From the April 2016 issue

Three Keys to Effective Use of Classroom Technology

When it comes to school technology, how it's applied might be more important than how much you have. A technology expert at Cranbrook Schools explains.

Technology in the classroom opens a world of opportunities for today’s students.

Though it doesn’t replace the importance of quality instruction, educators and students benefit from iPads, laptops, Smart Boards and other new devices in their classrooms.

“Teachers are using them for everything from assessment to creating a much more interactive environment,” says Tom De Craene, assistant director of schools at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills.

Thanks to educational technology, world language students are recording and responding to digital messages in other languages, ninth grade physics students are building robots and Cranbrook’s youngest learners are exploring math concepts on iPads.

“The hands-on experience is still important for students,” De Craene says, pointing out how technology and practical lessons can work together. “But the technology can bring another level of engagement and understanding of the concepts that students are learning.”

While parents are often interested in how much technology a particular school or classroom might offer, they might consider a different question: How is it being used?

That’s just as important – if not more important – than the specific devices a school might have on hand.

“I think it’s important to note that technology is just one component of a high-functioning learning environment,” De Craene says. “It provides teachers with other resources for building an effective learning environment, but it’s not a magic bullet.”

Three main components are needed to effectively use technology to foster optimal learning, he says. Here’s a look at what they are and why they’re so important.

1. People

Technology in the classroom will only be successful if there are well-understood goals for its use and leadership and faculty share that vision and collaborate in planning on how those goals will be met.

“You need a culture that’s collaborative, supportive and open to examining, testing and implementing new strategies in order to create the best learning environments in your school,” says De Craene.

2. Equipment

Creating a flexible digital learning environment that accommodates a variety of student and teacher needs does require certain technological components – the “stuff,” as De Craene says.

“You need a robust wireless infrastructure, you need lots of internet bandwidth, and you need students with devices that provide access to these digital tools that are identified as needed for learning,” he says.

The technology must be accessible for students of all learning needs and it also must be available outside of the classroom.

“You need access both at school and outside of school,” De Craene says.

And despite the conveniences of students each having their own devices to work from, educators may still sometimes need a screen at the front of the class for certain lessons.

“Sometimes you need to bring everyone’s focus to the topic you’re discussing,” he says. “Asking the students to put their personal screens away is the best way to achieve this.”

3. Support

Tech support has two components. First, support of the technology that’s in the school is critical. If the technology does not consistently work, the teachers will not build it into their teaching practices. It has to be dependable and when it does break, it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible.

“As a teacher, I need to know that I can depend on it. It has to work,” De Craene says. “It has to be as close to 100 percent operational as it can be.”

Secondly, support means having someone who can help a teacher integrate the technology into a lesson plan effectively. “It’s all about adding value to instruction,” De Craene says.

“‘What can I do now with the technology that I couldn’t do before?’ ‘Could I be more efficient? – these are the questions we should be constantly asking ourselves,” he says. “If we have explored the opportunities provided by the technology in a certain area and find that it doesn’t lead to greater engagement or understanding, we might want to reconsider its use or our lesson plan.”

So, it’s important for parents to consider the “how” rather than the “how much.”

“It’s not the amount of technology that is being used,” De Craene says. “But rather how can it be used to enhance the education of our children?”

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