Cloud-based businesses recover data quickly and often handle any technical issues that might arise in a “crash” situation. A word that is often associated with all cloud applications is “redundancy” because the technology eliminates any chance of single-point failure.
Some peripheral benefits of cloud computing are decreased energy costs and high security features to ensure protection and privacy of student information. As K-12 schools move toward cloud computing, student information will be better preserved and shared content more accessible. While use of the cloud does not have a large direct impact on classroom activities it does improve teaching efficiency overall. It also has long-term savings attached which is always a bonus when it comes to K-12 technology spending.
Here’s an example of a tool that uses the cloud to make handling classroom affairs easier. The Canary Learning system allows teachers and students the ability to log in from any internet-connected device to see upcoming lessons, assignments, and due dates. Launched in early 2015, Canary Learning allows teachers to have all of their assignment details in one centralized spot – and allows them to grant access to students.
Alternative input devices
These tools are designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily. Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards, and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands, or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area is sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology that is providing K-12 learners with disabilities better use of computers and mobile devices for learning.
This technology is making mainstream waves through its use in popular cell phones like the Android-platform Razr M. While it is a convenience tool for people without disabilities, speech-to-text provides a learning advantage for students who have mobility or dexterity problems, or those who are blind. It allows students to speak their thoughts without typing and even navigate the Internet. Speech-to-text options can also “talk back” to students and let them know about potential errors in their work.
Language Acquisition through Motor Planning, or LAMP, connects neurological and motor learning in a way that makes communication easier for students with autism and related disorders. These principles have proven especially helpful for students who do not speak or have very limited verbal skills. Paired with technology, LAMP principles empower a growing student population with autism to effectively communicate and reach higher academic achievements. LAMP is present in technology – from specially made computers to learning apps.
Depending on developmental patterns, children may need to learn differently than their peers. Instead of ABCs and numbers first, a child with language delays may benefit from bright pictures or colors to learn new concepts. Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools, or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.
This technology is slightly different from text-to-speech. It simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or visually impaired can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who otherwise struggle to glean information from a computer screen can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them.
It’s obvious that classroom technology is making learning and teaching easier than ever. Thanks to technology, students now have better opportunities to thrive, and teachers can now breathe a small sigh of relief as their jobs become a little easier.
But these named trends only scratch the surface. Want to know what other technologies in the Edtech space you just can’t miss? Stay tuned for Technology in the Classroom, Part II.