As technology is quickly evolving, educators and administrators alike are trying to keep up with the new products and trends in blended learning. We reached out to 4 ed tech thought leaders to get their opinion and advice on some questions that are always on our mind. Here’s who we asked and what they had to say:
Question 1: What’s on the rise in ed tech right now? What should we be keeping our eyes open for?
Tom - The Future Ready effort (www.futurereadyschools.org) is helping districts systemically plan BEFORE they purchase. As witnessed by news article after news article, too many districts are purchasing edtech, putting it in hallways and classrooms, and then saying "now what do we do?" Future Ready is helping districts to make more informed purchases and have a comprehensive plan in place prior to implementation.
On the content side, apps and sites that level to a student's ability and help a teacher personalize learning, as well as those sites that provide meaningful data for teachers to utilize will continue to make strides in the next wave of tools. These tools support high quality instruction and empower both teachers and students.
Monica - With the introduction of the Apple Watch this spring I think more people will be exploring how wearables can be used in education. The FitBit and Google Cardboard have classroom applications so it will be interesting to see what happens with this new device.
Sam - It’s safe to assume that we’ll see a rapid expansion in 1:1 programs with devices that are increasingly mobile, ever-present and connected. Media creation and use is rising rapidly throughout society and will become more and more integrated in all forms of learning. As for specific technologies, I expect a movement away from typing to more oral and gesture based user interfaces.
Jennifer - The development of student technology teams to support 1:1 or BYOD initiatives is something more schools across the country are exploring. Explore the Burlington High School Help Desk student run Genius Bar to see an example of a highly effective student technology team. The program has been in existence for the past four years and serves as a model for many other schools across the country that are looking to develop a similar program.
Question 2: What advice would you give to teachers about overcoming the challenges of integrating technology into the classroom?
Monica - Starting small is important. Play with content creation tools to make materials for your students to interact with, then pass the responsibility to them. They can create content that demonstrates their understanding and ready to be shared with an authentic audience.
Sam - We all grew up within a framework where teachers were the classroom experts. Today, students usually know more than teachers when it comes to technology. That can be very intimidating at first; however, we need to allow students the freedom and flexibility to use technology creatively. It’s far more productive for teachers to focus on the pedagogical goals and trust that students can help each other to use the technology with a minimum of guidance.
Question 3: As personalized learning is gaining momentum, how are teachers’ roles changing?
Tom - The notion of the teacher front and center disseminating all the information with students regurgitating to show competence is a model from years ago, yet still remains prevalent in many classrooms across our nation. As personalized learning takes hold, the role of teacher is shifting from the disseminator of content, to one who empowers opportunity. With properly infused technology, walls are broken down, content becomes more relevant, relationships can be built worldwide, experiences can take place daily, and the learning can further be personalized. In this type of environment, the teacher works to empower students, providing a rigorous blend of face to face and digital instruction.
Jennifer - Students now have access to all of the same information that teachers have. Because of this, teachers must become facilitators of learning. The sage on the stage is a thing of the past and now we're at the point where teachers can learn from their students. Asking students the right questions and encouraging them to develop a personal learning path has never been more critical. Teachers must shift their paradigm, give up a certain level of control, and encourage strategic risk taking if her students are to own their learning. It's essential for teachers to leverage technology in a way that gives students authentic, real world learning opportunities. Integrating technology can bring a level of relevance to a student's education like never before. It can also bring a new level of transparency to student learning. An example of this would be student blogging. I'm a huge proponent of blogging in the classroom. Not only does it showcase a student's written communication skills, it serves as a portfolio of learning and can help students build a positive and professional online presence. There are endless possibilities for blogging in the classroom and it's by far one of the best ways to bring a personalized learning experience to each and every child. Furthermore, blogging gives students a global audience and a platform to share their voice, passions, and learning experiences with the world.
Question 4: What’s your best kept ed tech secret?
Tom - Plan before you buy. Districts continue to purchase without a true vision, proper teacher training, and time after time digital tools have minimal result. However, when properly implemented, research indicates that digital learning can help students out perform their peers on traditional measures. Districts can take advantage of the FREE Future Ready Dashboard to help them systemically plan for digital learning implementation.
Monica - I love using iCal to keep track of information. It helps me stay on task and is a great organizational tool to share with students.
Sam - Hopefully it’s not that much of a secret, but the payoff in educational technology investment will always be higher when the driving motive is to empower students with technology rather than teachers.
Jennifer - My best said ed tech secret is the effective teacher. While the integration of technology can have a dramatic effect on student engagement, no piece of technology, no matter how many bells and whistles it may offer, can replace a caring teacher who inspires and genuinely cares about her students. A second secret is that students can be great teachers. When a teacher gains access to technology for the first time, it's effective practice to engage students in the conversation about how to best utilize that technology. Students are the ones using the technology, so why not gain their perspective on how they would like it to be used? You'd be amazed at how many creative ideas and suggestions students have for integrating digital tools in the classroom. Involving students in the technology using decision-making process also shows they are trusted, respected, and valued members of a learning community.