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Technology is inescapable in modern society. Our students encounter it in almost every part of their lives, and they are more comfortable using technology than they are many “old fashioned” mediums.
So why has the education sector been so slow to adopt technology into lesson plans and classroom experiences?
To get ideas about how educators can incorporate more technology into their teaching plans, we talked to 12 experts to get their advice on what the next steps should be. Hopefully some — or all! — of these will spark new ways to engage students of all levels with the material, and make learning fun again.
1. Educate Yourself First
As Parents Countdown to College Coach Suzanne Shaffer noted, the students are very likely more tech savvy than the teachers these days. That means teachers need to spend some time doing research about the various tools and resources available for their grade level, and understand exactly how they work, before ever introducing them in the classroom. And if you plan to use tools that get parents involved — be it actual interaction or just the ability to view progress — keep in mind that they will have a different learning curve as well. If you don’t have all the answers on how to use that particular tool, take the time to learn them before using the technology in the classroom for the first time.
Tom Kuhlmann from The Rapid E-Learning Blog agreed, noting, “It's easy to become enamored with the bells and whistles of new technology. This can be frustrating if people have to constantly switch between new things and the novelty of the tech wears off fast.” He suggests educators focus on tools that are intuitive to learn and use, so students can spend their brain power on the lessons, and not on the tools. On the flips side, however, he points out that choosing the right tools can bring a huge boost to engagement. “Integrating technology into your lessons is great especially when it allows the learner to create and share content that demonstrates their understanding and learning progression. It also allows them to add creative flair which helps engage them.”
And don’t just focus on the technology you plan to introduce to your classroom right now. Fern Smith, with Fern Smith’s Classroom Ideas, pointed out that educators should take advantage of every opportunity they can to learn about various classroom tools. “Take advantage of as much technology training as possible. You might not have that exact hardware or software in your classroom now, but you will eventually,” she pointed out. Plus, having a working understanding of how a wide range of tools work will make it easier to understand and use the tools you do get in your own classroom down the line.
“My simple advice is to innovate like a turtle,” advised Vicki Davis, The Cool Cat Teacher Blog. “Take tiny steps daily. Schedule 2-3 times a week to take 10-15 minutes to learn new things. Keep a list of the next three things you want to do next. Not 50 or 10, three. You can do this in small steady steps. It has worked for me!”
2. Ask your students
If you are overwhelmed as to the options out there, or you don’t really see how technology could possibly improve your classroom, as long as it is age-appropriate, don’t be afraid to engage your students and ask them what they want to see more of. “Our students know far more about technology than we do,” said Jane Goodwin, Scheiss Weekly. “Ask them how they wish their instructors and curriculum used tech, take their advice, and ask them to contribute to a lesson plan using three different types of social media and a traditional lesson.” Not only will you learn more about which technologies your students are using right now, but they will be more likely to engage and remember the materials if they feel like they have a stake in the curriculum. It becomes a win-win scenario all around.
3. Don't oversimplify
There is a tendency to want to simplify the tools in the classroom so anyone can use them, but the danger is that when you underestimate what students are capable of using, you run the risk of alienating them more than if you had used more traditional, non-technology methods.
“Use the technology you use for yourself,” stressed Jim McGee, McGee’s Musings. “What I mean by that is that you should use technology in the classroom in the same way you use technology every other day. Don’t oversimplify the technology to make it easier; trust that your students are at least as good with technology as you are. Your goal should be to equip your students to take the technology examples from your classroom back to the work they might do anywhere else. Get your students to think of technology as one more tool for understanding the questions they will encounter outside the classroom.”
4. Tech with Purpose
First and foremost, Scott McLeod with Dangerously Irrelevant noted that “Technology integration should be purposeful. That very simple statement should be at the heart of any educator's technology-infused instruction.” He went on to note that just using technology for the sake of having it isn’t going to do students or teachers any good. Rather, he pointed out that educators should constantly be asking themselves ‘technology for the purpose of what?’ and then use the answer to that question to help drive students toward fully embracing the materials, rather than just memorizing and regurgitating lists of facts and information.
“Technology exists to help us do what we want to do, not to dictate what we will do,” agreed Diana Senechal, Take Away the Takeaway. “In the classroom, technology comes in handy when it serves the lesson: for instance, by showing three-dimensional geometric shapes or broadcasting a historic speech. Use it only when and where you need it; technology does best when combined with good judgment and sense.”
“When used well, technology can be an amazing accelerant for student learning. According to research, the use of technology to explore, design, and create is worth the money,” agreed Thomas Murray. He went on to note, “However, when technology is used for technology's sake, or for what may be one of the most prevalent practices, the ‘digital drill and kill,’ it's a waste of both time and money. So, I ask you... what type of devices are in your schools? Are they being used as ‘digital worksheet storage hubs?’ Or are they being used to truly unleash student genius? If we are truly going to prepare students for their future, and not our past, leveraging technology to leverage student genius is key!"
5. The Wow Factor
Technology is about more than just new ways to access the same information. It allows educators to add an element of “wow” to their lessons. “It is sure to draw your student's attention into what you are teaching. I believe when you take it a step further and teach students to then interact with the same technology, you are able to drive the concept home and make a lasting impression. The more you allow your student to use technology to interact with concepts the more engaged they will be,” said Monica Schroeder, The Schroeder Page. She went on to detail a few of the ways she has made use of modern technology in her own classroom. “I use technology from the moment they come in by signing in on our smartboard, using iTunes for transitions, then adding in our daily lesson plan into our Google classroom with links to videos, Google forms, Websites, online book reads, and so much more. A successful use of technology is not just an add on during one lesson, it is allowing technology to become a part of the classroom structure and daily routine.”
“There are many new and emerging educational technologies that facilitate engagement, interaction and ease the learning process,” noted Ray Schroeder, Online Learning Update. He pointed out that while technology should be thoughtfully introduced, it is a really exciting time to be in education. “We are approaching an exciting new era where artificially intelligent assistants will further facilitate faculty creation of effective technology-enhanced learning,” he noted.
6. Just Do it
To quote a famous sneaker marketing campaign, when it comes to technology, “just do it.” “Because our society is transitioning from paper and pens to computers and touch screens, teachers and caregivers should evaluate the importance of integrating technology in children's lives,” said Ilinca Sadoveanu. She went on to point out that, “Technology is ubiquitous, and in order to keep up with the rest of the world, we need to start learning how to take advantage of it. Children need to be appropriately exposed to tablets, laptops, and computers from an early age. That doesn't mean that they should be given one of these to use every day, but rather children should be taught that when they don't know the answer to something they can look it up online, or that they can learn about numbers and shapes through apps, or they can even take photos and use them to decorate the learning environment. Knowing how to use these tools can fuel their thirst for knowledge.”
Technology and education don’t have to be at odds with one another. In fact, technology can enhance lessons and classroom experiences, engaging students with the materials and instilling a passion for learning that will carry through long after they have moved on to the next stage in their lives. That doesn’t have to mean integrating every single “new and improved” tool that crosses your path, but it does mean that educators need to be students themselves, always learning more about the tools being introduced so thoughtful, meaningful technological tools that enhance today’s experience can be used appropriately at every grade level.