The move from in-person to remote learning catapulted the use of educational technology into a main role in the classroom. However, even before the pandemic, teachers were exploring the use of technology to boost progress. From SMART boards to e-readers to educational apps, teachers are delving into the world of educational technology.
But is it a good idea? In this blog, we delve into the good and the bad of introducing educational technology, as well as how you can optimise the way you use tech in the classroom to improve learners’ attainment.
Many people attribute the increase of technology in the classroom as being a by-product of the pandemic, but this is technically untrue. Long before the pandemic, teachers were utilising interactive whiteboards, digital homework hosting applications, and even online quizzes that learners can participate in by using their phones. Slowly but surely, teachers and learners were realising the potential of technology in the classroom.
However, the pandemic did play a significant role in speeding up the process. The transition from in-person learning to online meant learners had to use technology such as virtual meeting rooms and homework applications to contribute to their lessons. In a way, this highlighted the immense potential of educational technology - learners from across the globe could dial into the same lesson, complete the same work and achieve great results from their computer.
But the success of online learning doesn’t detract from the importance of in-person learning. Relying on resources at home to participate in lessons resulted in a widening of the socioeconomic gap in the classroom - learners with more up-to-date technology at home found it easier to manage their own learning, while some students initially did not own a computer of their own. As well as this, online learning removed some of the opportunities for teacher-student interaction - a learner who receives high-quality conversation at home through supportive parents and guardians will have much better outcomes working remotely than a learner without access to these high-quality encounters.
The outcomes of online learning in the pandemic have highlighted that educational technology has an important role to play in modern day education, but that it does not replace in-person learning. While some learners may thrive in a remote learning environment, in-person learning has the potential to close language gaps and equip learners of all backgrounds with the skills they need to thrive. In order to harness the benefits of educational technology without compromising the benefits of in-person learning, teachers must strike a balance between explicit instruction and utilising educational technology to increase outcomes.
What teachers should consider when implementing educational technology
Types of educational technology
● Interactive whiteboards
○ One of the earliest types of educational technology to be introduced to classrooms was the SMART board. SMART boards let teachers retain all the instructional control of a regular lesson, while facilitating them to navigate content and create diagrams/examples easily.
● Mobile quizzes
○ Another common use of educational technology before the pandemic was mobile quizzes, where learners were able to join a whole-class quiz from their phones. This allowed learners to compete with their classmates while helping teachers gauge whether knowledge has been understood.
● Remote classrooms
○ Made essential during the pandemic, remote classrooms allow learners to join a virtual meeting with their classmates and attend lessons without coming to the classroom. Not only did this facilitate learning during the pandemic, but it removed barriers for learners with disabilities and additional educational needs, helping them participate in lessons where they might otherwise be restricted.
● Homework applications
○ These applications allow teachers to set assignments for their learners and host responses. This increases transparency, as there is a clear understanding of the work and the deadline with limited chance for miscommunication. It also limits some of the mayhem of loose sheets of paper, making marking simpler and easier (and homework harder to lose!)
● Spell-check software
○ While some argue that using spell-checker software to edit written work does not give an accurate representation of learners’ abilities, we must acknowledge the changing world around us. In the modern workplace, computers and spell-check software are used regularly to ensure written work is accurate; in some instances, it could be argued that spell-check software better reflects the world learners are preparing to enter, while allowing teachers to see clearly whether learners understand a concept, not whether they can spell it.
○ As well as this, spell-check software increases accessibility for learners with special educational needs, such as dyslexia.
● Online curricula
○ Some applications, such as Bedrock Learning, allow learners to access a personalised, algorithm-driven online curriculum. Technology has the capacity to personalise and optimise learning in a way teachers simply do not have the time to do, as well as saving teachers time on marking. Online curricula have the ability to bridge the gap between learning in the classroom and learning at home, allowing learners to practise their work independently in an environment that suits them.
