Why should technology be used in classrooms?Educational technology can be used in classrooms both to do a better job of what we’re already doing, and to achieve new goals. Here’s an overview of the landscape.
More experiments, faster feedback
- Quickly and easily create and distribute materials electronically
- Get feedback from students in apps, through forms or in dashboards
- Use templates to iterate experiments and accelerate improvements
- Interactivity improves class participation
- Presentations including a range of learning styles and materials — imagery, videos, as well as text — improve engagement
- Meet student expectations of rich content and interactive learning
- Automate repetitive tasks
- Use templates to accelerate creation of teaching materials including handouts and homework sheets
- Use digital boards to show engaging content
- Track results through dashboards or apps
- School events and reports update automatically
- Teaching content can be sourced widely, compatible with contemporary technology
- Instantly and automatically access the most up-to-date source material, rather than relying on outdated textbooks, videos or DVDs.
Tech for lifeThe world is increasingly digitized. Knowing your way around technology is a life skill, and students need to be exposed to multiple ways to approach technology: as a toolkit, a news source, a means of expression, and more. ‘A 21st century view of learner success requires students to not only be thoughtful consumers of digital content, but effective and collaborative creators of digital media, demonstrating competencies and communicating ideas through dynamic storytelling, data visualization and content curation,’ says David Goodrum, Director of Academic Technology and Information Services at Oregon State University. Classroom technology can allow teachers to switch rapidly between sources to illustrate the modern importance of history skills like source attribution and analysis, or let students collaboratively create or interact with presentations.
The downsides of tech in the classroomTechnology can easily become a distraction. This has been true ever since teachers wheeled TVs on trolleys into the classroom to show video: utilizing technologies that students are familiar with using for entertainment purposes can encourage a less academic way of interacting with the materials. And the change from the usual classroom rhythms can encourage worse behavior among some students. Computers with internet access offer virtually unlimited opportunities for distraction, and students are often able to circumvent systems designed to manage their computer and internet use. Additionally, any technology that presents an interesting spectacle can distract students’ attention in class. Technology remains a net gain for educational outcomes, but implementing it isn’t risk-free. In a survey in 2017, 71% of teachers felt that personal devices were making it more difficult for students to pay attention — a 32% increase from the previous year.
How many teachers use technology in the classroom?Most teaching and learning now involves technology to some extent. About 63% of K-12 teachers use technology in the classroom daily, and usage is rising rapidly: it’s up 55% from 2016. Now, 80% of teachers say they have access to the tech tools they want in their classrooms, saying that just over half the tools they use have become technology-based. There is still a significant distance to go, with many teachers feeling the costs outweigh the benefits and 25% of those surveyed saying they felt intimidated by students’ knowledge of technology. The uptake of technology amongst educators isn’t limited to classroom installations or applications. Teachers increasingly turn to social media to easily collaborate with colleagues, and as early edtech adopter and social studies professional Glenn Weibe says, for some teachers, ‘Twitter chats are your best friend… even if you choose not to use Twitter as a teaching tool,’ suggesting that teachers ‘sit back and think about the possibilities of using Twitter as personal professional learning tool.’ However, the vast majority of edtech use is directly in the classroom.
What technology is used in classrooms?The main forms of technology used in classrooms are digital signage solutions, initially smartboards but increasingly more sophisticated solutions, as well as student portals, laptops and tablets, and learning software and apps.
Learning software and apps
Learning software includes tools designed to make common classroom tasks easier, or even to take over some of the heavy lifting of actual teaching and learning. Here are four of the big hitters you may have heard of:
Built to help people learn languages in a conversational way, with frequent quizzes and internal gamification, DuoLingo has over 25 million active consumer-level users. The school version of the app allows teachers to track students’ progress and create blended learning programs around the app.
Photomath lets you take a photo of a math problem and receive an automatically-generated solution, which shows step-by-step working-out and offers students multiple ways to solve the same problem. A million teachers worldwide use the app, and it blends well with a range of classroom teaching styles.
