6 keys to staying current & informed about tech in the classroom

classroom technologyNote: This guest post is sponsored by California Baptist University (CBU). There are links to lots of helpful resources within the post, and I have personally checked each one to make sure it leads to a reputable site. Also, there are no affiliate links, which means that neither CBU nor I receive compensation if you click on anything in the post.

Whether or not technology has a place in the classroom is a question that’s largely settled, at this point. Tablets, cell phones, twitter, and even video games have found their way into the teaching plans of educators around the country. As California Baptist University’s Dr. Mitch Hovey puts it, “Even kindergarteners and 1st graders are using iPads in the classroom.” In some cases, the use of these new technologies has resulted in a significant increase in a curriculum’s efficacy and student productivity.

Instead of keeping confiscated electronics in the top drawer of their desks, teachers are finding more and more creative ways to reach students through their favorite digital platforms. The question isn’t whether or not integrating technology in the classroom is worthwhile, but how you’re going to go about adapting your materials to these new delivery methods.

To that end, here are 6 things to keep in mind when building your own technology plan for your classroom, each based on previous success stories and expert advice.

1. Establish your goals

Educational technology is often developed to suit a specific problem, which makes selecting the right solution for your school’s specific strengths and weaknesses an essential part of modernizing the classroom. Having iPads for every student won’t do much, for example, without the resources to build out lesson plans that incorporate them effectively. In this area, innovation without direction is the path to a woefully misplaced investment.

As Don Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia said in a U.S. News article, “You can’t just slap a netbook on top of a textbook and say, ‘Great, now we have technology.’” The process should be a very deliberate, well-considered one, prompting investment solely in tools that suit your specific ambitions.

2. Follow sites/people that share the latest tools

Of course, picking the right solution for your classroom is impossible without a firm grasp of what the latest in educational technology can offer. That said, navigating the ever-expanding landscape of newly released digital learning tools can be an incredibly daunting process. Fortunately, informational resources are readily available to the curious educator or administrator that can help identify useful apps, websites, or other technologies to suit your classroom needs.

3. Think outside the box

One of the most significant benefits of integrating technology into the classroom is that it offers a certain degree of flexibility that couldn’t exist in the traditional model of education. Without technology, learning can only happen in the classroom at scheduled times, and students can only interact with their teachers one-on-one if they find time to do so in person.

This may seem like a fairly obvious observation, but as you’re building your learning plan, developing core objectives, and identifying what tools you’d like to use, it might be easy to simply start employing new technology without actually improving the way a classroom functions. Try not to confine yourself to the traditional model of classroom dynamics, and you may find yourself spawning a truly original, highly effective method of content delivery.

The “Flipped Classroom”, for instance, in which teachers use class time for homework and deliver lectures after school through digital media, has been causing significant waves in the world of education. It may not suit every topic, but despite some detractors, the method has shown to be remarkably useful in certain environments. As you’re developing your plan, consider what new things these technologies can do, not necessarily how they can help maintain what you’re currently doing.

4. Don’t fear social media

While it’s understandable for teachers to be nervous about engaging with a public, uncensored, digital space, social media has been utilized in some very interesting ways to promote student engagement with educational content. Some have taken to Twitter as a platform for writing exercises, emphasizing concision and direct communications. Others have proposed that social media can be used to create advanced networks of collaborating learners, introducing a cultural component to education that may help students further develop alongside (and with the added perspective of) their peers.

At any rate, using social media in the classroom is certainly a tricky exercise, but can be very rewarding to both the student and the teacher. Directing activities with a complete, well-wrought set of guidelines can lead to an incredibly active, organic student community, encouraging students to learn for themselves, not just for grades.

5. Keep things playful

While incorporating games into learning isn’t a new concept, technology’s recent expansion offers some new opportunities to turn one of education’s greatest distractions – video games – to the teacher’s advantage.

Even that idea isn’t new, of course, but with the advent of more sophisticated platforms and mobile gaming, teachers are getting creative, often with resounding success. Take the now frequently discussed Minecraft, which has proven a fitting tool not just for promoting original thinking, but also highlighting the virtues of group work and cooperation. Or how about the rocketry simulation Kerbal Space Program, now praised for its accuracy to the principles of thrust and aerodynamics, as a method for introducing advanced concepts in physics? Or Angry Birds, for that matter?

Games are becoming more and more prevalent as teaching tools, with emerging organizations devoted to helping educators engage through playfulness as technology evolves, like the Institute of Play or the Cambridge-based Learning Games Network. Consider ways you might apply gaming to some of your lesson plans. Your students will certainly thank you for it.

6. Pursue continued education

To address the evolving academic needs of teachers looking to enhance their comfort with technological tools, improve student outcomes, and position themselves as an expert in this area within their community, some institutions of higher learning are beginning to incorporate technology training into their MEd and MSEd programs. Additionally, some of these programs, such as California Baptist University’s unique Master of Science in Education, are offered 100% online, allowing students the opportunity to experience the best in educational technology themselves. The program also offers a distinct specialization in online teaching and learning, which covers the fundamentals of using digital tools to streamline assignments, organize the assessment process, and provide students with constant access to learning materials.

A challenge worth conquering

Integrating technology into the classroom demands as much patience, both of yourself and your students, as it does originality. The good news is that, given the tools available, a more efficient, effective classroom is well within reach for even the most resource-strapped schools. As much as broad success stories might point the way to intriguing solutions, the goal is to create the ideal plan that works specifically for your school, or your class, complementing strengths and improving shortcomings over time, shaping the classrooms of tomorrow.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest tools and trends in ed tech? Please share your favorite resources in the comments.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andria Visser March 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Angela, thank you for posting this. These six keys will unlock most classrooms with ease. I found this post very helpful and reassuring. It is great to see that what has been going through my mind is also going through the mind of others. Yes, we have to stop being afraid of technology and start to reach our children at their level of interest. The flipped classroom, social media and learning through games will build a stronger bond with our students, as well as make them more interested in what they are learning. As educators we should stay current by reading blogs and information out there that can make us teach better. Face it, our students are changing as their world is changing. We should change as well! Integrating technology is crucial to education today. The world is spinning, people, spin with it or jump off!

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2 Anna Dawn March 3, 2014 at 3:57 pm

“As you’re developing your plan, consider what new things these technologies can do, not necessarily how they can help maintain what you’re currently doing.” This statement helped me understand more clearly the concept of doing new things in new ways with technology in the classroom. Somehow, this was too abstract an idea (What new things? How?) but now it will be easier to recognize when I look to technology to simply “maintain” what I’m already doing through substitution or augmentation.

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