Originally published on The Ed Tech Round Up 9/23/2015
Incorporating new technology in the classroom can be a source of excitement and dread, depending on a whole range of factors. Technology has the power to help support (not replace) traditional teaching methods — but too often, the approach to a plugged-in classroom is a misguided attempt to reinvent the wheel. Adding technology to your classroom won't necessarily change student learning fundamentals unless you and your teaching team are informed and empowered to use technology for what it is: a powerful tool that can amplify your teaching practice when incorporated as part of a larger instructional model.
With that in mind, immediately jumping into the newest technological craze can surely backfire: districts that purchase personal computing devices in bulk, without having a clear plan with their instructional leaders can end up with a bunch of fragile, expensive paperweights on their hands. These newer technologies, like smartboards (interactive whiteboards) can be incredibly useful game changers, but it's good to remember that teachers have been using technology in the classroom for years. Read on to learn about four of the technological building blocks that are easy to take for granted in your classroom, and give your technological approach a simple, inexpensive reboot.
The arguable grandfather of technology in the classroom, Internet access has become relatively commonplace for elementary, middle and high schools across the country. From communicating with students and fellow teachers via email, to accessing limitless research online, the Internet can truly expand students’ thinking.
If you've never used the Internet to supplement your lessons, a good place to start can be a research paper assignment. Don't assume your students will intuitively know how to use the Internet appropriately; thinking of all young people as "digital natives" can backfire in the classroom and lead to missed opportunities for learning and teaching. Build a unit that includes clear information on how to identify bias, cite sources appropriately, and determine what information is credible versus what is simply bogus. These lessons will provide a stronger foundation of technical savvy that students will hopefully continue to build into their college years.
Another great way to use the Internet in your lessons is to tap into the dizzying inventory of online videos. Informational videos can help build background knowledge and expose students to content-specific vocabulary, which will support their reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. If you're ready to go for the tech gold, you might even consider having a "flipped classroom" for a day, a unit or even the whole year. With this model, students watch videos to learn a great deal of content on their time, at home or at the library. In class, they use the face-to-face time to receive support from their teacher, and collaborate with peers to think more deeply about the content.
It's easy to forget about the many uses of the humble scanner. While scanners lack the bells and whistles of some more modern technology, they can be extraordinarily useful in bringing both historical documents and student work to life. When used in combination with an overhead projector or smartboard, teachers can teach students how to become better visual readers with a keen eye for detail.
Many schools, businesses and workplaces are going paperless to reduce waste and save resources. While the green approach is certainly admirable, judicious use of your classroom printer can be a great way to encourage students to publish and share their written work. Printing final research papers, creative works or even turning your printer into a press for a classroom magazine can build community and empower students to do their very best work.
Without proper training, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the presence of a high-tech whiteboard in your classroom, but these devices can make for some memorable teaching moments. In a national survey conducted by PBS, a whopping 93 percent of educators surveyed reported that they believed interactive whiteboards helped to enrich their classroom. If you have a board installed in your classroom, talk to your principal or instructional leader about getting the training you need to use your board appropriately. Now that these boards have become something of a fixture in many classrooms, you can also find a number of free, teacher-made resources online. Taking the time to figure out a new tool can definitely pay off with greater student engagement and greater gains.
How important is technology in education? As we move further into the 21st century, it's clear that it’s an ever-evolving part of education, and one that's here to stay. By brushing up on the basics, you can offer a more interactive experience for your students, and become more knowledgeable and excited for your own path as a plugged-in educator, capable of bringing the world to your classroom door.