Does technology help students learn better? This is one of the most challenging questions for educators and those in educational leadership roles. Measuring the impact of technology on education—and specifically student learning—isn’t easy. We know that technology can both enhance and accelerate learning when used correctly, but we all know that “used correctly” is the critical portion of that statement.
We might start by backing up and asking ourselves this essential question about technology: What does it mean to a teacher to use technology correctly? Would all teachers even agree on the answer to this? I think most teachers know that merely substituting an interactive projector for an overhead analog projector isn’t improving anything unless the instruction changes—and therefore isn’t worth the investment. But what are some ways that technology can be used well in the classroom?
Getting the Most out of Classroom Technology
For me, there are two answers to this question. While both are good answers, one is better than the other. First, teachers use technology to help students learn and practice skills on their level. Technology allows us to see the data from question responses and know easily if students are struggling with any of the content. These online programs have students respond to questions at their own pace and level, and the tools usually start with some sort of pretest and place students on a continuum of learning for the topic or standards. Students work through problems and lessons on their own independently. There are, of course, many advantages to this type of learning. Data is easily accessible, the student learns at their own adjusted rate, and the learning is differentiated. Teachers who have the know-how and time can create this on their own, but there are dozens of free or affordable options for this kind of curriculum for students to learn from.
The second answer is the better one, but it is very different. Technology can allow students to process information in a completely new way. Instead of learning a skill through paper or leveled online curriculum, technology can allow for critical thinking and problem solving that can’t be done without technology. This could be a student creating a stop-motion video of a scene from a book, using a coded Ozobot to create different geometrical figures, or using WeVideo to recreate different endings to a story. Again, teachers with some skills are able to do this seamlessly in their classroom through the use of a variety of online options that are free or affordable.
In both of these answers, students can learn. Both are good for students and can help support teachers in the objectives they are trying to cover in the classroom. So, what makes one of these descriptions better than the other?
Monitoring Tech Usage
When it comes to individual online curriculum, there are a few areas of concern that need to be considered, if not addressed. Students spend a lot of time looking at a screen during their day. What role does a school have in monitoring this? Many of the online intervention programs suggest or even require a certain amount of time to be completed every week. With one of these programs for math, one for reading, an online writing option, and then using other tools like Google Classroom, students look at a screen for the majority of their school day. We know that even though these programs are good and getting better all the time, students still learn best from an actual teacher. There might be pressure to use the device in the classroom to justify the cost, and there is also an ease of use to this for teachers, but schools and teachers must guard against doing this too much. While these programs have their place in the classroom, they need to be monitored.
In thinking about how we can use technology to have students reach higher levels of thinking—like creating, analyzing, and evaluating—we need to consider the second model of use in the classroom. For the most part, online curriculum tools that focus on skills do not reach higher levels of learning. In order to reach those, technology must be used in a different way.
We know that learning is social in many ways, so learning with headphones on in isolation isn’t ideal. Early research into one-to-one device initiatives actually showed that students were better off having one device for two students. One to two doesn't sound nearly as flashy as one to one, but good educators understand why this might be the case. Working in unison and discussing the topic with someone deepens learning in a way that just using a computer cannot do. There is also the issue of technical know-how that helps all students. Students can be paired in a way that an expert can be paired with a student who has fewer skills with the device. Teachers have to monitor to ensure that one student isn’t just doing it all for the pair, but this is a good instructional model.
More than anything, technology can be the method and tool to deepen the learning experience for students. Think of how the complexity increases when a learning standard is brought into a technology integrated project. There is not only the knowledge of the original standard that is required, but the planning of using the tool, knowledge of the tool, and the details of design and presentation that can come into play.
Be sure to look for the second part of Leveraging Technology for Higher-Level Learning, which will focus on how these questions impact the way we invest in technology.
To learn how to use technology effectively in the classroom, check out Boxlight’s robust workshop and training portfolio.>>