Technology in the classroom: From necessity to opportunity

Technology in the classroom is crucial to the modern learning environment, say Stone Group’s sales director Mark Whitfield and JC Associates’ teacher and education consultant John Cowell

The onset of the Covid lockdown meant that schools, colleges and universities across the country have had to facilitate home learning for their students and technology has become an unavoidable part of the classroom. For many teachers this has meant a steep learning curve, with new platforms to navigate and teaching techniques to master.

However, nearly two years in, there is evidence that the growth of the ‘connected classroom’ has brought many advances and improvements that should not be forgotten in favour of a return to ‘normal’.

Back in 2018, Cisco released its ‘Rethinking Teaching’ report which looked at how technology could improve the four Cs of learning – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication – and create the ultimate successful connected environment. However, those familiar with day-to-day life in the classroom will know that progress in this area was slow, and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic it was estimated that technology of any kind was being used in the classroom for only 30-35 minutes per day.

Alarmingly, according to an OECD teacher and learning survey, only 60% of teachers have received professional development in the use of technology and this is clearly something that needs to be addressed. However, there is an opportunity for the pandemic to be a watershed moment in education and the start of a digital transformation.

Critical thinking

One of the cornerstones of the four Cs of learning is critical thinking. This is a great example of where some very simple but effective advances have been made using technology to build on traditional tried and tested techniques.

A lot of classes already begin with a low stakes quiz as a way of testing critical thinking and understanding, however many teachers are now making use of free software such as Quizziz which is used in over 120 countries and by more than 20 million students. This provides teachers with a gamified way of testing critical thinking and benchmarking students’ progress and, in contrast to traditional paper-based quizzes, this software has a library of teacher-written content and enables students’ learning to be tracked.

Obviously, to get the best from software like this, each student must be independently logged in and therefore have their own device, which leads us to another change that has gained momentum due to home-learning – the embracing of BYOD, or bring your own device. Far from the days of banning students from having phones in classrooms, schools are now increasingly encouraging individuals’ devices in order to make the use of one-to-one software possible and improve the fluidity between school and home learning.

Collaboration

The opportunity for collaboration and teamwork is an area that could easily have suffered during the period of isolated home-learning, however this has remained possible and, in many ways, become more accessible for some students.

By using Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, teachers have been able to deliver whole-class lessons and also put students into groups to allow them to collaborate and work together to plan and deliver an assignment. What’s more, during times when some students have returned to the classroom but others have been ill or isolating, these collaborative online spaces have meant that the individual working from home does not have to miss out – they can still log in to lessons and work with their team, meaning the impact of absence is significantly minimised.

Other items of technology have also been introduced in some schools to enhance this collaborative, hybrid environment, including headphones with a microphone which you can use to talk to students at home, but can mute to address students in class. This does also require a change in classroom culture but the pay-off is significant and, as well as improving a child’s decision-making and consensus skills during teamwork, it also allows the teacher more time for one-to-one catch ups with children, something that again is not always possible in a traditional classroom environment.

Creativity

Another area where technology has made a huge impact is creativity, something that in GCSE syllabuses has been slowly reducing over the years with less coursework and more reliance on exams. This has meant that the opportunity for students to experiment and apply their theoretical learning has diminished which is limiting their ability to learn valuable skills for the future. However, the use of tools such as the Minecraft elements in the Microsoft Learning environment allow students to apply their maths knowledge and problem-solving techniques and practice coding to complete a task. An increasing number of maker-spaces are also being set up around the country that allow students to get first-hand experience of using cutting edge technology, such as 3D printers, for real-life applications and, when you consider that OCR has introduced its first augmented reality module in 2022, exposure to this technology will become increasingly vital.

Communication

Finally, for our last C, technology has brought greater inclusivity and accessibility. Rather than a teacher sitting behind their desk, addressing the whole class using a whiteboard or projector, software that shares a teacher’s screen onto each student’s device means that the explanation of a task is more personal and interactive and assignments can be delivered directly to the child wherever they are and, importantly, at whatever level is suitable for their progress.

Because of this, teachers are able to spend more one-to-one time with children, either in person or virtually, to coach rather than tell and respond to specific questions. This is a significant advancement when teaching pupils with any kind of special educational need who might struggle to follow a presentation or read from a screen, but will find it easier to do this on their own device and be able to revisit or re-read at their own pace. In fact, many other tools such as Microsoft’s Immersive Reader are greatly improving the ability for teachers to deliver a more bespoke learning experience to SEN students.

Continued access to tasks via students’ devices also means that children don’t need to focus on making notes during their time in class and can prioritise listening to the teacher and asking questions. Equally, assignments can be continued outside of the classroom and teachers can still be accessible via messaging functionality, enabling more prompt, two-way communication to help the child deliver their best work.

When you consider that this is just a snapshot of the many benefits that increased adoption of technology has brought to our schools over the last two years, it is clear that we have experienced a wholesale change from the old ‘talk and chalk’ approach.

Of course, permanent home-learning for all is not the norm and technology shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of replacing the classroom. However, by continuing to use the technology that we have embraced over this time, it can certainly enhance learning and create a far more bespoke, inclusive, and responsive learning environment for pupils.


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