Top Tips Part 2: Effective Use of Digital Tools in Classrooms

Technology is everywhere, and it's here to stay. While we are far from the vision of the future depicted in The Jetsons, technological advances have made certain aspects of our lives easier. Grading multiple-choice tests is now automatic (no more clear plastic overlays for Scantron® sheets), teachers can assign homework online instead of printing countless worksheets, and initial instruction can even be outsourced to quality education technology resources. Each of these advancements free-up teacher's time and allow for them to work more personally with students than ever before.

When it comes to effective use of digital tools in classrooms, there are five key strategies educators can implement to establish effective use that sets their students up for success.

And if you missed our earlier piece with tips to digitize your classroom, check it out now.

1. Make learning interactive

Having students summarize what they're learning teaches them how to discern the most important information and express the central ideas coherently and concisely. So why not have students use the 240-character limit of a tweet to summarize a recent reading, describe a historical event, or explain a math lesson? An ELA class could even take their poetry lessons to the platform of choice with a haiku.

Researching political figures can also be an interesting social media assignment. Or, ask your students to create profiles for characters from literature or history and use their imagination to extrapolate more about their personalities. What would Abraham Lincoln tweet before the Gettysburg Address? What about Jay Gatsby or Nick Carraway? Have conversations about the student's choices and imagine what the responses might be to help history come alive in the classroom.

2. Cater to individual student needs

The easiest way to jump into the field of individualized learning is to do station rotations. If you're in an elementary classroom, you likely are already using this model, with different sections of the classroom set up for specific activities. You may have a reading specialist in one corner, a math area with manipulatives, and a general lecture area with students' desks.

Use this same idea to incorporate education technology into your classroom by setting up a station for device usage. Whether your school provides devices or you do a bring-your-own program, students can access specific materials when they are in this station, and drive their own learning. Materials can be curated from open educational resources or your education technology provider to directly relate to your lessons, and give students additional practice to reinforce, reteach, or expand on the topic at hand.

3. Reinforce student-teacher engagement

The station-rotation model also gives teachers the opportunity to work one-on-one with students. If you partner with a robust education technology provider, you may even be able to eliminate the burden of daily lectures from your to-do list, and let the technology provide the initial instruction. Then, as the students are working through the various units at their own pace, you can view their scores and identify those who may need some one-on-one or small-group instruction for remediation or advancement.

Data is a powerful tool, and this is where education technology truly shines over many open educational resources on the market. The ability to collect, amalgamate, and present data in meaningful ways for teachers gives them the power to truly individualize learning for all students, not just those at the top and bottom of the spectrum.

4. Enhance peer-to-peer collaboration

Technology can encourage a shift of control from the teacher to the student, and provide an opportunity for more peer-to-peer interaction among students. With a quality education technology provider, teachers can assign the students to watch a lecture or complete an assignment as homework. Then, in the classroom, the students can expand on what they learned and discuss major components of the lesson. This 'flipped classroom' experience allows the teacher to work with the students instead of standing in front of the class to deliver a traditional lecture.

5. Don't be afraid to recalibrate

Have you ever tried something new only to find it flopped? While this can be disheartening and frustrating (especially if you put a lot of time or money into your new idea), this is not a reason to completely scrap your initiative. Evaluate what went wrong and what went right, then readjust. You can use a variety of tools, methods, and techniques to include the effective use of digital tools in classrooms, but they won't all work well for everyone.

It's critical to keep an open mind, pick and choose what works for you, and don't be afraid to change it up! However, change and fear are inextricably intertwined. Teachers don't need to overhaul their classroom overnight (and it may be impossible to do so mid-semester), but small changes can help automate some of the most mundane work and solve some of the most pervasive problems for teachers.

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