Using Technology in the Classroom: Five Tips for Engagement
October 1, 2021
Author: Mariah McCune
Last spring, my teaching assignment, like so many others nationwide, experienced a seismic shift: I was suddenly an online teacher.
With little more than a week to embrace online learning and revamp my 4th quarter lesson plans, I was left scratching my head. What tools could I use to foster authentic learning? How would I continue to support my students in online education?
The learning process was messy and the learning curve was steep. There were moments of success and moments of epic failure, and I felt like a student teacher again.
When my district returned to in-person learning this fall, I experienced another paradigm shift; we had finally moved to 1:1 for technology devices. For the first time in my teaching experience, every student came to class with a Chromebook. I felt a duty to use this new technology to enhance my classroom instruction in new ways.
I am grateful for my online teaching experience last year because it was an unexpected professional development opportunity. It forced me to explore the benefits of technology tools that promote authentic engagement, rigorous learning experiences, and regular opportunities to assess how well my students are learning. And this meant that I was well positioned to start integrating technology in the classroom more when the fall rolled around.
Five tips for leveraging technology in the classroom
Whether teaching in a physical space or online, I have found these tools immensely useful in engaging my students and monitoring their learning:
1. Engaged Video Viewing
Youtube and other video platforms have a wealth of resources that are fantastic supplements to classroom instruction. However, how do teachers know their students are processing the information in the videos and making meaning? More importantly, how do teachers hold students accountable for actually watching the material?
Fortunately tools like EdPuzzle and PlayPosit offer teachers the opportunity to embed multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions that students must answer before continuing to watch. Teachers can receive reports of each students’ performance in the embedded questions, setting the stage for next instructional steps.
Infographics are an incredible way for students to present information in a visually appealing way. Infographics incorporate images, numerical and statistical data, and text to convey key points. They are so versatile that they can be differentiated for diverse learner needs. Also, their flexibility makes them useful in all disciplines: math classes could use infographics to present their findings on a data set; English classes can use them in lieu of book reports; science classes can present experimental data; and social studies classes can feature important historical events.
Infogram, Canva, and Piktochart are all user-friendly platforms that have free versions for students and teachers to use.
3. Social Media, Sort Of
Most school districts block social media access on student accounts. However, students spend so much of their time outside of class engaging with social media that it seems important to meet them where they are. Fortunately, there are ways to leverage this inside the classroom.
Teachers can assign students to create a series of live Tweets in Google Docs for an important historical event or to provide a plot summary for a piece of literature. Or, they can ask students to create memes using a meme generator about the topics addressed in class. Finally, sites like Fakebook allow students to create fake Facebook profiles for important historical figures or literary characters.
4. Interactive Discussions
In the physical classroom, silent discussions are a great way to promote engagement and deep thinking with students. The premise is simple: each student receives a whiteboard marker. The teacher writes a stimulus question on the whiteboard (or several questions depending on the instructional goals of the lesson). Then, in complete silence, students walk up to the board to respond to the stimulus question and, after a time, to respond to the comments and ideas of their peers.
This encourages normally reticent students to have a say and slows the pace of the discussion. Better yet, it creates a record of the discussion that can be preserved at the end of the lesson.
Fortunately there are interactive whiteboard platforms like Jamboard and Stormboard that offer this same style of discussion in a digital space. Here, students can post sticky notes that respond to the stimulus questions or to one another. They can also post images relevant to the discussion or literally draw lines of connection from one point to another. These platforms allow students to work together in real time and promote fulsome engagement that can be preserved and referred back to later.
5. Collaborative Projects
Apps like Google Docs and Slides make collaborative projects much easier to tackle in the online space. Students can work together from anywhere to create research presentations, compose joint essays, or even document the outcomes of their small group discussions or literature circles.
Using the share feature, teachers can see the group’s progress anytime and can offer corrective feedback and suggestions while the students work. The added benefit is that the teacher can look at the version history and see exactly what each student contributed.
A Final Thought
For a long time, technology in the classroom was not something I seriously considered. I only used it when I had access to enough computers or when most of my students came with their smartphones, but that was limited.
However, I have experienced positive results with integrating technology tools in the classroom. My students are participating more with these tools that focus their creative and academic energies into authentic learning experiences. More importantly, my students are simply learning more because they are more engaged. They tell me they appreciate the different approach to learning and wish they could do more of it in their other classes, so I reassure them that I’m working on it.
If the last year has taught me anything, it is that the learning tools technology affords are a boon to both teachers and students no matter the learning environment.
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