Every day is like Christmas day for teachers lately, given the continual stream of innovative new technology tools being developed for the classroom. For example, I can only imagine the excitement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) instructors when they greet the new sensors created by Vernier Software and Technology for lab use in high school and college courses. They’ll tear open those packages like Ralphie hoping for a Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story, though hopefully they won’t shoot their eyes out while testing the sensors.
In fact, a new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project shows that the overwhelming majority of middle and high school teachers use technology in the classroom. The study also reports that in Advanced Placement and National Writing Project programs,
“mobile technology has become central to the learning process, with 73% of AP and NWP teachers saying that they and/or their students use their cell phones in the classroom or to complete assignments.”
However, they also report that low income schools lag in their technology services and that many students experience a “digital divide” between what’s available to them at school and at home, where fewer students have access to online and mobile technologies. This is a long-standing problem that clearly needs to be addressed.
Another aspect of the Pew report also troubles me as an educator: the relative lack of diversity in the ways classroom technology is used. The study indicates that,
“Teachers most commonly use digital tools to have students conduct research online, which was the focus of an earlier report based on these data.1 It is also common for these teachers to have students access (79%) and submit (76%) assignments online. More interactive online learning activities, such as developing wikis, engaging in online discussions, and editing work using collaborative platforms such as GoogleDocs, are also employed by some of the teachers in the sample.”
To me, this shows that we haven’t gotten much more creative than we were a few years ago. Conducting research, submitting assignments, and chatting online is somewhat old school at this point, isn’t it? It’s so basic that I wonder what else we can be doing with technology. Students can do more than just research with new technologies!
How Can We Use New Technologies?
Here are a few new options for educators at all levels, to help better serve our students:
- VoiceThread is a web-based application that addresses the educator’s worse nightmare: every educator in the world knows the pain and futility of getting classroom discussion going when students resist it, or have read far too many discussion threads that consist of tepid, limited responses such as “I agree with what X said.” You can counter this with VoiceThread, which Faculty Focus describes as “a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos. It allows users to navigate slides and leave comments in five ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video. Typically, the instructor loads his or her narrative slides and can then add their comments at any point within the lecture.”
- Netclick was created by educators to make teaching easier. Simply upload your slides and other materials to your Netclick account, and it quickly organizes them and allows students to access them on any mobile device. Students can then post questions and comments, which can appear attributed to the writer or anonymously in a pie chart or other infographic along with the instructor’s material. And as we all know, anonymous posts require less risk from students, so they are more apt to develop a comfort level that will subtly urge them to join in more often and maybe even transition to revealing their identities.
- Observe4success makes me a little nervous, I admit. A “web-based observation/evaluation software tool,” it was designed to allow administrators observe teachers on the job, record class sessions for later analysis, and edit those recordings. I can easily envision this in the wrong hands, who can use it to go after individual instructors. However, it can also be a great tool for educators themselves. How many of us have wished we could really observe what’s going on in each group when we assign collaborative activities in class? Or look for evidence of cheating during an exam? We might also be able to spend some concentrated time examining the classroom habits of specific students we are worried about or who have come to us for help improving their work.
These are just a few of the many new options available to educators. Have you discovered any new uses for old technology, or recently discovered a tech tool? Share your experiences and ideas here!