Quizlet lets you create and use digital flashcards. Once they’re created Quizlet builds games and quizzes around them to help you test yourself and learn. It’s available for iOS and Android.
EasyBIB generates citations from their source material. Of course it’s better to learn to use a referencing system properly, but when students get stuck, EasyBIB can rescue them.
Laptops and tablets
Sometimes schools allow an educational equivalent of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), but mostly they’re chary of letting students’ devices loose on their networks. Instead schools offer the use of tablets or school laptops, often Chromebooks. The low-cost laptops are becoming increasingly common in classrooms, with their easy integration into Google’s burgeoning educational ecosystem (a big selling point).
At schools and colleges, student portals provide a single point of entry for the institution’s online study tools, resources and administration. Many institutions will build a system that lets the student portal grant access to library, student email, and bursary and financial accounts and information as well.
Digital signage is one of the most consistent success stories in educational tech. Across educational levels, it consistently delivers.
Digital signage for higher education
The material displayed on higher-education digital signage can be complex, change radically across multiple locations (the humanities and physics departments will want to see different things) and involve multiple stakeholders. It’s vital to get input and feedback from those stakeholders, including both faculty and students as well as technical support staff; it’s equally vital to have a centralized dashboard from which this content can be controlled.
Rise Vision’s dashboard lets users control everything about their content: they can configure graphics, videos and text, set multiple different timings across the network for different pieces of content. Interactive content, live streams, and hosted video can all be inserted, and the browser-based interface mimics slideshow creation tools like Slides and PowerPoint so it’s already familiar. In large colleges, a ‘sub-company’ approach may be preferable to a single dashboard. Sub-companies are just catch-all categories that any entity — a department, a school or a campus — might fit into. If you consider how many larger colleges are multicampus and even international, it makes more sense to structure your digital signage backend so the Midwest and the Japanese campus each has control over their own content, than to have content for both managed centrally. Time zones, cultural issues, and course structures and contents could all be different enough to make that a really bad idea.
Digital signage in K-12 schools
The needs of elementary school students are different from those of college students. And the structures of the organizations they serve are different too, so it makes sense that the backend should be different. Digital signage for K-12 students has to manage big differences in age appropriateness while holding the attention of lifelong digital natives who can’t remember before YouTube, let alone before the internet.
Again, a dashboard helps. In a client call, digital signage company Visix quizzed some sixth- to eighth-graders on what they wanted from digital signage in their schools. In response, they said that they liked seeing information on upcoming events, holidays, scores and standings for sports, and reminders about deadlines and things they’d need to remind their parents of. But they also asked to see some inspirational quotes that might help them manage their day, as well as reminders to listen to others and be kind. We agree: students in K-12 schools need rich, informative signage. That’s one reason we provide an ever-growing range of template signage for events as disparate as Halloween and graduation day, aimed at students across the K-12 age range.
Our client, Kent School District, took an unusual approach to digital signage, using both kiosks and wall-mounted displays in their hallways. Their touch-interactive kiosks use two screens, one for advertising (which is their main source of funding for their digital signage project) and one interactive screen displaying news, internship opportunities, student grades and attendance, interactive maps of the building to help students and visitors orient themselves and check-in and check-out procedures, as well as registration services for new students. Many of these functions are typically hidden behind sign-in-only student portals, making them less easy and intuitive to discover and requiring a device of your own to access. Kent has made them accessible to students and visitors easily and instantly: the power of well-implemented digital signage.
Educational technology in the classroom works best when it’s integrated at the level of goals: considering what you want to achieve, then deciding how you can use tech to take some of the work out of it. That might mean using slideshow tools to reduce reliance on printed handouts, or creating a school-wide interactive signage solution like Kent did. As well as building technology into existing tactical goals, it’s good to zoom out a little and see that technology sometimes has synergistic effects that allow you to accomplish entirely new goals.