Blackboards and chalk, teachers giving lectures, talking in monotonous tones. Students dozing off or doodling in their notebooks, instead of taking notes. This kind of scenario is what most people experienced in their average classroom. It is far from an optimal learning environment. Most types of learners do not benefit from the standard chalk and talk lessons, certainly not as much as they should. Certain types of learners, especially kinesthetic learners, are being terribly neglected in this approach. So what can we do to create a more engaging and effective learning environment, one which would cater to the needs of all learning styles? The content should be presented in various formats and lessons should include activities which require that students apply themselves. A sure way to achieve this is to introduce educational technology (edtech) to the classroom.
Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants
The current generation of students is the first generation of true digital natives; a generation which was born after the onset of the information age and grew up immersed in the internet and social media. They are well versed in using various digital devices which allow them to navigate the web and be connected. Furthermore, once they finish their education and enter the workforce, they will once again be expected to use them in their professional lives. Using technology to study, work on assignments and educate themselves further on the use of new technologies can greatly improve their educational and career opportunities. They already use these devices in all aspects of their daily lives, except in education. Teachers have been somewhat slow to welcome digital devices into their classrooms, and sometimes even openly oppose it. But the tide is turning, and a growing number of education professionals have started to recognize the benefits of edtech.
A lot of research has been done on the subject of pen and paper vs. digital devices. Unfortunately, the findings differ greatly, and both approaches show varying degrees of academic performance improvement; thus studies are inconclusive and we are left without a clear answer. On the other hand, the results varied depending on whether the students had any previous experience with using technology for educational purposes. Those who didn’t, had more difficulty handling it, and the extra cognitive load had a detrimental effect on their ability to use them optimally. So tools are not the issue, rather the habits with which the students were brought up. It follows that allowing digital devices from an early stage would circumvent this problem, and additionally train them in their proper use.
What are the advantages of using classroom technology? Edtech enables teachers to create unique and personalized learning experiences for their students. They increase student engagement, and add an element of creativity to the learning experience. Textbooks are best suited for linguistically dominant learners, while digital tools cater to more learning styles. According to one survey of pre K-12 teachers, technology enables them to reinforce and expand on content (74%), to motivate students to learn (74%), and to respond to a variety of learning styles (73%). Seven in 10 teachers (69%) surveyed said educational technology allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students.
Introducing technology into classrooms on a larger scale is definitely the direction in which we are heading, and it undeniably leads to improved teaching efficacy and student engagement. But how would one go about it? Most educational institutions have only the basic equipment, whiteboards, CD players, some computers, a few projectors, maybe a smart board or two. A skilled teacher can do wonders with only that, or none of it for that matter, but it is far from optimal. So what is the solution? It’s the Bring Your Own Device policy (BYOD). This approach would allow and encourage students to bring their own mobile and computing devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones etc.) and use them to their full potential in lessons. Truth be told, it would be hard to find a student who doesn’t already own one. The number of young children who own at least a smartphone is quite surprising, as well as their level of proficiency in their use.
BYOD has many benefits (and some drawbacks, but we will get to that). First of all, there would be no need for any formal training, since the students are already familiar with their device of choice. Second, teachers who implemented BYOD into their lessons report increased student participation, communication and collaboration, among other things. Students like using their personal devices, they become more motivated and interested in whatever it is that they’re using them for. In other words they become more engaged. Learning becomes more student-driven as they are no longer dependent solely on the teacher to provide them with information. By being able to access additional resources and do their own research, students achieve a higher level of learning autonomy. Finally, lessons become more interactive when personal devices are involved. BYOD provides students with far greater opportunities to interact virtually with teachers and work with other students on assignments, projects and content creation.
Incorporating student-owned digital devices into the curriculum transforms direct instruction lessons into project-and inquiry-based learning. This pedagogical approach helps students learn by doing and lets them assume more responsibility for their own learning. Additionally, institutions can save a substantial amount of money on technology related costs simply by allowing students to use their own
Problems with BYOD
Now that we went over the benefits, there are also some concerns about implementing BYOD in the classroom. However, former students will have to deal with technology in every aspect of their professional life, once they have finished their education and enter the workforce. So why shouldn’t schools keep up with the rest of the world, and include more technology in student instruction, especially when they can bring their own? Two biggest concerns when it comes to BYOD are student distraction and data security.
Personal devices can be used for a lot of things. Students can play games, watch unrelated or inappropriate content, spend time on social media etc. But classroom management of devices may not be as challenging as it seems, especially for teachers who have already established project-based learning in their instruction. In 2012, Forsyth County Schools (FCS), Georgia, serving about 39,000 students in grades Pre-K through 12, gave BYOD a chance. They found that the use of personal devices in the classroom wasn’t a distraction for their students. On the contrary, they often became more engaged, motivated, and self-directed learners. Contrary to expectations, FCS has actually noticed that disciplinary issues regarding technology have gone down since the implementation of BYOD.
If students bring their own devices to class, institutions would have to find a way to deal with data security, malware, and safe browsing. Nevertheless, there are various ways to deal with most, if not all security concerns, and make BYOD as safe as possible. A strong BYOD policy can cover all security issues. The first step is to ensure a strong and protected internet connection. Safe browsing can be ensured by blocking all websites containing inappropriate content and filters can be created to continuously discover and add such websites to the blacklist. Also, all devices must be scanned for malware prior to them accessing the school network for the first time. Advantages can be further improved upon, and risks can be mitigated by introducing an LMS. With an LMS, students would be able to access the courses, learning materials, and educational apps both inside and outside the classroom. Nowadays, many LMSs have strong security features and protocols, which would all but negate the security risks.
There is no doubt that using technology in the classroom has a tremendous impact on the quality of instruction. It improves student engagement and collaboration, thus making for a vastly improved learning experience. YouTestMe offers a variety of elearning solutions to those who wish to reap the full benefits of classroom technology. Opposing edtech is an uphill battle, and we expect to see more and more educational institutions opening their doors to it.