Classrooms of today look very different to the classrooms of our childhood. Unlike our experiences of school with desks arranged in meticulous rows, a teacher who stood at the front of the classroom and imparted knowledge via blackboard, chalk and books, modern schools boast flexible learning spaces with ergonomic furniture, beanbags, breakout areas and even recording studios and ‘campfire areas’ for group brainstorming sessions. Dr Kristy Goodwin explains that these tech-heavy environments can actually be beneficial for student learning outcomes.
Not only has the physical landscape changed, but so too have the technologies inside classrooms. Today’s classrooms are often equipped with computers, interactive whiteboards, tablet devices, laptop trolleys, headphones, microphones and programmable toys just to name a few. Whilst blackboards, books and overhead projectors remain in many classrooms, it’s the newer, more interactive technologies that are gaining traction.
For many parents, the unfamiliarity of today’s classrooms can naturally cause them to fret about the digital world in which their kids are being dunked. The unfamiliar nature of high-tech classrooms means that many parents worry about kids’ ever-increasing exposure to technology.
Is all this technology and screen time helpful or harmful? Can kids really learn with these new technologies, or should we simply sick to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic?
As a children’s technology learning, wellbeing and health researcher and a former primary and early childhood teacher and lecturer, I want to allay your fears. There’s growing research evidence that confirms that technology can support, not stifle, kids’ learning and development if it’s used in intentional ways and is aligned with students’ developmental priorities. Well-designed technology can engage learners and teach content in new and dynamic ways. And when this is accompanied by great teaching practice, student learning can certainly be bolstered.
Basically, good technology design, paired with engaging instruction and well-designed learning experiences from the teacher, will enable today’s students to use technology to assist their learning and development.
What are some of the benefits of schools adopting technology in the classroom?
Student engagement and motivation is usually significantly higher when digital technologies are utilised in the classroom. The student, who found it hard to pay attention to ten minutes of teacher explanation and modelling on the whiteboard, sometimes finds it much easier to engage when a learning activity is presented on the iPad or laptop. For example, recall how monotonous it was for you to rote learn your multiplication facts (6 x 1= 6, 6 x 2 =12) when you went to school. Today, kids can develop these skills using online games and apps to assist their learning (e.g. Quick Math Multiplication Facts by Shiny Things and Math Doodles are excellent games that make maths learning more enjoyable). This ‘gamified’ approach to learning helps students master concepts and skills but in a much more engaging way than traditional instruction often could. And when kids are engaged, they can learn!
Many digital technologies like apps and web-based games provide students with instant feedback. When they click a response, they’re usually provided with an indication as to whether their response was correct or incorrect. Even the most competent classroom teacher cannot provide this level and type of instant feedback. However, with technology kids can receive this feedback and in turn instantly reconcile their errors. Motion Math have developed a range of apps and we-tools that allow students to develop fundamental maths skills. For example, when they think that 5+8= 12 and the app tells them that’s incorrect, they engage in ‘cognitive conflict’ and this allows them to attempt the question again. This opportunity for cognitive conflict simply doesn’t occur when a teacher uses a red pen to mark a textbook, as students rarely look at the feedback and even if they do, it’s often too late to correct the error.
Thanks to the sophisticated coding and design of many of today’s apps and websites, it also means that these digital tools can personalise learning. Many apps can incrementally challenge students by observing their performance on a range of tasks and then providing them with more challenging tasks, as they demonstrate competence at a certain level. Again, even the most accomplished teacher would find this a difficult undertaking in a class of 25+ students, if they were still limited to only working with textbooks, paper and pencils.
Many science and maths concepts are abstract and therefore difficult for students to master. However, multi-media animations, video demonstrations and verbal explanations can all help to make these concepts much easier to understand and digest. For example, The Human Body app provides a dynamic learning experience about the various body systems through the provision of demonstrations of the various systems and interactive quizzes. Secondary students can now use augmented reality apps to conduct animal dissections (do you also have not-so-pleasant memories of your school science lessons?). Using Froggipedia, students can engage in a dissection of a frog using augmented reality technologies, and let me assure you the graphics are so advanced it looks just like the real deal.
Compensate for emerging skills
Digital technologies are also a wonderful compensatory tool, especially for students with additional learning needs and/or for younger students who are still developing basic skills. For example, I’ve had the pleasure of watching pre-schoolers use the Book Creator app to create animated books using photos of a playdough story they created, with background music, text and a voice-recording to accompany it. Given the age and skill development of these students, writing a book with paper and pencil would have been an onerous task, but a touchscreen device with this app installed enabled the students to take photos, insert music and record their voice to share their story.
Tool for content creation
Not only do kids today like to consume content on devices, but they also love creating digital content. Today’s technologies, with their intuitive interfaces and simple design means that kids can now create digital artefacts. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing primary school students write code, build apps, create animations and publish videos. I’ve also seen secondary students building websites and using augmented reality to demonstrate their learning. These are completely new and engaging ways of ensuring kids today are learning.
Today’s classrooms certainly look very different in terms of the available technologies, but this is what needs to happen, as our kids’ future will look very different to the world we inherited. And our job, as parents and educators, is to help prepare our kids for their world tomorrow. Technology will play a vital role in their future and it’s therefore critical that we embrace it in schools.
About Dr Kristy
Dr Kristy Goodwin is a digital learning, health and wellbeing educator, speaker, author of ‘Raising Your Child in a Digital World’ and mum to two boys (and yes, they do throw techno-tantrums). Kristy helps parents and professionals find healthy and helpful ways to use technology and how to mitigate the potential pitfalls, so that kids, teens and adults aren’t slaves to the screens. Kristy’s digital home is www.drkristygoodwin.com