Technology is not meant to be cumbersome, nor should it be treated as an add-on or a substitute for a regular lesson plan. Showing a movie on a day when no lesson is prepared is not what successful integration of technology in the classroom looks like. With a few easy to use tools, you can enhance your classroom instruction, be more inclusive of different learning styles and abilities, and engage students more immediately in course material.
Here are some ideas for using technology in the classroom that range from short, simple techniques to more sophisticated ideas that are interactive and may even be student led.
Timers as Motivational Tools
Perhaps the simplest way to introduce technology into the classroom is through the use of timers. Timers can be used to help keep classroom activities on track or they can be used to motivate students by having them race the clock.
Timers should never be used as tools to emphasize speed over accuracy or understanding, but they can be a fun way to help students run drills or play games that reinforce information previously studied to help with retention and mastery. Timers that run on a tablet or PC can be a fun way to help keep things interesting for students.
Use of Videos to Enhance Understanding, Connection and Learning
Videos can be used effectively to bring material alive and help students connect on more than one level. Short, targeted clips can be more effective than long films in that they can help break-up longer lessons or difficult material. Free educational clips are available from sources like Learn Out Loud, Google Videos, or the Khan Academy – one of the most comprehensive sources for free educational material on the internet. iTunes University has lectures and clips available and products like Damnvid make downloading and converting videos easy for teachers.
Free Online Tech Resources
Some technology can actually help save money while providing students with an impressive array of resources. Project Gutenberg is a free online resource that offers the full text of books in the public domain. Most classics fall under this category. Students can read classics online or teachers can use pieces of different texts for compare and contrast activities.
LibriVox is a similar source, but the books are in audiobook form. Students who are not strong readers can benefit from this material by reading along with the audio book.in a different way. This is not meant to replace reading practice but can help get struggling or reluctant readers interested in books and help them keep up with the rest of their class.
The Lesser Known Gem: Public Libraries
For more recent books, many libraries offer an extensive range of new releases in e-book formats, which can be read on e-readers, smartphones, tablets, or PCs at no charge. Many school libraries simply can’t compete with the titles available through these online sources, and students can borrow titles any time day or night, without the need to physically go to a library. For students without libraries at school or in their neighborhood, online borrowing can be an excellent option.
Technology and Student Skill Development
Technology can also help students gain the valuable skills they need to succeed such as effective note-taking skills and being able to productively organize, prioritize, and sort information. Online note-taking programs, mind-mapping, and brainstorming apps can help students organize notes and other information in ways that make the most sense for them. Brainstorming and mind-mapping apps can be especially helpful to visual learners.
Voice-to-Text as a Solution for Struggling Writers
For students who have difficulty writing, voice-to-text apps provide an excellent way to take notes and process information in a way that works for them. Dictation and the use of voice-to-text programs is a common practice used by business professionals and others, so it is a valuable skill for any student to learn.
In language learning classrooms, Voice-to-text programs are a wonderful way to help students practice enunciating words clearly so that the application can understand what they are trying to say. Students can practice free speaking into the program, or they can practice certain sounds, words, or phrases that may be giving them trouble.
Technology that Supports Teachers in Getting the Job Done Well
Teachers can stay organized and reduce the amount of physical paper they handle on a daily basis, while empowering students, by modeling good use of technology. Putting class calendars online is one way to help students and parents be accountable for having work completed on time and to prepare for tests and other events.
Many school districts have online webpages or Moodle pages for teachers with simple to follow templates. Information can be password protected and teachers can opt to make these pages as static or as interactive as they like. Posting course calendars, copies of handouts, links to videos or other online content, and even having a location for assignment submission are wonderful ways for teachers to organize their courses. At the same time, these practices teach students to be more self-sufficient while keeping parents in the loop.
These simple, inexpensive or free to implement ideas can have great results in terms of student engagement, content acquisition, and retention. Once you’re comfortable with these ideas, teachers can expand their use of technology in a myriad of other effective ways.
Students respond positively to online learning and technology. Offering instruction in ways that are comfortable for your students is an effective way to engage even the most reluctant learner.
Fitzell, Susan. (2012). Technology tools for teachers. Retrieved from: http://susanfitzell.com/articles-by-susan-fitzell/technology-tools-for-teachers/
Fitzell, Susan. (2013). Best, new strategies for using iPads®, mobile devices and other cutting edge technology to strengthen English/Language Arts instruction. Manchester, NH: Cogent Catalyst Publications.
Noeth, Richard J., Volkov, Boris B., (2004). Evaluating the effectiveness of technology in our schools, ACT Policy Report. Retrieved from: http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/school_tech.pdf
United States Census Bureau. (2013). Computer and internet use in the United States: Population characteristics
(THOM File, May 2013, P 20-569). Washington, D.C. Retrieved from: http://www.infrastructureusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/p20-569.pdf
For more information about using technology to strengthen instruction, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Using iPads and Other Cutting Edge Technology to Strengthen Your Instruction.