“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.”— George Couros
Technology integration in the classroom is a combination of two things: using the right tech tools at the right times, and having teachers who understand how to use those tools to engage and motivate students in their learning. Of course, that’s all easier said than done.
Successfully integrating technology into any curriculum or lesson requires preparation to ensure that the technology is always subordinate to the material being taught and not a substitute. When this happens, students are much more likely to get excited about what they’re studying and to take ownership of their learning.
It’s important to remember that technology changes exponentially over time, something teachers and students must be willing to embrace. Rest assured, though, technology isn’t replacing your role as a teacher. However, the way you teach in a technology-infused learning environment will certainly look and feel different.
Embedding technology in the learning process provides for more effective and engaging learning opportunities. Individuals adjust to transformation differently, but if the focus remains on the student, then the paradigm shift will bring positive results. Change is the price we pay for innovation, and when technology is project based and student-centered — and taught with patience and encouragement — students are given the best chance for academic success.
Integrating technology: Assumptions to avoid
Given all of the ingredients of technology integration mentioned above, only one question remains: How? How will you combine and coordinate the use of technology in your school or classroom?
Perhaps the most prominent challenge that teachers face in becoming active disciples of the digital age is themselves. Many teachers hinder their success in integrating technology by subscribing to the common misconception that their students are innately skilled in understanding and using technology. Although this may seem to be true sometimes, it’s not.
“Digital native” and “homo zappiën” are labels that get thrown around too often — they mischaracterize our younger generation as having some predisposition to effortlessly master technology. Marc Prensky conceived the term “digital native” in his 2001 article titled “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” He described a digital native as someone raised in the digital age and born after 1984. A “digital immigrant,” then, is someone older who has come to learn technology as an adult.
What’s most important to understand is that there is no such thing as a digital native — it’s a myth. We are all fundamentally the same when it comes to acquiring technological knowledge and skills, and while exposure to technology tools certainly has its influence, you’re better off avoiding these presumptions. The fact is that the majority of students still require monitoring and guidance as they use digital tools to learn collaboratively and independently.
7 ways to integrate technology in the classroom
Regardless of where you’re are at in your understanding and diversity of available technology resources, there is most likely an easy way for you to begin integrating technology in your classroom. Below are a few simple, practical suggestions on how you might get started.
1. Online writing and website creation
Choose an appropriate topic for students to write a blog using TeachHub, WordPress, Blogger, or one of the many other sites. You can design a template that guides students as they write or teach them how to make a template on their own. You can also use Twitter as an excellent summary tool. Because Twitter only allows 280 characters, you can ask students to tweet you a summary of a concept, rules for a project, an objective for an assignment, or anything you’d like.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more involved, you can engage students in designing a classroom website page by creating a template for them to follow. Wix is a great resource that offers free and paid plans for creating websites. Depending on your needs and personal preferences, there are also other website-building platforms to choose from, including Weebly, Edublogs, and WebsiteBuilder. You can also create writing templates to allow students to collaborate and share their stories easily through Google Docs.
2. Hosting a “game show” using PowerPoint
One of the practical perks of using technology in the classroom is the access to an endless supply of fun activities that your students will love. PowerPoint is still alive and kicking, and used for more than just presentations. In fact, there are many templates available online for replicating game shows. You can easily adapt these to suit your needs, like holding a class review session for an upcoming test. With a simple Google search for “PowerPoint game show templates” or something similar, you’ll easily find free templates for classic games like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, the Price Is Right, and many others.
3. Publishing student work online
Today, students can display their work in any given area using portfolio templates, websites, or other digital media. What students don’t or can’t post themselves, teachers can do for them with minimal effort. For those who are able to participate, this is an excellent way for students to stay motivated by taking their work with them outside of the classroom.
Publishing student work online, in whatever format you choose, is flexible because it allows students of any level or ability to contribute. Naturally, your comfort level and knowledge of any given digital media tool will vary. If you’re not a novice, it won’t take you long to expand your skill set and provide more involved opportunities for students.
Consider tackling the creation and maintenance of a class blog or wiki. The benefits include peer collaboration, collective responsibility, and communication practice, to name just a few. Kidblog and Edublogs allow students to write about anything — topics of their own or ones that you’ve assigned. Of course, nothing is actually published until you have given approval. Students are also able to comment on each other’s work if you choose to allow that.
Screencasts provide an opportunity for students to work on assignments while having your pre-recorded video explanation and direction available to them from anywhere, either in class or at home. Teachers also use screencasts to offer feedback on student work. If you’re looking for an easy-to-use screencast tool for your classroom, check out Loom. You simply record a video (face cam optional) and share the link with your students — others won’t be able to see it.
Podcasts can serve the same purpose and are a good option for language arts and communication classes. You could have your students listen to a podcast on a subject (again, either one that interests them or that you’ve pre-selected) and then write a summary response. They could even record a video or audio response to practice their speaking skills.
4. Arranging email penpals
Penpals have been around for decades, long before the digital age. The concept is simple: A teacher in a different part of the country (or world) partners with you and your students to exchange messages. Each student is assigned a student from that other class and trades messages with them.
Before computers became commonplace, teachers used penpals as a way for students to practice penmanship and learn about kids from other geographical — and many times cultural — areas. With email, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Students can work together on the same math problem, write a story together, interview one another, or exchange pictures and videos.
You can even integrate live interaction using Skype in the Classroom, Slack, or Google Hangouts. You may find this activity particularly enriching for social studies or foreign language classes.
6. Managing your course content
From developing student assessments and designing engaging assignments to creating and managing course content, teachers will find online platforms such as Classcraft, Schoology, and Moodle very practical and useful. Teachers can choose to share an online calendar for project management and other tasks, and both students and teachers alike can also organize and improve their note-taking skills with apps like Evernote.
Classcraft, in particular, is a good option if you want to add a bit of creative fun to your classroom. Taking your existing lesson plans, you can create your own “quests” (or borrow from existing ones) for students to embark on in a colorful role-playing world. They’ll earn rewards along the way, develop long-lasting connections with your course material, and come to class excited to learn.
7. Creating multimedia presentations
For student presentations, millions of educators and students have already discovered and successfully integrated multimedia programs such as Prezi, Google Slides, and Keynote.
If you’d like your students to record video presentations instead, you can have them use free recording software like OBS Studio and edit their videos with Lightworks, VSDC Free Video Software, and plenty of others. This will help spark some creativity in your classroom beyond just written assignments and cookie-cutter PowerPoint presentations.
Anyone can share their projects with a variety of devices by using Nearpod, and students can also create videos for those projects using programs like Windows Movie Maker or Animoto. Teachers and students alike can poll their audience with Socrative, Mentimeter, and Poll Everywhere, and can liven up class discussions by interacting with TodaysMeet.
If you are in a situation with limited digital media hardware, there are still many options for integrated technology. If you have just one computer per classroom, for instance, consider having students take turns using programs like Audacity. Once each student has had a turn to record their story, they can listen to each other’s recordings by copying them onto a flash drive or uploading them to the class website or iTunes.
With just one computer, you can also:
- Allow students to organize their resources for a project using Google Drive.
- Build a Google Site for a class project or demonstration.
- Have students take turns typing notes while you teach.
- Collaborate in a conversation using VoiceThread.
Teachers are agents of change in a digital age
The resources mentioned here barely scratch the surface of digital media tools that are ripe for integration into your classroom. Matched with training and developmentally appropriate pairing, a student-centered and dynamic curriculum can be seamlessly integrated into any subject area. This investment has repeatedly proven to help students become independent and engaged learners.
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