A teacher using a tablet in the classroom

How New and Experienced Teachers Will Use Technology to Change the Classroom

Every Job is a STEAM Job is our series looking at why kids will need tech literacy and coding skills to succeed in their future careers, no matter where those careers take them. Previously, we looked at how technology is changing fashion designers, architects, journalists, small business owners, and the professionals protecting our national parks.

The use of technology in the classroom continues to be debated within the education community. Some think it’s a supplemental tool that should be used sparingly, while others believe technology will completely revolutionize how students learn. Depending on the types of technological innovations, both parties are right.

Today’s teachers and the next generation will use technology, but how they do and the benefits they reap will vary by district, school, grade level, and even classroom.

Teachers Need Training Before They Can Embrace Technology

It’s not that teachers who don’t use technology are technophobic, or that they don’t want to use technology or embrace a blended-learning experience. Many teachers simply aren’t receiving the training they need. They might not understand how technology can help their classroom or what kind of skills are needed to implement it.

“The teachers who succeed in adding technology to their teaching usually spend their own time to figure out how to use new tools—sitting up late at night digging through YouTube videos and trolling Twitter chats,” Meghan Murphy writes at Slate. “They don’t get paid or receive any credit for these extra hours of work.”

Murphy highlights a few key statistics that explain exactly how expansive the training gap is:

  • 90 percent of teachers feel technology is important for classroom success.
  • 66 percent feel they need more training to integrate it into their classrooms.
  • 38 percent learn about technology through their own time and research.

Without school, district, and state support for helping teachers grow their technology knowledge in the classroom, educators are left floundering or figuring it out themselves.

In fact, resources play a major role in how confident teachers feel bringing technology into the classroom. In a recent article for EdTech, Meghan Cortez discusses the technological divide between higher and lower-income schools. More than 50 percent of teachers in high-income areas consider themselves to be highly-tech confident, compared to 17 percent of teachers in low-income areas.

When asked about the challenges holding teachers back, lack of support from the state and administration played a large role:

  • 42 percent of teachers said there were too few devices.
  • 28 percent cited slow and unreliable school internet.
  • 20 percent cited either insufficient support from IT staff or a lack of guidance from school administrators.

Teachers need a combination of tools in the form of technological devices and internet service, but also need IT support and the backing of the administration to succeed.   

Students working on computers 

Teachers Use Technology to Solve Existing Problems

One of the biggest misconceptions about technology in the classroom is that it’s something teachers need to know on top of their existing material and lesson plans. However, modern teaching theory proves otherwise.

Amber Thomas believes technological advancement in the classroom isn’t changing the teaching process, but rather is used as a solution to existing problems. She cites lecture capture technologies as her first example. The ability to record a lecture and share it resulted mainly from a need to reduce overcrowded lecture halls, but also as a way for teachers to access adjunct material for their own lesson plans.

“If we don’t understand what drives the use of technology in higher education we could be putting effort into areas that aren’t going to get traction,” Thomas writes. Technology is used to satisfy existing needs; rejecting it because it’s new or takes extra work means those needs aren’t going to be met. Decades ago, email provided a way to send written messages instantly, satisfying the need for better communication. While it took training for people to learn it, the benefits are obvious.

Problem Solving is Persuasive

Using technology to solve problems isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When teachers can show their peers how technology makes their lives easier, or prove to administrators that the value provided by investing in tools exceeds the cost, then the likelihood of adoption increases.

“Being able to spot a genuine classroom problem and show how technology can solve it can be very persuasive,” learning technology consultant Nik Peachey writes.

This means technology can be presented as a solution, not an extra cost to the school’s time and budget to implement.

Educators are Taking Baby Steps Toward Technology

Universities are working to prepare the next generation of teachers to connect with students through digital innovations, starting from the ground up. Teachers don’t have to implement a digital classroom in order to be effective, they simply have to be open-minded.

Candace Roberts shared the SAMR method used by St. Leo University’s education department in Tampa, Florida to help future teachers better understand their technological options:

  • Substitution: replacing tasks with technology that offers the same function (i.e. typing notes on a laptop instead of on paper.)
  • Augmentation: replacing tasks with technology that provides a functional improvement (i.e. collaborating on notes in Google Docs instead of individually typing in Word.)
  • Modification: redesigning projects and tasks because technology allows for a better experience (i.e. students creating a group paper and teaching each other with Google Docs instead of individually submitting essays.)
  • Redefinition: implementing tasks that were inconceivable without technology (i.e. creating a video essay or building a website for a project instead of writing a paper.)

Teachers looking to add technology to the classroom can simply start by upgrading from a chalkboard or emailing notes to students and parents. No knowledge of the Internet of Things is needed during these first few steps.  

A teacher working on a tablet with students

Case Study: Kathryn Griffis Elementary’s Dyslexia Program

To better understand how technology can be used on a small scale to solve problems in the classroom, look at the Dyslexia Program at Kathryn Griffis Elementary.

Texas lacks state funding for dyslexia programs, even though one in five people have the learning disability. However, Leslie Patterson, a teacher at the school, started using an online resource free for U.S. schools called Bookshare to access 480,000 books with audio and visual cues.

“[Students] can choose the voices, choose the speed of the words and now they are an independent reader by using their eyes and their ears,” Patterson says. “With the practice of reading with eyes and ears, you are learning words because you are seeing the words spelled correctly, you are hearing the word, as your eye is touching it, pronounced correctly, and over time, you are learning words because you are getting practice hearing and seeing them correctly.”

