Ms. Hart’s classroom hums with activity. Scattered about are two dozen students working in small groups on their latest project: making a shoebox glide through the air.
Three students are searching for design principles on the web. Another group interacts with a drawing on the smart board — they touch the white surface, rotate the object to view it from different angles, and give each other fist bumps to celebrate their discovery. Across the room, a couple of students wait for the printer to stop its run. Their reproduced “airplane skins” are almost ready to be applied to their aircraft.
At the end of the project, the groups will video their shoebox flights. Then they’ll upload these digital records to the class webpage, along with a written analysis of their findings.
Ms. Hart’s students incorporated mathematics and scientific principles to design, construct, and test their creations. As they worked, they researched, evaluated, applied, and justified their decisions. The project would not have been so successful if it weren’t for the appropriate integration of technology in the classroom.
According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), classes like the one described above allow instructors to “rethink education and create innovative learning environments.”
What does technology integration really mean?
Technology integration is the well-coordinated use of digital devices and cloud computing as tools for problem-solving, deeper learning, and understanding.
Technology facilitates access to curriculum but is not the curriculum itself. Teachers guide their students in using technology as a tool for accessing and understanding educational content.
The success behind technology integration in education
There are two keys to successfully integrating technology in the classroom. The first lies in understanding the role of technology in the classroom. Keeping students — not the technology — at the center of instruction is the second.
Authentic and meaningful technology integration is a relationship between the teacher, the student, and the curriculum. Technology is the vehicle that makes it happen.
In Ms. Hart’s classroom, students used technology as an appropriate medium for completing their assignment. Their focus remained on the learning objectives and project goals — the tech was just a tool. Learning how to use the available technology also supplemented their learning experience and helped them work more efficiently.
Digital automation and machinery alone will never make school a better place. Technology integration in education doesn’t shift the focus from instruction. Instead, it enhances an existing educational program by serving as a learning device.
Benefits of technology integration
First, technology meets students where they are in the learning continuum by assessing their strength and weaknesses. Then, the programs identify appropriate learning objectives and establish learning pathways for each student.
Second, instructional software allows students to access their classwork anytime. Students may extend their learning by working on programs outside of class: before school, during lunch time, or from home if they have access to the apps from their own devices.
Third, learners find technology responsive and engaging. In the classroom, students with access to technology have useful tools that assist with active learning and problem-solving. Integrated technology encourages engagement and exploration in a way that traditional textbooks can never fill. Classroom lessons are less about the technology itself and more about deep learning. Students use technology to achieve the task at hand: understanding content.
Additionally, software and digital voice assistants provide alternative, reliable sources of information or fact-checking. These programs patiently repeat directions and lessons, customizing instruction through differentiation.
Finally, as learners engage with software and other technology, certain algorithms can collect data about student achievement for teachers to analyze. This data allows them to better plan future lessons and attend to their students’ needs.
Integrated technology that improves learning
Computers and internet access have become staples of many modern classrooms, and we often take them for granted.
The diverse technology available in today’s classrooms has transcended the personal computer, taking alternative forms such as:
- Artificial reality/virtual reality
- Digital smart boards
- Intelligent gamification
- Digital voice assistants/teaching robots
- Interactive displays
But these tools alone are not enough for technology integration in education. How will the learners use the technology to create something new, like a blog, a video, or yes, even a shoebox that flies?
School administrators are trained to observe how students interact with technology in the classroom. Many principals watch classroom activities closely to ensure that every student in class is using the provided devices and instructional software. They pour over reports indicating how much time a given student has spent using software or devices like Kindles.
Simply logging screen time doesn’t tell you whether students are benefiting from technology. Instead, school leaders should assess the various ways in which students interact with the available digital tools. It’s critical to note how skillfully the learners use technology and for what reasons.
Expertise comes from understanding how and when to use digital tools. Edtech apps and solutions for classrooms continue to develop new products every year. The adoption of new edtech depends on one factor: teacher proficiency.
Classroom technology integration begins with teachers
Teachers are the determining factor in successful technology integration. For technology integration to be so seamless that its inclusion is almost automatic, teachers must be competent in its use.
This kind of proficiency is the result of ongoing professional development. Teachers need specific technology skills, including:
- Acquiring basic troubleshooting skills.
- Caring for equipment properly.
- Developing an awareness of computer security and copyright laws.
Working with software
- Downloading and installing computer software.
- Creating and using documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slide decks.
- Managing emails and other electronic messages.
- Developing an understanding of social media platforms and how/when to use them.
- Learning web navigation and search engine best practices.
- Designing and maintaining websites.
- Incorporating educational software that supplements classroom instruction.
- Collecting and analyzing student achievement data.
- Using video conferencing tools.
Perhaps most importantly, teachers need a willingness to use new technologies in the classroom as a part of the instructional process.
Technology integration is a dynamic process
Technology integration in education is more than the sum of hours spent on computer programs. It’s a dynamic process coordinated by skilled teachers and supported by school leaders.
Not all students intuitively know how to use technology for educational purposes, but they are eager learners who depend on their teachers to make that technology available to them. In turn, school administrators must assist teachers in understanding technology’s role in the classroom and learning how to integrate it. The effort requires not only professional development for teachers but also sufficient time for them to practice using technology in class.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the intent behind integrating technology is to supplement existing resources and instructional content. Students are, and always will be, the central focus of education, so technology needs to be effectively and appropriately employed for their learning to thrive.
Photo credit: Google