Getting on board with educational technology
Schools have a responsibility to students to prepare them to be independent and productive adults, and technology has changed how schools go about doing that. This technology-enhanced environment now partly alters the way students need to learn. It's becoming essential that schools adopt a solid educational technology (edu-tech) program to ensure that student learning is in fact preparing them for the competitive, global and digital world that is their future.
Educational technology: What is edu-tech?
According to the U.S Department of Education, edu-tech is enhancing education through the use of technology. One of the primary goals of educational technology programs is to help students become more technologically literate and comfortable using technology in classrooms and daily life. The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced the Transforming Education through Technology Act, in part to communicate to the education community that digital learning and edu-tech needs to play a key role in the education of students.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has outlined some of the purposes of the legislation. They include ensuring that all students have access to meaningful digital learning experiences, administrators have the leadership skills to develop and implement an edu-tech environment, and educators have the knowledge and teacher training necessary to effectively use technology to strengthen student education.
How does educational technology enable learning?
Preparing students for the digital age can be a tall task. There would not be such an emphasis on this aspect of learning by the U.S Department of Education and schools across the country, however, if the impact on student learning wasn't great.
For starters, a technological learning environment can be more complex than a traditional lecture-structured class or a lesson centered only around a blackboard, chalk and note taking. Complexity often helps build problem solving, critical thinking and decision making skills. Tools such as a SMARTboard, document camera or even online games projected on a big screen create an interactive environment for students. Increased communication, collaboration and engagement with other learners often helps a deeper sense of understanding to develop.
One example that was cited by the U.S. Department of Education in its research was activities by teachers at George J. Ryan Junior High School in Queens, N.Y. As part of their educational technology program, the teachers created an online writing workshop environment. In a similar manner to an interactive blog, students could post writing samples, hold discussions and receive feedback on their work. Parents could also take advantage of a virtual tour of their child's learning. Ryan Junior High School reported improved literacy outcomes after their first year of implementing the online writing workshop environment.
Getting started: Exploring one edu-tech resource
The are countless resources available for educators who are just beginning to explore edu-tech. ISTE is a great place to search for technology learning standards, professional development opportunities, webinars and conferences, classroom ideas, and literature to support and outline different aspects of edu-tech programs.
One specific resource available to schools that are looking to jump right in and implement digital learning in the classroom is Skype. Skype may be a perfect place for schools to begin their edu-tech development for a number of reasons.
Many administrators find Skype appealing because there is no purchasing involved or any type of financial commitment, as it can be downloaded for free. The program is user-friendly, which can help make a smooth transition for reluctant teachers who feel uncomfortable with technology. Along with this, many students may already have some experience with Skype at home. Through Skype, teachers and students are able to take field trips without leaving the classroom, and can potentially obtain visual access to any place in the world. Students may feel more engaged and excited about their learning, and could start to feel a greater connection to the global world.
How might Skype look in the classroom?
One of the greatest things about Skype is its ability to expand the walls of the classroom to promote a more global education approach. Listed are some specific ideas of using Skype in a K-12 classroom.
- Set up interviews with authors of literature being read.
- In foreign language or social studies classes, use Skype to "visit" different countries and experience different cultures.
- Take a virtual field trip to a museum for history classes. Skype with curators of museums to view artifacts or meet with other museum experts so that students can ask questions on a topic being studied.
- Write letters to pen pals in a different part of the country. Students can "meet" their pal via Skype and ask questions to learn about their school, town, state or lifestyle.
- Have two classrooms in different states or countries take on the same project. Both students and teachers could share resources, collaborate, and eventually see each other's final product via Skype.
- Give students leadership roles by allowing them to teach lessons or give presentations to younger students through Skype. This could also work with students who are graduating to another school soon (perhaps elementary to middle school) by allowing the younger students to take a virtual tour of their future environment and having a Q and A session with students who currently attend the school.
Education technology is an important part of our world and adds immeasurable benefits to a school's curriculum. Not only does technology allow students a more global approach to learning, it often creates more engaged, curious and excited learners. One of the greatest benefits of developing a successful edu-tech program could be the feeling administrators and educators get knowing students will be better prepared for the challenges of the 21st century digital world.