While not all of the students at Griffis Elementary have access to mobile devices to practice at home, the reading software is a resource they wouldn’t have had access to at all without technology.

Technology Provides Additional Resources Schools Couldn’t Afford

Patterson’s use of the software also gives her students access to hundreds of thousands more books than they could access in their local libraries. This helps inspire a curiosity about books regardless of whether the student has a learning disability or is just slower to develop reading skills.

“[Technology] offers educators outside of urban and private school environments equal access to world-class, global educational sites and teaching environments,” Alyson Behr writes. “As a result, their methodologies and their students’ learning opportunities have a chance to flourish along with the best schools in the world, equalizing the playing field.”  

Regardless of Income, Schools Need Tech Training

The Griffis Elementary story highlights that having access to the devices isn’t enough. There need to be passionate teachers like Leslie Patterson with clear goals and administrative support available.

Benjamin Herold highlighted another example of teachers using technology when he profiled educators at South Fayette Intermediate School.

“In places like Pittsburgh’s southwestern suburbs, where some local school districts are engaged in a kind of ed-tech arms race, just offering kids the latest-model laptop isn’t enough,” Herold writes. “What distinguishes the most innovative schools is what students and teachers do with the technology they have.”

A computer or smartphone is only useful if people know how to use it. Filling schools with technology won’t help unless teachers have the right support to make the most of it.    

A student using a VR headset

Teachers Can Use Technology to Manage Workloads

While many educators consider technology in the classroom a forward-facing tool (meaning the students interact with it), it can also be used behind the scenes to help teachers understand their classrooms better.

Through digital engagement and questioning, teachers can study real-time analytics to see what percent of students understand the material. Teachers could also see which students are struggling with various concepts and concentrate their efforts to grow their understanding.

“While students are working through lessons, the technology analyzes every click, hesitation, and answer in order to direct students based on what they need in the moment,” Barbara Kurshan writes at Forbes.

Kids are often too nervous to speak up if they don’t know something. Technology means teachers don’t have to be mind readers to guess which students are struggling.

The “Personalized Lesson Plan” Movement

In many ways, technological development for educators matches similar innovation efforts in the consumer market and advertising business.

“All of them are searching for that holy grail of tailoring content and skills to the weaknesses of each kid,” says Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University.

This isn’t too different from marketers trying to determine exactly what customers need when they visit a store or tailoring a shopping experience for a buyer.

However, the benefits of real-time data also come with income challenges: Teachers in low-tech schools likely lack the resources to teach through digital engagement and use these evaluation programs.

“The use case for tools that help teachers put data to use in real-time is strong—but so are the challenges that need to be resolved to make data available, accessible, and actionable,” Karen Johnson, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, writes.

Johnson implores software developers and startup gurus who want to grow edtech to work closely with teachers and hear their pain points when developing tools for educators. This includes approaching educators of all income and geographical levels, not just high-income schools in Silicon Valley.

Tech Developers and Startup Founders Need to Listen to Teachers

If developers aren’t listening to teachers, then technology will always stay out of the hands of low-income or technophobic teachers. It will always be perceived as a luxury or a waste of resources.

To prevent this, Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy reinforces this idea of better connecting with what teachers need when you’re working with them. She created a general survey that tech trainers, evaluators, and developers can use when they’re meeting with schools for the first time. A few of her questions include:

  • How do you currently use technology in your classroom and how would you like to be using it?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how would you describe the access you and your students have to technology?
  • What tools or topics would you like to know more about?

Many teachers are in tune with the access to technology that their students have at home, which means they base their decisions on what would be best for their students, not just the coolest edu-toys on the market.

Students working on a laptop

Listening to Teachers Means Paying Attention to Details

Listening to these teachers can actually help edtech developers solve minor problems that hold educators back from technology.

“Both teachers and students alike require technology that doesn’t make onboarding of students into the application a barrier to entry – a notoriously complex challenge that [we] continuously struggle to overcome,” Paul Seddon writes at Pearson. “Students can struggle with creating accounts, redeeming access codes, remembering their login details and joining groups – and the first person they will complain to is their teacher.”

Sometimes, a new software tool is exciting simply because it removes a minor headache from teachers’ lives, like login credentials, not because it uses advanced machine learning or the Internet of Things.

The Next Generation of Teachers Will Be Technology Buyers

Every year, more students graduate with education degrees and look to start their teaching careers. The next generation of teachers will have grown up with technology and will want to make it a part of their daily work lives. As they’re choosing what tools are right for the classroom, they need to learn what is valuable and what isn’t worth their time.

“Seek out technology that makes teaching easier, more engaging, more efficient, and more effective,” educator Michael Parker West writes. “Drop anything that doesn’t. Don’t waste your time on things that are more work than they’re worth. Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’ll suit your needs.”

There will be dozens of new innovations over the next few years. Some will revolutionize learning, some will solve minor problems, and some will fall out of fashion in a few years. It’s up to the next generation of teachers to decide what is useful, and what isn’t worth it.

“Not every cutting edge technology will find its place in the classroom,” George Jones writes at Edudemic.

While students would love it if every day involved flying drones or DNA hacking, many teachers are first and foremost looking to improve the learning experience in a way that doesn’t blow the entire department’s budget.

These baby steps start with getting the right hardware, software, and training. Only then can the next generation of teachers get creative.

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