Using Technology in the Classroom: Benefits and Examples
Blackboards and white chalk used to be the go-to tools for teachers. Thanks to the invention of the modern computer, twenty-first century educators have even more resources at their disposal to make classes fun and engaging for students of all ages.
However, many experts are still questioning the value of technology in the classroom. Even as start-ups and venture capitalists continue to invest in schools, there's ample resistance among teachers-- and even students-- about educational technology. The bottom line is that many people just don't see the point of using computers, tablets, or smart boards to teach a lesson when there's a good old-fashioned blackboard in the room.
The truth is, technology doesn't work in every scenario, but it can make school a lot more fun. Not only are lessons which incorporate technology interactive, they're also very memorable and meaningful for students.
Classroom technology is more interactive
One of the hallmarks of modern schools is inquiry-based learning. This type of learning is distinct because it is directed by the students, not exclusively by teachers. Interactive tools are an important part of inquiry-based learning because they naturally fuel students' curiosity. Technologies like wikis and open source software make it easy for students to ask questions, find answers, and help other children learn.
They're also great because they provide a more economical way to interact with the world. Companies have developed many free apps that can take you to museums, national parks, and even outer space. One of the best of these interactive tools is Google Earth. Using this software, you can visit different cities or monuments, then click on the locations to see their related Wikipedia entries. You can even see outer space, using a 3D Star map called 100,000 Stars.
Of course, if you're more of a literature buff, then Google Street View can whisk you away to Diagon Alley to see Ollivanders Wand Shop and even a Deatheater. Whatever your interests, technology provides an interactive way to see the world and learn about new places, all from the comfort of the classroom.
Classroom technology is more social
When teachers talk about Facebook and Twitter, many suggest that they distract students from their homework. But more and more, teachers are realizing the positive impact that social tools have on the classroom.
When I was in grade school, I had a pen pal from Australia. I loved receiving leters from her, but it often took weeks or even months to get a reply. These days, students can use social tools to immediately connect to and share information with other children from around the world.
Of course, one-on-one interaction isn't the limit. Open source platforms, like wikis, help students collaborate from all over the globe on a single project or series of projects. What's more, tools like Edmodo make large-scale educational assignments easy. Edmodo is a well-reviewed social platform for schools with exceptional functionality for both students and teachers. And unlike Facebook, it has excellent security features that keep interactions private (and protect students from cyberbullying).
Blogging software is another popular social tool for teachers to use. Wikispaces Classroom and Edublogs are free to sign up for teachers and easy to navigate. They also contain language filters to control appropriate content for grade school children. This is one of their major advantages, since many traditional blogging platforms (like Blogger) tend to be blocked by public school filters.
Technology is great because it also helps students who are shy become more social in the classroom. A program like Voki makes doing oral presentations much more manageable for introverted students. As studies show, many children feel safer and become more social when they use a computer program, since it eliminates the need for face-to-face interaction.
Classroom technology is more memorable
Back in the day, teachers used television screens and VCRs to make their lessons more memorable. In the new millennium, apps and smart boards make lessons meaningful because they appeal to students' different learning styles.
According to experts, most children have a distinct learning preference, meaning they take in information best by either seeing, hearing, or moving their bodies. Technology makes lessons more memorable by employing a variety of different learning styles. It's one thing to read about the moon in a textbook; it's a whole other experience to see a video of a moon landing, track the moon's orbit with a mobile app, and develop a 3D model of the moon using open source software. These varied experiences can help students digest information in new ways and improve their retention levels.
Technology also makes school more memorable because it's relevant to students' everyday lives. Children today spend approximately three hours a day in front of the screen. By appealing to what's already familiar, educational technology helps students understand new concepts in a more natural way. And in case you're worried that screen time is terrible for children's heath, many studies have shown that a limited amount of computer time is actually good for kids.
Lastly, technology tends to have more of an impact because it makes things happen on a grander scale. Particularly in the sciences, it's not always feasible (or safe) to reproduce laboratory conditions in the classroom. That's where platforms like YouTube come in handy.
The video below is from a popular series by academics at the University of Nottingham. In it, a professor drops rubidium, which is highly reactive, into a vat of water. Once the chemical hits the surface, dangerous purple gas is exhausted from the reaction, along with bursts of purple fire. This is exactly the type of experiment you wouldn't want to reproduce in a conventional classroom, but it's made possible through the magic of the Internet. Students will remember this video because of its awesomeness, and teachers can feel satisfied they're keeping their classrooms safe.
The bottom line
Technology helps students experience exotic settings and scenarios. In doing so, it helps them understand that learning doesn't just take place inside the classroom. It's taking place everywhere-- in the grocery store, in the swimming pool, even in their homes. With open source software and the Internet, students can review or revisit their favorite topics after class. And with enough inspiration, they can follow their own route and satisfy their innate curiosity by surfing the web or Wikipedia.
By incorporating technology into lessons in and out of the classroom, teachers can encourage children to learn independently. And what skill could be more important than that?