Classroom tech: Should I use it? 10 considerations

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Classroom tech: Should I use it? 10 considerations

Classroom tech CAN be transformational. But when should we use it? And what does that look like? Here are some ideas.

When schools provide technology for students, many teachers find themselves asking, "What am I going to do with all these devices?"

One might think the "Should I use classroom tech? And how?" is a one-time, "yes/no" decision.

The truth is this ...

It's a micro decision that's made over and over again as a teacher plans lessons and prepares for class.

Often, it's less a question of whether tech fits the class or the teacher's style. It's more a question of whether it helps the teacher and students better reach their goals in a particular moment.

At teacher conferences and in social media circles, there's this saying that gets bandied about. "Don't use tech for the sake of using tech." Or, put differently: "If you're going to use tech in your classroom, have a good reason for it."

So ... what does that look like?

The big question is: Does it add a dimension to my lesson, activity or class? One that's important? And one that makes the classroom tech addition worthwhile?

To help you think through that big question, here are 10 considerations for using classroom tech in planning lessons and creating activities:

1. Does it make us more productive?

At a minimum, classroom tech should help us work more efficiently and effectively. It can help deliver materials to students quickly. It gives them 24/7 access from any device. It can assign, collect, help us grade, and return feedback. Classroom tech is powerful and can be transformative, though, and can go way beyond classroom productivity.

Example: Using Google Classroom or a learning management system to manage assignments. Providing a Google Site with classroom resources.

2. Does it connect us with others?

This is a big way many of us use our technology in our day-to-day lives. We call family. We text friends. We video chat loved ones far away. Get connected with other classes like yours in another city, state or country. Swap ideas with an expert. Visit a place virtually and take a tour. Students are social creatures. They want to meet others, and they can learn a lot from these new friends.

Example: Using Skype's educator community to find classes, virtual guest speakers or virtual field trips for free

3. Does it help us make better products?

These aren't products to sell, of course. They're products of student learning. Many apps and sites help students make something with what they've learned. They can put together websites, images, videos, audio, charts, maps and more. By showing their thinking visibly, we can see what's inside their brains. Classroom tech helps students make better products than they can without it.

Example: Creating easy infographics with Google Drawings or videos with Adobe Spark Video

4. Does it help us serve others?

What students learn in school is a gift. That learning is a valuable commodity that others in your community -- or the greater world -- would love to have. Students can use that great gift to serve others locally or globally. It can be as simple as sharing what they've learned in a public-facing website. Or they can go bigger by doing service projects for families and organizations in your area using what they've learned.

Example: Translating school documents or pitching ideas to local business/organizations

5. Does it make learning fun?

So much of school is forgettable. When we lose students' attention, there's not much chance they'll learn. Capture some of that attention back by infusing fun and engagement into lessons. Tech can help! Illustrate your ideas with a fun video, a funny GIF, or an engaging online game. See your lesson through the lens of a game, a reality TV show, a popular app. Engagement goes up. So does attention. And with attention, learning is bound to happen.

Example: Using social media-inspired templates to frame activities

6. Does it develop digital citizenship?

So many students -- and adults, for that matter -- spend a ton of time on social media. Nobody has taught them how to manage their digital lives. It may not be in the content standards of our classes, but this may be one of the most valuable lessons we can teach. It's that "in between" content, the quick lessons learned in the little moments in class that aren't taught explicitly. Digital discussions and communication are a fertile ground for those lessons.

Example: Collaboratively working in a shared Google Slides presentation

7. Does it create digital fluency?

Holly Clark, co-author of the book The Google-Infused Classroom, says that students are tech-dependent but they aren't always tech savvy. Digital literacy is about making something work, she says. Digital fluency is about driving the outcome. When students learn about the tools they use, choose the best ones, and learn how to use them well, they become digitally fluent. 

Example: Helping students learn the pros/cons of classroom tech and giving them choices

8. Does it catalog student work?

One-off assignments don't hold much value for students. They turn them in. Get them back. Then the assignment goes in the trash -- or the bottom of the student's locker. Creating student portfolios where their work is stored does a couple things. One, it shows what a student can do -- especially if the assignment is a reflection of skill and not of fact recall. Two, it allows for reflection. The student thinks, "How have I grown? Where do I still need to grow?"

Example: Creating portfolios of student work in Google Sites

9. Does it create better repetitions?

Some things about learning haven't changed. For instance, to get new ideas and information into long-term memory, students need repetitions. Research tells us that certain conditions make these repetitions their most effective. Retrieval, spacing, interleaving and metacognition are key. (Don't worry ... they may sound complicated, but the linked resource makes it crystal clear.)  Our classroom tech can help us get better, more engaging repetitions with new material.

Example: Practicing vocabulary and terms with a Quizlet Live game

10. Does it give students agency?

As we've learned over the last few decades, the Internet is a treasure trove of information. And we know that there are so many ways to meet the same content standards. When students get some choice and direction on how those standards are met, motivation can skyrocket. The question is: Are we making those decisions ourselves as teachers, or are we giving students some freedom? Our classroom tech can be a door to student choice -- if we let students open it.

Example: Giving students some freedom of choice in writing prompts and research

Question: How else can we use classroom tech to its max? What else would you add to this list? Please leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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