The world of educational technology is a rapidly changing universe, complete with hundreds of “must-have” tools for every classroom and every teacher. I am a firm believer in the power of educational technology in the classroom. The right tools can elevate a student’s learning experience to levels unfathomable to teachers who were in the field even a short ten years ago.
Would you like to take your students on a field trip to, perhaps, the Palace of Versailles, the Taj Mahal, or the Great Pyramids? Wait, your principal is against funding that trip? Too bad! Thanks to wonderful tools such as Google Earth and Google Cultural Institute, your students can experience these amazing wonders of the world without leaving your classroom. Perhaps you would like to create a more student centered learning environment by flipping your classroom. “Flipping” your classroom can feel like a daunting task. Fear not, teacher-friends! Many amazing tools are available, many for FREE, that can make your life as a flipped teacher much easier.
Due to the wealth of EdTech tools available, the obstacle for many teachers is not that tools are not available for their classroom, but how to choose the right tools for their students. How can we find the balance between integrating technology into our classrooms and allowing technology to overrun our classroom environment?
Like most teachers today, I sometimes feel overwhelmed at the sheer number of EdTech tools at my disposal. Which tool is right for me and my students?
Another struggle I face is whether or not the technology I’m using in my classroom is beneficial to my students. Am I using technology to benefit my students or am I using technology for the sake of using it?
To avoid these issues, I use the following three question test to determine whether or not an EdTech tool should be used in my classroom.
Does the tool allow my students to do/create something they previously were not able to do?
New educational technology tools can be extremely tempting, and why not? Many are awesome! Sometimes, I find myself ready to jump on the bandwagon of a new tool without really understanding how the tool would benefit my students. I teach high school Social Studies, so while a website that would allow my students to create their own hobbit would be phenomenal, it doesn’t quite fit into my extremely packed curriculum. (Wouldn’t that tool be awesome?!) However, tools like Google Hangout, Schoology, and HSTRY allow me to “techify” aspects of my curriculum, increasing student engagement in content like never before. My students were able to have a Hangout with our Congressman while he was in Washington DC. My students absolutely loved this activity because it allowed them to directly communicate with their Congressman. This was an amazing experience for my students because it made them feel as if their individual questions and concerns were actually important. We were also able to view his office in Washington DC (which was really awesome for them and me!), something we otherwise would not have been able to do without an expensive field trip to our nation’s capitol.
Anyone who has completed an online course in at least the past five years has most likely been assigned an activity that requires them to read a selection of text, respond to an open-ended question about their reading, and then discuss their ideas with classmates in a virtual setting. Tools like Schoology allow me to assign these “discussion boards” to my students, fostering an online forum for discussion of course related concepts. How does a technology aided discussion forum allow my students to do something they would not have been able to do without technology, you ask? Many of us, as students at least, do not love to actively participate in classroom discussions. Sometimes the quiet or shy students are pushed aside in discussions by the more dominant or louder students. In an online discussion environment, ALL students are REQUIRED to participate. It is quite rewarding as a teacher to “hear” the perspectives and opinions of all of our students!
Is the tool easily accessible for my students?
This requirement is vitally important to technology integration. Students must be able to easily navigate tools that I use in my classroom. Recently, my students were able to use an awesome interactive timeline creator called HSTRY. After creating an account, my students were easily able to navigate the site. I provided them with a class code which allowed me to access their timelines as they were creating them. The class code option is a fantastic feature of many EdTech tools and helps to create a more personalized learning experience for my students.
When choosing tools for your students, it is also important to consider the device/operating system to which your students have access. Are you a 1:1 school? Do your students bring their own devices to your classroom? Does every student have the same device for classroom use? Sometimes, a website provides a wonderfully creative tool that works beautifully on a web browser, but lacks certain features on iPad or other tablet options. Moral of the story? Teachers, do your homework!
Does the tool detract from the focus of the lesson?
When I search for new EdTech tools, I force myself to reflect on this question. If I use this wonderful new tool in my classroom, how much time will I have to spend teaching my students how to use the tool? Instructional time spent on teaching students the ins and outs of a specific learning tool is not exactly well-spent instructional time. Websites or apps that I use in my classroom must be EASY for my students to use. I typically look for tools that either do not require a student account, or allow a GAFE single sign-on. The fewer usernames and passwords my students and I have to remember, the better! My students must be able to navigate the websites/apps with minimal supervision from me…which means they should be able to troubleshoot most issues they have. My goal in integrating technology into my curriculum is just that: to integrate technology. Technology does not and never should replace me as the teacher. However, as the teacher I should be guiding my students to understand our course concepts and related content, using the wonderful world of EdTech as a tool.
Hopefully, this list helps you sift through the seemingly endless pool of “must-have” EdTech resources and allows you to “techify” your classroom! Happy summer!
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.