As students move through different phases of their education, the shape of their learning spaces changes. Young students see brightly-colored bookshelves and reading areas, where middle school students have lab tablets and desktop computers. Just as the atmosphere in the classroom changes to suit the students’ age and learning requirements, the technology in the classroom also has to accommodate the learning requirements of that age group.
According to a survey from Front Row Education, elementary school students mainly use iPads whereas middle school students are using Chromebooks. But what happens when students bring iPads into a room designed to work with Chromebooks? How does a school future-proof its classroom technology?
The Power of Interoperability: Use and Budget
The technology in the classroom has to be interoperable as students pass into different grades and their personal technology evolves. This is essential to meeting the needs of students in different phases of learning and to ensuring that the classroom technology is a worthy investment of tight school budgets.
As new technology is available and students’ personal device preferences evolve as they grow, classrooms need to be able to adapt. Costly equipment could be virtually unusable if the students’ devices are incompatible, and schools don’t often have the budget to purchase new systems every few years—to future-proof the classroom for whatever technology students prefer to use, schools can’t afford to bet on predictions about the winner of the battle for the classroom and if it will be Windows, Google or Apple.
Identifying the Components of a Great Technology System
1. An education technology system should be able to work with any device or platform so students and teachers aren’t limited to what and how they can share content now and in the future.
(Next page: 4 more components of a great technology system)
2. Aside from finding a device that is compatible with Chrome, Apple and Windows, making sure that teachers productively use those technologies in the classroom is the next challenge. Some teachers have adopted a two-pronged approach of teaching with digital lessons on a projector or interactive whiteboard as an effective way to keep students’ attention, combined with assigning student homework with collaboration through personal devices such as laptops or tablets. By using both of the devices and the ability to cast content between the two, teachers can encourage group work where students can engage in peer feedback and group discussion on the interactive board.
One teacher who is successful with this approach as a way to engage elementary-school students and improve their interest in her lessons is Heather Hoxie. Engaging the class with traditional lesson plans had been a struggle for the fourth grade teacher, but she researched and discovered technology as a way to involve and interest students, and she combines 1:1 devices and an interactive whiteboard in her classroom.
3. Hoxie’s students each have a tablet with casting software that allows for wirelessly casting of their work onto the interactive whiteboard that she has in the front of the room. The whiteboard, an InFocus JTouch that works with Apple, Windows and Chrome devices, gives Hoxie the ability to make her lessons more engaging and fast-paced with peer feedback, allowing students to be more involved in each other’s learning.
Because devices are able to connect to the JTouch instantly, it is a realistic option for classroom interaction and collaboration in real-time, without wasting time connecting laptops and switching adapters for different types of devices.
4. Hoxie commented that this approach supports individualized learning for students as well, and with a device that works without delay, she noted that there is less classroom downtime.
“This individualized instruction on their personal devise allows students to move forward at their own pace,” she explained. “When they have finished a group assignment, they can jump right into an individualized reading or math exercise that picks right up where they left off. I can immediately show and celebrate their work on the JTouch, or display something for immediate feedback and collaboration. Because I can save any of their work, or anything that I’ve shared, it’s effortless to pull it up the next day or the next week to go over something.”
Not only is the interoperability important for collaboration, Hoxie explains that being able to save work done on the whiteboard has proven valuable as well. “And, because the kids can walk right up and draw or add notes right on the display, they become part of a more naturally fluid process.”
5. Ease of use is another factor for quality, long-lasting education technology, and this applies to students of all ages and classrooms of all levels. If students are unfamiliar with the user interface of a device, it can make classroom operations clunky, and dampen their enthusiasm with using the device. Teachers often go through training to learn to use devices that have their own interface, but students don’t receive that training; this creates a classroom environment centered on the teachers using technology, and students watching, which does little to solve the issue of classroom engagement, because while some digital content can be incorporated, students can’t have their own interaction with it.