From increasing student engagement to improving assessment efficiency, the implementation of technology in the classroom has observable benefits for teachers and students alike. Sarah Kessler from Mashable describes eight ways technology is improving classrooms.
posted by: Devin de Lange
Don Knezek, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, compares education without technology to the medical profession without technology.
“If in 1970 you had knee surgery, you got a huge scar,” he says. “Now, if you have knee surgery you have two little dots.”
Technology is helping teachers to expand beyond linear, text-based learning and to engage students who learn best in other ways. Its role in schools has evolved from a contained “computer class” into a versatile learning tool that could change how we demonstrate concepts, assign projects and assess progress.
Despite these opportunities, adoption of technology by schools is still anything but ubiquitous. Knezek says that U.S. schools are still asking if they should incorporate more technology, while other countries are asking how. But in the following eight areas, technology has shown its potential for improving education.
While a tuning fork is a perfectly acceptable way to demonstrate how vibrations make sound, it’s harder to show students what evolution is, how molecules behave in different situations, or exactly why mixing two particular chemicals is dangerous.
Digital simulations and models can help teachers explain concepts that are too big or too small, or processes that happen too quickly or too slowly to demonstrate in a physical classroom.
The Concord Consortium, a non-profit organization that develops technologies for math, science and engineering education, has been a leader in developing free, open source software that teachers can use to model concepts. One of their most extensive projects is the Molecular Workbench, which provides science teachers with simulations on topics like gas laws, fluid mechanics and chemical bonding. Teachers who are trained in the system can create activities with text, models and interactive controls. One participant referred to the project as “[Microsoft] Word for molecules.”
Other simulations the organization is developing include a software that allows students to experiment with virtual greenhouses in order to understand evolution, a software that helps students understand the physics of energy efficiency by designing a model house, and simulations of how electrons interact with matter.
At sites like Glovico.org, students can set up language lessons with a native speaker who lives in another country and attend the lessons via videoconferencing. Learning from a native speaker, learning through social interaction, and being exposed to another culture’s perspective are all incredible educational advantages that were once only available to those who could foot a travel bill. Now, setting up a language exchange is as easy as making a videoconferencing call.
Let’s say you’re learning about the relationship between fractions, percents and decimals. Your teacher could have you draw graphs or do a series of problems that changes just one variable in the same equation. Or he could give you a “virtual manipulative” like the one above and let you experiment with equations to reach an understanding of the relationship. The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, run by a team at Utah State University, has been building its database of these tools since 1999.
“You used to count blocks or beads,” says Lynne Schrum, who has written three books on the topic of schools and technology. “Manipulating those are a little bit more difficult. Now there are virtual manipulative sites where students can play with the idea of numbers and what numbers mean, and if I change values and I move things around, what happens.”
About 15 years ago, the founders of the Concord Consortium took the auto focus sensor from a Polaroid camera and hooked it up to a computer graph program, thereby creating the ability to graph motion in real time. Today there are classrooms all over the world that use ultrasonic motion detectors to demonstrate concepts.
“I’ve taught physics before, and you spend a lot of time getting these ideas of position, and what is velocity, and what does motion really mean and how do you define it,” says Chad Dorsey, the president and CEO of the Concord Consortium. “And you end up spending a lot of time doing these things and trying to translate them into graphs. You could spend a whole period creating a graph for an experiment that you did, and it loses a lot of meaning in that process. By hooking up this ultrasonic motion detector to a graph right away…it gives you a specific real-time feel for what it means to move at faster rates or slower rates or increasing in speed or decreasing in speed and a much more foundational understanding of the topic than you could ever get by just drawing the graph by hand.”
Collecting real-time data through probes and sensors has a wide range of educational applications. Students can compute dew point with a temperature sensor, test pH with a pH probe, observe the effect of pH on an MnO3 reduction with a light probe, or note the chemical changes in photosynthesis using pH and nitrate sensors.
Models and simulations, beyond being a powerful tool for teaching concepts, can also give teachers a much richer picture of how students understand them.
“You can ask students questions, and multiple choice questions do a good job of assessing how well students have picked up vocabulary,” Dorsey explains. “But the fact that you can describe the definition [of] a chromosome … doesn’t mean that you understand genetics any better … it might mean that you know how to learn a definition. But how do we understand how well you know a concept?”
In Geniverse, a program the Concord Consortium developed to help students understand genetics by “breeding” dragons, teachers can give students a problem that is much more like a performance assessment. The students are asked to create a specific dragon. Teachers can see what each student did to reach his or her end result and thereby understand whether trial-and-error or actual knowledge of genetics leads to a correct answer.
The organization is also developing a program that will help teachers collect real-time assessment data from their students. When the teacher gives out an assignment, she can watch how far along students are, how much time each a spends on each question, and whether their answers are correct. With this information, she can decide what concepts students are struggling with and can pull up examples of students’ work on a projector for discussion.
“What they would have done in the past is students would make a lab report, they’d turn it in, the teacher would take a couple of days to grade it, they’d get it back a couple of days later, and two to three days later they’d talk about it,” Dorsey says. “But they’ve probably done a couple of lessons in between then, [and] they haven’t had time to guide the students immediately as they learned it.”
Knezek recently saw a video that was produced by a group of elementary students aboutBernoulli’s Principle. In the video, the students demonstrated the principle that makes flight possible by taking two candles and putting them close together, showing that blowing between them brings the flames closer together. For another example, they hung ping pong balls from the ceiling and they pulled together.
“With a simple assignment and access to technology, researching and also producing a product that would communicate, they were able to do deep learning on a concept that wasn’t even addressed in their textbook, and allow other people to view it and learn from it,” Knezek says.
Asking children to learn through multimedia projects is not only an excellent form of project-based learning that teaches teamwork, but it’s also a good way to motivate students who are excited to create something that their peers will see. In addition, it makes sense to incorporate a component of technology that has become so integral to the world outside of the classroom.
“It’s no longer the verbal logic or the spoken or written word that causes people to make decisions,” Knezek says. “Where you go on vacations, who you vote for, what kind of car you buy, all of those things are done now with multimedia that engage all of the senses and cause responses.”
Despite students’ apparent preference for paper textbooks, proponents like Daytona Collegeand California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are ready to switch to digital. And electronic textbook vendors like CourseSmart are launching to help them.
E-books hold an unimaginable potential for innovating education, though as some schools have already discovered, not all of that potential has been realized yet.
“A digital textbook that is merely a PDF on a tablet that students can carry around might be missing out on huge possibilities like models and simulations or visualizations,” Dorsey says. “It takes time and it really takes some real thought to develop those things, and so it would be easy for us as a society to miss out on those kinds of opportunities by saying, ‘Hey look, we’re not carrying around five textbooks anymore. It’s all on your iPad, isn’t that great?’”
Epistemic games put students in roles like city planner, journalist, or engineer and ask them to solve real-world problems. The Epistemic Games Group has provided several examples of how immersing students in the adult world through commercial game-like simulations can help students learn important concepts.
In one game, students are cast as high-powered negotiators who need to decide the fate of a real medical controversy. In another, they must become graphical artists in order to create an exhibit of mathematical art in the style of M.C. Escher. Urban Science, the game featured in the above video, assigns students the task of redesigning Madison, Wisconsin.
“Creative professionals learn innovative thinking through training that is very different from traditional academic classrooms because innovative thinking means more than just knowing the right answers on a test,” explains The Epistemic Games Group’s website. “It also means having real-world skills, high standards and professional values, and a particular way of thinking about problems and justifying solutions. Epistemic games are about learning these fundamental ways of thinking for the digital age.”
These eight technologies are redefining education. Which technologies would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.