○ As well as this, some online curricula, such as Mapper, allow teachers to create their own bespoke curriculum using online content premade by subject specialists. This gives teachers the control they would have in their classroom while utilising the time-saving abilities of educational technology, striking a balance between the two mediums of learning.
● Read more about types of technology in the classroom and how you can use them
Which lessons are best supported by educational technology?
○ Maths is very easily supported by technology such as homework applications. Software such as Hegarty Maths and MyMaths allows teachers to set maths homework to their learners, mark their responses, and understand misconceptions much faster than with paper homework.
○ Spell-check software allows teachers to mark learners on their ability to structure essays and their understanding of new material, rather than just their spelling and grammar (though these are important as well - educational technology is about balance!)
○ Online literacy applications such as Bedrock Learning support vocabulary and grammar improvement outside of the classroom, giving teachers back the time to teach the content that matters.
○ Subjects with a high amount of Tier 3 vocabulary benefit from explicit vocabulary instruction - this is very easily reinforced by mobile quizzes. These quizzes allow learners to test their knowledge of new terms using their own devices.
○ As well as this, Tier 3 vocabulary instruction is made easier through software that allows teachers to customise their own curriculum. This gives teachers the in-person control over their lesson plan, while harnessing the benefits of technology to save time marking and grading.
How technology can interact with in-person instruction
● SMART whiteboards
○ Technology like this is perfect for interaction with in-person instruction. Teachers have the freedom to display learning in the way that best suits their class without the limitations of a traditional whiteboard. This combines with in-person instruction techniques such as scaffolding.
● Homework applications
○ After a full lesson of in-person learning, teachers are able to assign additional homework tasks. This gives learners the benefits of the in-person lesson as well as the clarity that comes with setting homework online. Learners can quickly and easily reinforce new information learned in the classroom through online tasks, which are simple to collect and mark by the teacher at the end.
● Online curricula
○ The freedom of online curricula, such as Bedrock, is that teachers have the freedom to incorporate it into their classrooms or assign it as homework. Learners have the freedom to decide when and where they complete their work, which is marked automatically, saving teachers time. By using this technology, learners return to the classroom each day with their knowledge strengthened through practice at home, boosting their progress.
Pros of using technology in the classroom
Access to a wide variety of high-quality resources
Rather than being limited to the resources of your school or academy trust, educational technology gives teachers access to resources from around the world. Teachers have the freedom to share ideas with other teachers, whether that’s through a community learning hub or through social media. This saves teachers time and boosts the creativity of lesson planning.
Predict and personalise learning
With increasing class sizes, it’s more improbable than ever that teachers have the capacity to individualise learning for every single student. Luckily, educational technology has no limits. Using an algorithm, learning can be personalised for each student and tracked through continuous assessment, ensuring every learner is working to their optimal level. This level of specificity in their learning is not possible without the help of a computer algorithm.
Save teacher time
How much time do you spend marking? Planning lessons? Squinting to read students’ handwriting? Creating activities and quizzes to reinforce learning? Looking for loose homework sheets which are somewhere on your desk?
Educational technology has the power to cut through the fuss, giving back the time teachers desperately need in order to focus on the high volumes of content learners must know for their exams. Self-marking homework applications and the ability to share ready-made content online allow teachers to use their time more efficiently, helping to boost learners’ attainment.
Easily record progress
Data. We all know that many of the most important aspects of learning cannot be measured on a graph or a chart. However, when you’re trying to reassure parents of their child’s progress, or earn buy-in from colleagues, data is crucial.
Homework applications and online curricula have the ability to track learners’ progress and analyse it, giving teachers the tools needed to demonstrate learners’ achievements to others.
Encourage independent learning
One positive that came from remote learning throughout the pandemic was that students had the freedom to manage their own learning. However, while self-motivated learners thrived in this environment, students without supportive learning environments fell behind. That’s why combining the structure of in-person teaching with tools to complete learning at home strikes an effective balance - learners are taught new concepts in lessons, but are encouraged to practise these concepts independently.
