An introduction to integrating technology in the classroom

What is integrating technology in the classroom?

Integrating technology in the classroom is how a teacher incorporates some form of technology into their teaching practice to enhance learning by their students. This technology could be as simple as a data projector showing presentations or videos to something as complicated as an app-based assessment tool. Research has shown that technology increases student engagement and encourages teachers to explore new approaches to pedagogy. A virtual classroom, or virtual learning environment, could be seen as one result of integrating technology in teaching and learning. Technology becomes the frame in which education takes places. 

Why is integrating technology in the classroom important?

Marc Andreessen famously wrote an article titled Why Software Is Eating The World. Teachers and students are both parts of a society that is rapidly digitising. The much-hyped 21st Century Skills and Fourth Industrial Revolution are a reality today. From finance to health and everything in between, the world is driven by technology. Teachers need to embrace digital tools to adapt their teaching process to benefit from these tools’ advantages. Ideally, this is integrated into the curriculum, offering students new ways of engaging with educational content to improve their outcomes. When face-to-face teaching is not possible, technology facilitates the communication between teachers and students, enhancing this relationship. Certain types of platforms also allow for collaboration amongst students, peer to peer learning or group work.

How are teachers using technology in the classroom?

Technology has been used in some classrooms for decades now. Think of the inconspicuous calculator in a science or mathematics class. Or the overhead projector some teachers became adept at using. Nowadays, there are a plethora of options available to tech-savvy teachers. The data projector or smartboard is standard in most classrooms, while teachers have a laptop on which to prepare lessons and create class presentations. Where allowed by school policies, teachers can use smartphones or clickers to take a class’s temperature. A quick quiz or poll can inform a teacher whether their students have understood a topic. Some schools have installed a wifi network and bought Chromebooks, opening up online research opportunities and using platforms such as Google Classroom. Teachers can use interactive simulations to illustrate how an engine works or conduct a chemistry experiment at the more advanced end of the spectrum. Some teachers have embraced online assessment platforms and learning management systems when it comes to assisting in class management. For those teachers comfortable with recording their lessons, podcasts or video lessons can be made to allow students to refer back to for revision.

Presentation software was one of the first technologies widely adopted by teachers

What are examples of technology in the classroom?

  • Gamification of learning – this is the process by which goals and challenges are applied to learning objectives. Students can win badges by competing against each other, and a scoreboard listing student achievements can be presented. Many online learning platforms or apps have a gamified element, but teachers could also take key features from gamification and integrate them into their teaching.
  • Online field trips – due to costs or other restrictions, sometimes it is impossible to go on physical field trips. With a bit of creativity and tools such as Google Maps, teachers can now put together virtual field trips. Many cultural institutions have digitised their collections, and these are freely available online. Some of this material is released under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can get your students to adapt or remix content as part of the field trip. Google Arts and Culture have an incredible collection of museums you can visit virtually and top attractions in several countries.
  • Student feedback – for any of us who have stood in front of the class, one of the key things we think about is have our students understood what they have just been taught. Digital tools such as apps on mobile phones can facilitate this type of feedback either through a simple quiz or a rating system.
  • Digital content creation – most of your students may already be creating content online, through posts on Instagram or TikTok videos. Teachers can harness this experience to submit assignments as videos or podcasts. 
  • Online classroom calendar – a classroom calendar is an excellent tool to get students engaged with digital technology. They’re useful and easy to use, plus you can upload relevant files such as documents to the calendar event.
  • PowerPoint or Google Slides – for teachers with access to a data projector, presentations are an excellent way to structure a lesson or introduce a topic. Images, video and animations can all be added to the slides in a presentation. Students can also be encouraged to put down their thoughts in a slideshow and use this to present back to the class.
  • Research as homework assignments – the internet is the world’s greatest research tools. Homework assignments can encourage students to research a topic, summarise their findings, and present them back to the teacher or fellow students. These projects also require some media or internet literacy level and an understanding of what sources would be considered appropriate to use.
  • Online assessment or grading systems – digital assessment holds the promise of saving teacher’s time and providing them with real-time feedback on student performance. Quick quizzes can show teachers if most learners have understood a topic. Regular short class tests (low stake) have also been shown to improve student retention.
  • Communication – technology in the classroom has revolutionised the way teachers and students and students and students now communicate. Email, instant message, and video calls have all contributed to how a teacher can share information with their students and how students can collaborate or communicate with each other to support learning.
  • Online resources or platforms – an online repository, course, or e-book allows a teacher to set extension or remedial work to students. These students can then learn at their own pace, moving ahead or revising where needed.
  • Social media – some teachers and schools are wary of using social media in the classroom. Issues around distraction are valid, but the astute teacher can use social media elements to engage students in learning. For example, students can explore popular hashtags to see trends in popular culture or news media. Students can also be encouraged to create their hashtags to share their work and discuss each other’s
  • Simulations and models – one of the original promises of technology in the classroom was displaying simulations of, for example, chemistry experiments. Digital models now allow students to dissect animals or take apart the engine of a car, using interactive tools to manipulate these models virtually. 
  • Online mind maps – students can use mind maps for class brainstorms with the results applied to create infographics explaining difficult topics.
  • Collaboration – a critical 21st Century Skill is that of collaboration. Google Docs and other online tools allow students to work together as a group and collaboratively write and edit a document.
  • Open Educational Resources – teachers and organisations have created free educational resources or OERs for several years now. These are educational material, such as an e-book, animation, presentation or image, licensed under a Creative Commons license for use by teachers in the classroom. In most cases, teachers and students can adapt, share or print these resources.
  • Learning Management Systems – the learning management system or LMS is an ideal tool to remove some of the teachers’ admin burden. This technology is an online platform that can keep performance and biographical data on students and deliver content and assessment. Popular LMS’s include Moodle and Blackboard.
  • Digital portfolios – portfolios have been used for many years to assess creative subjects such as art and design. A digital portfolio draws on this same concept. It is a collection of work that has been completed digitally and shows proficiency in a set number of learning objectives. These portfolios can be hosted in custom-built software or on a file sharing service such as Dropbox.
Teachers and students have access to digital resources, including OERs

But is technology useful in the classroom?

