Many articles out there describe hundreds of benefits teachers and learning communities get from technologies eLearning industry has to offer.
However, there are far more things to be considered. How to tell whether technology can be of help to your class? Or what apps are capable of increasing students’ engagement and performance?
Nowadays, schools spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content and it is forecasted that by 2019 budgets spent on educational technologies may reach about $19 billion.
To use or not to use?
Top-10-EdTech-tools articles are numerous. But hardly all of them can be trusted and taken as a straightforward call-to-action. There’s an army of marketers and publishers behind each project and all of them aim to make their projects well-promoted and beneficial, rather than helpful and educational.
The main problem with educational technology is that it may fail to support learning process and open new learning possibilities for students. Sometimes, it makes studying too automated, depriving them of any chance to develop critical thinking.
"Most teachers have 'domesticated' innovative technologies by incorporating them into their existing repertoire of teacher-directed practices," (Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education.)
If eLearning technology is meant to transform the way we teach, are we doing this the right way? Let’s find out what are the imperatives for EdTech implementation that help understand if learning in your classroom is really effective.
Using technology the right way
1) Engagement and creativity. When the teacher sets strict frames for the assignment and students don’t use anything except books, their mind is not inspired sufficiently. If learning process includes such components as personal participation, engagement, and the room for creativity, the retention of the material improves.
According to the “Meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity” research, the mood in which a task is performed also plays a significant role for gearing creativity. The research shows that positive mood states are activating the brain zones affecting the ability to think creatively and solve problems. Relaxed and neutral states of the mind negatively influence creative thinking process.
Visual information is reported to generate a stronger emotional response in the human brain, that’s why nowadays more schools are turning to visual information. Visualization of charts, data or graphs is a good way to inspire creativity for the variety of subjects, including math, physics, and data-rich sciences. Visualization helps get engagement through visuals and let the student understand the real meaning and significance behind each number, trend or feature.
2) Collaboration. Effective collaboration will be the most sought-after employee skill by 2020 along with creativity according to the World Economic Forum study.
Teamwork and ability to interact with others is an essential part of effective human society function. The school, college or university environment makes these micro-societies for students where they learn how to communicate.
Tech learning environments should contribute communication. The “flipped learning” approach suggests that video materials learned and rendered by students before classes contribute much to information absorbing. Videos used in classrooms can be either generated by teachers or taken from sites that feature specifically educational videos like TED-Ed and Khan Academy.
The technologies that also support and cultivate collaboration skills in classrooms are whiteboards, apps for interactive educational games and web-based projects.
3) Flexibility. Around 80 studies of educational technology summed up that audio and video resources along with tablets and collaborative project tools proved to be the most effective ways of teaching with technology.
The tech that is used whilst learning process should be both flexible and teach students how to be flexible in studying. Modern technologies and tools shouldn’t limit students in their abilities to solve the task. If the app is capable of working online and syncing with most popular cloud storage, it helps stay flexible in choosing work environment and being tuned.
As for teaching students how to stay flexible, the task gets a little more complicated.
As a rule, students who have weak flexible thinking are more likely to experience problems grasping math and understanding concepts. How can we tackle that?
Flexibility like any other skill is better learned with practice through interactive games and activities that challenge adaptation. With the help of educational tools, it is possible to set various types of questions for students that make them switch their approach to answering and change formats of learning and answering.
4) Planning. Planning is the first step to effective time-management. Technology can be misleading at times, especially when it is too focused on gamification and interactive materials or videos. But if it allows planning and scheduling activities, it helps grow better time-management skills in the future.
How exactly can EdTech help students organize their time for tasks? Nowadays, every smartphone has internet access, so students can easily stay synced to the classroom calendar that teacher can create. This will help avoid informing students about changes and tracking down every student.
Introduce your students to the organizational tools that will help them plan not only their activities but also their workflow. Popular student-planning application like Evernote or Myhomework are the good options for task prioritizing, progress tracking and dosing of learning material.
5) Independence. The world sees no end to the debate whether independent studying with technology is good or bad for students. The research shows that students become more concentrated, organized and focused, however, those who spend all time with technology become less self-aware, less socialized and less involved.
eLearning environment should not mean students are left to themselves. Technology is what should help teachers ensure each and every student is able to reach out essential materials, check assignments for plagiarism or get help from their teachers.
In online learning, students are partly responsible for running learning process on their own. If teachers enable learners to make decisions independently using technology, students will get used to finding their own solutions. Let the learners navigate the options and solutions of how, where and when to learn, what interactive tools to use for the task and it will turn them into independent learners.
Summing it up
There’s a couple of challenges you’ll have to face when creating a friendly eLearning environment for your students. Making the most of the online learning means enriching students’ learning experience and avoid falling into falsehood the technology along with Google should make everything instead of them.
While searching for the best possible educational solutions for your classroom, it is important to take the information with a grain of skepticism. So, if you are looking for the best EdTech apps, try to assess each option taking into account its value for learning purposes and educational goals it helps achieve.