The power of edtech is defined by what great teachers can do with the technology. Educators who transform classroom learning experiences are changing how they plan, communicate, provide feedback, and collaborate with their students. All of this is thanks to some powerful and clever edtech tools and resources.
Last year, around this same time in August, I wrote about strategies for edtech success in the new school year. These included clear communication with parents and school leaders as well as integrating research and social media skills in everyday lessons. This year, I’m adding the new trends and tools that can really help your students learning go deeper in your edtech classroom.
Of course, these trends are the teaching strategies that I’ve seen teachers and students get most excited about in my classroom and in the schools and classrooms I’ve visited. My prediction (and hope) is that more educators will try out these ideas and experience that same energy. The tools mentioned will help you get going with any of the trends that catch your eye.
Trend #1: Open Educational Resources (OERs)
Teachers and students are getting more creative with lesson plans, and while textbooks are a great resource to start with, they seem to be getting more expensive. Open Educational Resources (OER) are high-quality, open-licensed educational materials that are online. OERs are ideal for the classroom because, instead of working with pre-made resources that might not be a great fit, educators can hand pick the best content and activities just for their students. Some educators have been textbook-free and building curriculum out of primary sources, scholarly texts, podcasts, simulations, and other media found at a few go-to websites online.
For those of you who like the “binded” element of textbooks (meaning everything stays in one place), keeping track of the OER gems you find is more manageable than you think. Use your browser’s bookmarking feature to keep your favorite sites handy. Then, when you find that one magical resource, you can save and tag it using services like Pinterest or Diigo. To make the resources accessible to students in a clean logical way, use tools like Blendspace or Trails. Some teachers go the extra mile and make their own digital books with iBooks Author.
It does take time to build up a library of OER and then to assemble them for your students so they meet their needs. Take it one unit at a time and don’t feel like you have to revamp a year’s worth right away. But when you see how your students are more engaged because they’re experiencing the content through a variety of media, you’ll know it was worth the effort.
Trend #2: Formative assessment with live analytics
With a classroom full of 25 students (or more), it is a challenge for teachers to track every individual’s learning. If we wait until the test at the end of a unit, it is usually too late, and a new unit has already begun. Formative assessment has been a best practice for a long time, but new edtech tools are making it realistic for teachers to do much more, and more often.
Apps and web-based services like Socrative, Formative, Edulastic, and PollEverywhere provide teachers with instant data. A teacher can literally pose a question out loud to the class, ask students to type their answers on their mobile phone, and hit send. Instantly, the teacher knows which students understand, which don’t, and create quick interventions on the fly.
Not ready to allow students to use their mobile devices to take assessments? No problem. ScribeSense allows teachers to scan and send paper quizzes and tests. In just hours (sometimes less than one) teachers are sent the results completely corrected and analyzed for them to view and share with students and parents. Did I mention that the data from each of these apps is color, on graphs, and easy to interpret quickly? Really, there’s no reason not to give this a shot.
Trend #3: Paperless workflow
The paperless classroom model can make communication between student and teacher (and from school to home) much faster and more efficient. With a little coaching, students and parents get quite good at managing everything online and soon find it quick and convenient. They can access class materials, add detail to their work, and check teacher feedback from anywhere they have a mobile device and wifi.
Right now, my favorite tools are Showbie and Google Classroom. Showbie provides an easy interface on the iPad that both young students and teachers that are hesitant with technology are finding intuitive. Teachers can distribute assignments and give feedback in the form of traditional marking, typed or voice comments, and even grades. Google Classroom works well with Chromebooks, and teachers love the add-ons like Doctopus and Flubaroo for giving students feedback and grades. If your school is BYOD, both work across all platforms and with training and practice can be adopted rather quickly.
Trend #4: Collaborative, real-time learning
Sometimes a high quality film or student presentations are worthwhile learning experiences, but are not terribly engaging for the whole class. How can a teacher track engagement accurately under these circumstances?
One way to keep the conversation going is to backchannel. A backchannel is a conversation between people attending the same event using messaging or social media tools. At conferences, educators often use a hashtag on Twitter, but in your classroom, tools like TodaysMeet allow you to create a custom URL and moderate the conversation. Students won’t zone out during a movie or presentation if they are held accountable to contribute to the whole class-learning.
What about that group work? A teacher can track students' self-assigned tasks, shared resources, and progress using Trello. Students can even link to a shared Google Doc so they can co-edit there and still easily get back to their to-do lists on Trello. The conversation can go even farther using Slack. Together, Trello and Slack are powerful tools that educators are starting to leverage in ways never expected.
If you have tried any of these instructional practices, you know that their impact can be felt quickly by both students and teacher. If you haven’t, give one a try or talk to your school’s instructional technologist to get started. It might take a little practice with the tools, but you’ll surely find that your students are more engaged and your life is easier.
Kerry Gallagher is a Technology Integration Specialist at a 1:1 iPad school serving 1500 students grades 6-12. She taught middle and high school history in Bring Your Own Device environments for 13 years. Prior to taking on a full-time technology integration role, Kerry was best known for her paperless collaborative classroom model which thrived on project-based learning. She also helped her students create Rockets Help Desk, a far-reaching student-driven technology integration program in her previous school district.
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