Yes, it is, for several reasons:

  1. Technology encourages teachers to broaden their lesson planning and delivery approaches while simultaneously engaging students in the learning process. Teachers move from the role of didactically presenting content at the front of the class to a subject specialist, advisor or coach.
  2. The use of non-traditional learning aids, such as interactive apps or simulations, provides new entry points to topics or concepts.
  3. The use of technology in the classroom can develop students’ practical skills such as online research, compiling presentations and content development.

These skills are transferable across subjects and student’s lives outside school. Through some online platforms, students can develop 21st Century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills.

How technology enhances teaching and learning?

When digital resources are made available for a class, students can progress through this material at their own pace. In some cases, this may mean repeating a section they find difficult or moving ahead of the class on topics they understand. This allows the teacher to provide individual interventions as needed. Technology also facilitates collaborative and peer to peer learning, allowing students to work together to understand better a topic or concept, a highly effective problem-solving approach.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using technology in education?

Technology is changing the way we work, live and teach. Schools and teachers need to embrace technology and integrate it as best they can into their pedagogy. Studies have shown that in most cases, this will enhance teaching and learning in the classroom and improve student performance. In others, this may prove to be a distraction. 

Communication tools have revolutionised the way teachers, students and parents can communicate

What are the benefits of technology in education?

Admin

The administrative load on teaching staff increases every year. Digital tools such as learning management systems and online assessment can remove some of this workload by automatically storing student data such as attendance, engagement, or class tests results.

Data

Whenever we interact online, we leave a digital shadow or data trail. Suppose we are using a platform that collects data on specific aspects of what is done, e.g. class quizzes results, and providing this data in an easy to understand dashboard. In that case, the teacher can see class progress and understanding of work covered, and the student can track their performance. We are at the early stages of learning analytics and what can be gleaned from educational data mining.

Engagement

Studies, both qualitative and quantitative, have shown an increase in student engagement with the introduction of classroom technology and digital resources. This leads to teachers experimenting with new ways of planning and designing lessons and students achieving learning objectives and, in some cases, increased performance.

Collaboration

For anyone who has worked in a remote team, the ability to collaborate simultaneously on a document in the cloud is one genuine benefit of technology. Students can make live edits and comments on a shared document or file, and these responded to in real-time. This technology allows for innovative approaches to group assignments and classwork.

Communication

Digital communication tools allow for quick and easy discussions between teachers and students and groups or classes. Email, instant messaging, shared calendars, and discussion forums can all be used to provide targeted, one-on-one communication to students or group messages to the whole class. These tools are also ideal for running peer review or peer to peer learning sessions and to improve parent-teacher communication.

Resources

The number of digital resources available to teachers is now mind-boggling. From e-books, courses and OERs specifically made for education to podcasts and YouTube videos that can be incorporated into a lesson; the options are endless. A good teacher’s task becomes one of selecting and curating these digital resources to enhance their teaching.

Advantages and disadvantages of technology in the classroom
Advantages and disadvantages of technology in the classroom

What are the disadvantages of technology in education?

Cheating

Some digital tools, in particular mobile phones and instant messaging, could lend themselves open to being used to cheat on a class test or exam. Teachers need to be aware of these dangers and do their best to mitigate them.

Costs

New technology is expensive, particularly when setting up the infrastructure to support technology in the classroom, such as a wifi network and devices for students. These costs can be avoided by adopting a bring your own device policy in a school. Ongoing operating expenses such as data and maintenance need to be budgeted for on an annual basis.

Disconnection

Students can turn off their cameras in a video call or begin browsing another application in the middle of class. Teachers need to be aware of this and keep track of all their students’ engagement levels, a sometimes tricky task when presenting a lesson and managing the digital resources needed.

Distraction

The internet has been described as a distraction tool. Within minutes of logging on to a lesson, a student could be aimlessly scrolling through YouTube videos, watching TikTok or communicating with online friends. Some schools ring-fence the apps that students can use during class to solve this problem, but it is difficult to control this when they work independently on homework assignments.

Management and training

Digital platforms such as learning management systems require ongoing management, mainly if they are hosted on the school’s server. E-books and commercial digital educational content come with a licensing and activation process that is sometimes confusing. On top of this, teachers and students need to be trained to use new tools and platforms, which can take time.

Media literacy

I firmly think that any use of technology in the classroom needs to be accompanied by an introductory media literacy course. With the explosion of fake news stories online and new conspiracy theories posted daily, students need to decide on the validity of the content found online and identify legitimate sources of information for assignments.

Technological inequality

Within school districts and even within schools, there can be a disparity between students regarding the technology they have access to and are familiar with. For example, one student could have fibre internet at home and their own laptop while another student is required to use the computers at the school lab to finish their assignments. The teacher’s responsibility is to identify a baseline in their class and build from there so no one student is unfairly disadvantaged.

Privacy

The flip side of tracking and using student data to improve class administration and track performance means that the teacher or school is responsible for securing this data. Different countries will have differing laws on governing data (mainly children’s information), and these will need to be followed. A breach in data could have a negative influence on parents and schools adoption of technology in general.

Integrating technology in the classroom is a somewhat delicate balancing act, based on your school’s location, resources available and enthusiasm of parents and students. If done correctly, I think the benefits far outway the disadvantages. I’d be interested in hearing comments from teachers’ experience in the field, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions left below.

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