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This is the second piece of our “Insight into Education” series by Lisa Parrock, where she discusses technology for the classroom and the process of making sound choices when investing in classroom technology.

In addition to Lisa’s articles, have a look at our 9 Challenges of the Virtual Classroom series, and discover how you could overcome some of your own challenges. 

Choices, choices, choices.

Sometimes it feels as if this is the main ingredient that makes up our modern world. If you walk into the supermarket, there are at least ten different brands of washing powder to choose from – how do you know which one to choose? Investing in the right technology for the classroom is no easier.

The same is true for choosing technological learning tools for the classroom. If you’re anything like me (a pretty normal teacher who likes to experiment with new, cool tools in my classroom), you’ll know that it is quite easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices we have.

Selecting the right technology for the classroom

So how do you know which one is best? I have a few questions I ask myself when evaluating what technology to use in my classroom:

  1. What is the goal?
  2. How is it adding value?
  3. Is it easy to use?
  4. Is it safe and reliable?
  5. Is it accessible?

1. What is the goal?

The most essential question for any learning activity. What would you like your students to achieve and take away from this activity? There are so many cool technological tools out there, but if it doesn’t align with the outcomes of your learning activity, then it is not worth using.

Prioritise your pedagogical goals, then find a technological tool to match.

If one of the goals of your lesson is that students should learn how to collaborate, then you should look for tools that facilitate collaboration. If we go back to our roots of teacher training, where we had to write lesson plans until our hands cramped, the starting point was always the outcomes. It turns out that this was actually a very valuable lesson, because without a goal, how would we know our students are learning?

2. How is it adding value?

This is one of the most essential questions for me when I look at choosing technology for the classroom. Is my learning activity better than what it was on paper? If it was better on paper, then leave it on paper. If you’re trying to go paperless just for the sake of going paperless, I would rather leave it (unless of course, you’re in a fully online environment at the moment).

It might be useful to explain what I mean with this by using the SAMR-model:

S: The substitution phase

This is normally a starting point in the integration of technology for most teachers, and although there is no functional change in the activity it shouldn’t be discarded as an unimportant phase.

Without this phase, many teachers and students wouldn’t necessarily see the potential of the integration of technology in other ways. An example of this type of integration might be for a student to snap a picture of their work and hand it in on a platform such as Google Classroom, or having their textbooks and worksheets available online.

A: The augmentation phase

In this phase, there is a significant improvement to the task, although the essence of the task stays the same.

This might include presenting a research report using presentation software or typing an essay using built-in spelling and referencing tools. These types of activities are important to develop essential skills, but augmentation positions these skills within a 21st-century learning environment for students.

M: Modification of a task

This allows teachers to redesign the task using technology. Instead of presenting their report, they might now make a podcast about it, or instead of the essay they might write and publish a blog to a real audience.

This phase of integrating technology allows teachers the opportunity to transform the learning of their students and truly develop 21st-century skills that they need to navigate our modern world. However, in this phase, it can be easy to get sucked into how cool the tool is you might be using and what it can do, and forget about the essence of the task.

In both of the examples above the essence is about synthesising, analysing and presenting information – which is absolutely essential skills today. By providing students with an opportunity to present this to a real audience we are creating a much more relevant learning experience for them and they tend to put more effort into their learning.

R: The redefinition of a task

With this change in the task, students can create something new that they wouldn’t have been able to before. Now, students might take the research they have done for a project and create their own documentary!

So when you are integrating technology into your lessons, try to ensure that you know how it is adding value to your learning activities and that it is not just there for tech’s sake. (As fun as that can be.)

3. Is it easy to use?

It is always useful to examine how steep the learning curve is with a new technological tool. Sometimes it is valuable for your students to learn how a different tool works and at other times it can be overwhelming.

You need to evaluate how much time you have available to spend on the technical “how does this thing work”-part, or ask yourself whether you can achieve similar results using a tool the students already know how to use.

In our hybrid and online learning classrooms, “platform fatigue” has become real.

Both teachers and students can become mentally exhausted from having to learn how a new technological tool works all the time.

4. Is it safe and reliable?

As teachers who love technology, we can sometimes get swept up in the cool things a tool can do and forget about checking how safe it is. However, it is important to check that the private information of our students is safe and that they are protected in some ways.

If your students have made a video and you want them to upload it to YouTube, they can check the “it’s made for kids” button, which immediately enables certain safety features such as turning off comments.

It is also valuable to read some reviews from other teachers on the tool you plan on using and to check if it is reliable. It will only give you and your students headaches if it is working well the one day but not the next.

5. Is it accessible?

Examine your own context. Just because something worked well for another teacher in his or her classroom does not mean that it will automatically work well in yours.

Think about what type of devices are your students using, how good is their connectivity, and what are their technological skills like. Some activities can work just as well on a mobile phone as on a computer and others not, so make sure that you design your activity for your specific context.

Seeking to consolidate education and technology

One important overarching thing to remember comes from our inspiration for this series, Sir Ken Robinson:

“Education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people.”

Don’t get lost in the technology for the classroom and forget about the people – use the technology to improve the experience of the people in your system and retain your human element in the online learning environment.

This is further discussed in our blog series, 9 Challenges of the Virtual Classroom where we break down some of these challenges and how to combat them.

Lisa is a Writer, Educator and EdTech transformation coach from Cape Town, South Africa. As a Google for Education coach and advocate, Lisa has unique insight into the impact that Google for Education and its implementation into educational environments has. Not only from a practical standpoint and how this impacts the learning tools available in the school but the mentality and mindset that if fostered, can so greatly enhance the learning of students and teachers.
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