Technology is driving amazing advancements in education. However, most of us in the classroom want to be great teachers, not computer experts. I am a former math teacher now dedicated to developing and innovating virtual programs for hundreds of virtual teachers in a variety of subjects. So the question I get most often from teachers is: digital tools should I use in my class?
Determine the objective before choosing the digital tools
There are three major types of digital educational tools to consider. Each serves a different purpose and will help you answer different questions. These tools can:
- Provide information. These tools will improve course delivery and engagement. They resolve the question: What do I need students to know? Examples are presentation tools and design builders.
- Facilitate visualization. These tools allow students to visually represent and organize information from their learning. They resolve the question: What do I need students to visualize? Examples are diagram builders and mind maps.
- Improve interaction. These tools promote interactions between students, teachers and content. They resolve the question: What do I need the students to do? Examples of tools for student interaction include digital whiteboards for brainstorming and shared thinking. Tools that support student-teacher interactions include those with chat functions. And examples of content interactivity tools are those that offer quizzes and quizzes.
Choose the right digital tool
After looking at the different types of technology available, the question that always follows is: how do you choose the right tool? I recommend teachers follow these three steps to select and meaningfully integrate digital tools into their classroom.
- Pay attention to student preferences. Your time is valuable, so don’t invest in a new tool until you’re sure it’s a perfect fit for your students. Students “follow the dopamine,” so if they enjoy the tool and are able to use it, it will better serve its purpose of helping them on their learning journey. You will want to determine if a digital tool fits your student interests. You also need to consider how much training students will need to use the tool and whether you can provide that training. Only then can you decide if a tool is worth the time investment.
- Adopt a variety of tools. Online or virtual education is not a one-size-fits-all solution or tool. While the curriculum will guide the content students learn, teachers now have more options to customize the digital tools they incorporate into their lesson planning. Keep in mind that variety is important. Student interest will wane if you rely on one or two digital tools for a semester or an entire school year. And because tools differ in purpose and function, variety is also important for addressing different elements of the learning process.
- Leverage tools that strengthen relationships. Building personal relationships is critical to student success in any environment, whether you teach in person or virtually. With strong relationships, students can learn without fear of failure. Since we are all more comfortable expressing our concerns and struggles in private, look for digital tools that provide opportunities for one-on-one communication. Virtual classrooms can also encourage a greater student voice and contribution to shape not only their learning environment, but also their own growth and progress.
Let student needs dictate the direction
For virtual and in-person teachers, the right digital tools will expand opportunities to engage students in learning. Good choices enhance student interactivity with learning content and provide pathways for stronger teacher-student relationships. The key is to bring these tools into the classroom with purpose and intent. By focusing on the needs of their students, teachers can select – and integrate – the right digital tools to improve and support learning outcomes.
Stephanie Eaton is a former math teacher and currently a college curriculum specialist for Local learningan organization that broadcasts certified teachers live into classrooms.
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