The buzzwords in the Ed-Tech marketplace keep proliferating – blended learning, personalized instruction, digital delivery, and more. These are all good directions for growth in the use of technology in the classroom, but the case should be made that the key to technology in the classroom is the teacher. The bottom line for technology is not cost, but how the teacher delivers the lesson. No technology will be implemented successfully unless the teacher feels comfortable using it. That’s why professional development has to go hand-in-hand with technological implementation.
One way to think about technology is that each piece of hardware or software is just a tool to help the teacher deliver the lesson. It is the teacher’s skill in presenting – and connecting content material to his or her individual students — that leads to learning and higher achievement scores. The teacher is the human “interface” that makes any technology and any subject matter content come alive for the students.
Moving from print to digital
The explosion of interest in technology is, in part, due to the unleashing of creativity that it offers for both student and teacher. Essentially, the classroom is slowly moving from a print environment to a digital environment. Like the business world over the last 30 years, the education world is now making this transition. With an array of digital tools in the classroom, teachers and students are finding ways to learn more, learn faster, and learn easier – while still learning the essential skills that are needed to be an educated citizen. Fluency in the three R’s – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic – is still primary but they have now added a D – for digital fluency.
In this article, we will look at the range of technological options that constitute a digital classroom. Of course, there is always a new gadget coming on the market that would add to this list, but as of today, there are 14 main types of digital technologies or tools that teachers and schools can take advantage of. We can define technology broadly as any “tool” a teacher uses to convey the lesson or interact with students. That can range from a whiteboard and marker (low-tech) to a tablet with a stylus (high-tech) and beyond. However, our focus here is on the digital tools.
Digital tools in classrooms
This chart summarizes the main types of digital tools, lists possible products, and then gives an idea of the types of creative uses that teachers and students have found for them. Note that some of these tools may seem obvious, but we are trying to give you a picture of what a digital classroom could include. Each school and each teacher, of course, will arrange their own unique combination of tools – and use them in their own unique ways. But this list is your basic menu of types of tools that should be considered.
|Suggested Products||Variety of Uses (limited only by the creativity of the user)|
|Computers or tablets||Computers come with operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh; popular tablets include the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, and Microsoft Surface.||Whether in a lab or for each student, a computer is the core interface for using digital information in the classroom. Students must be familiar with the keyboard and a mouse.|
|Internet Connection||Schools will usually have a wired connection through a local company, or use WIFI. This is essential to get maximum use of the computer and other technology.||Research – Students can use various sites for reports and finding sources; teachers use for supplementing lessons with video, music, and photos, such as virtual field trips to places being studied.
Reference – Students can use sites for a dictionary, thesaurus, language translation, news, rhymes, weather, and more.
Practice – Students can use sites for practicing skills in reading, math, languages, and even writing.
|Word processing software||Microsoft Word (Windows or Mac, some tablets); Pages from Apple’s iWork; Writer from OpenOffice; WordPerfect from Corel.||Reports – Students can use to practice writing, create reports, and perform desktop publishing of flyers, newsletters, or magazines. They can collaborate with teachers or other students via tracking and comments. They can use tables for displaying collected information.|
|Presentation software||Microsoft PowerPoint (Windows or Mac, some tablets); Keynote from Apple’s iWork; Impress from OpenOffice;
Presentation from Corel.
|Presentations – Students and teachers can combine text, graphics, animation, and video into effective presentations, which also give practice in speaking skills.|
|Spreadsheet software||Microsoft Excel (Windows and Mac, some tablets);
Numbers from Apple’s iWork;
Calc from Open Office;
QuattroPro from Corel.
|Charts – Students can record data from experiments or online data about weather. They can create interactive activities, calendars, or timelines. They can produce charts for reports or presentations.|
|Graphics software||Simple tools for this are built into Word. Also Paint is built into Windows||Graphics – Students can create pictures, logos, puzzles to illustrate stories, reports, and presentations. This software can help bring out the artistic quality in each student.|
|ArtRage (works with iPad)
ArtWeaver (similar to Photoshop or Painter)
Drawing for Children
Project Dogwaffle (painting and animation)
|Drawing – Students canget an artistic look with brushes, chalk, pencils, oil paint, crayons, pastels, and more.|
|Photo Editing software (all free)||GIMP (powerful)
Paint.NET (supports layers)
PhoXo (good range of tools)
Funny Photo Maker (cool effects)
|Photo Manipulation – Students can work with photos by cropping, scaling, applying effects, and more.|
|Tumblr.(easy access, short)
WordPress (simple to complex)Blogger (owned by Google, allows team blogs, good for a class)
|Writing – Students can create journals or diaries, which become purposeful as they are shared with a wider audience.|
|Gmail (owned by Google)
Zoho Mail (solid, for pros)
AIM Mail (from AOL)
iCloud Mail (from Apple)
Outlook.com (from Microsoft)
Yahoo! Mail (from Yahoo)
|Communication – Students can use email to collaborate with other students, check on assignments with the teacher, and actually contact public personalities for projects.|
|Digital photo cameras||Available on cell phones;
Stand-alone cameras are available for $200 and up.
|Photographs – Students can take and share photos for class projects, presentations, and homework.|
|Video cameras||Available on cell phones;
Stand-alone cameras are available for $79 to $300 at the low end
|Videos – Students can create their own short films for projects, or import movies from YouTube into presentations.|
|Smart Boards||Most are from Smart Technologies, and models run from $2000 to $6500||Presentation – Teachers can use these boards for interactive presentations with all forms of media; they can be useful for note-taking, brainstorming, and appealing to all learning modalities.|
|Printer/Copier/Scanner||Various 3-in-1 models||Production – Students can produce flyers, booklets, books, newsletters, and copies of their homework.|
Survey of current use
The digital world opens up more creativity in the classroom, as you can see from the chart above. This transformation is well underway as indicated by an April 2014 survey of 600 youngsters aged 14-23 by SurveyMonkey. The results showed:
- 1/3 of high school students use a laptop for work in class, and only 20% use a mobile device.
- A laptop is the preferred tool for homework.
- 36% of teachers prefer interactive white boards and projectors
- Microsoft Office is the most used software by teachers and students
- Educational web and mobile apps aren’t popular now
- 78% of students prefer real textbooks over ebooks now
As a final comment on the growing role of technology in the classroom, consider this statement by teacher Wes Rodgers from Shelby, Alabama:
“The process of learning in the classroom can become significantly richer as students have access to new and different types of information, can manipulate it on the computer through graphic displays or controlled experiments in ways never before possible, and can communicate their results and conclusions in a variety of media to their teacher, students in the next classroom, or students around the world.”
I should add that, in many ways, this digital activity mirrors the kind of work they will be doing when they graduate, and that is all the more reason to adopt technology in the classroom.