Immersive and engaging lessons
We’d all like to think our lessons are fun and engaging, but some concepts will always be a little more interesting than others - take, for example, learning about volcanoes versus learning about the importance of a comma.
Educational technology makes use of multiple mediums of learning to keep students interested, such as engaging videos, activities, games, competitions and quizzes. In an increasingly online world, teachers are competing with social media for learners’ attention - educational technology uses these immersive techniques for learners’ benefit, boosting attainment.
Prepare learners for the real world
The world is changing. More and more professions rely on technology to thrive. You don’t see any typewriters in the modern day office!
In order for learners’ education to reflect the world they are about to enter, they should be immersed in technology from the start. This gives learners an advantage when they enter the world of work.
As well as this, the ability to use technology unlocks doors for careers in computer science, game design, digital arts and many others. To prepare learners for the real world, they must have access to the tools of the real world - educational technology provides this.
How much is your time worth? By saving hours that would usually be spent planning resources and marking, educational technology provides a cheaper solution to many paper-based options. Repetitive tasks can now be automated, fewer resources have to be bought, and learners can complete more of their work from one unified platform.
That is, unless you decide to invest in a SMART board. They’re still pretty expensive, but a good long-term option.
Cons of using technology in the classroom
It can be a distraction
Utilising technology in the classroom means the days of confiscating mobile phones are numbered - but do we really know what learners are doing on their phones when they have them out?
Opening the doors to technology in the classroom, especially learners’ own personal mobile phones, opens the door to potential distractions such as social media and mobile games. Unrestricted mobile phone access might be more of a distraction than a benefit to your students.
Cheating can creep in
Again, do we really know what learners are doing on their phones? How can you tell if a learner is Googling an answer to a quiz?
Technology cannot be relied on as the only way to gauge understanding. While online quizzes can be a fun recap activity, teachers should use a variety of methods to ensure all learners understand new concepts.
Technology can be isolating
This is something many people felt during the pandemic. Remote learning, while it gave students access to lessons from the safety of their homes, did not replace the community feeling of in-person teaching. It’s important to use remote learning technology, such as virtual classrooms, as an opportunity to increase accessibility for those who would otherwise be completely isolated, rather than using it as a complete replacement for the classroom.
It can be expensive
Educational technology like SMART boards and online curriculum subscriptions can take a chunk out of your budget. If you’re planning to invest in educational technology, make sure you do it mindfully with a plan already formulated for how you will incorporate the new tech into your lessons. The improvement to learners’ progress is priceless, but that improvement only comes with the right strategy and effective implementation.
Unreliable information online
Make sure, if you’re opening your class up to using technology in their lessons, you highlight sources which are reputable. Emphasise to your class that some sources can be unreliable or even biassed. Online curricula can be a good solution to this, as learners are only working from ready-made information from a trusted edtech provider; however, if you’re planning on allowing learners to use the internet in their lessons, use this as a valuable opportunity to educate them on media literacy and critical thinking skills.
Technology can break
Your SMART board stops responding to you. Your online curriculum provider goes down for maintenance. Your homework application glitches. You experience a power outage. It happens - that’s why it’s important to have a back-up plan. Sometimes technology doesn’t do what we tell it to and, while it can be annoying, it is the teacher that matters. Great technology helps great teachers teach great lessons.
Is technology good or bad? It’s about balance
Educational technology is no replacement for a fantastic teacher in a classroom environment. However, what it can do is free up more of that fantastic teacher’s time, giving them the space to spend longer on important content (or maybe just resting!)
As well as this, technology in the classroom is important if we are to create a learning environment that reflects the world beyond. Despite the possibility of distraction and temptation, learners who form healthy relationships with technology through their education are more likely to succeed using it in the workplace.
The important part of using technology in the classroom is striking a balance between excellent classroom teaching and innovative educational technology.
Author: Dylan Davies, Marketing Executive, Bedrock Learning