The adoption and assortment of technology in K-12 classrooms has soared over the past decade, posing challenges for schools tasked with deciding which technologies to introduce into their classrooms. Too often, these conversations around leveraging technology in instruction revolve around the what and how of physical tools — what to acquire and how to use it. However, we need to first start with the why of technology to truly address learning outcomes for all students.
Technology needs to be evaluated and chosen for its ability to engage students in meaningful and productive ways within a culture of accelerated learning. Students who are proficient with digital literacy skills and practices will have the advantage of being flexible and adaptive critical thinkers who can engage with new technology in meaningful and productive ways in every content area.
4 Steps to Integrating Technology with Purpose
The ability to understand our students in more nuanced and holistic ways allows us to better assess and meet their needs for greater differentiation. Before jumping to integrate new tools, we need to first focus on the environment that surrounds and supports the use of that technology. This involves asking questions to determine how technology can address the needs of students and teachers. And there are four steps that will enable this more thoughtful and effective use of new tools.
- Do the research. Researching best practices for learning outcomes should always be the starting point. For example, students have had laptops in the classroom for a long time. Yet research has shown that laptops alone have not made a difference instructionally.
This may be because we have not approached the classroom use of laptops correctly or offered the proper level of professional learning that educators need. But in any case, the use of laptops, in and of itself, has not proven to be an adequate solution for student success. Consider the research guiding efficacy across the adoption and implementation of any new technologies.
- Ask questions to both educators and school leaders. Ask educators to explain the instructional problems they are trying to solve. When we have the opportunity to focus on instruction, then we can identify the tools that will amplify the learning outcomes of those practices. When it comes to school leaders, ask them how we can partner with their educators to give them the resources, training, and support over time to accelerate student learning. For district and school leaders, equipping educators with the training to effectively use technology in the classroom must be a part of any conversation about technology.
- Examine the classroom environment and culture. The next step is to identify and optimize the use of tools that facilitate engagement with students and other stakeholders. The questions to ask here include: How do we support educators in communicating with students? With families? With other educators? These questions ensure that we are implementing tools that support not only academic goals, but also the development of relational capacity to meet the social and emotional needs of students and educators. For example, tools like Flipgrid, Google Slides, and PowerPoint can expand student engagement in icebreakers and community-building activities that foster thriving learning environments.
- Begin to identify the right tools. The right tools enable educators to focus on the pedagogy that aligns with the specific needs of students across different learning environments. Examples include tools like Padlet that can be used across learning contexts — building relational capacity through collaborative brainstorming, developing writing processes through curating research and organizing citations, and practicing organizational skills through backwards mapping a month-long assignment schedule. When students build the skills, mindsets, and behaviors needed to engage with technology for rigorous coursework and inquiry-based problem solving, they develop the confidence to choose the best digital tools to accelerate their own learning.
The right digital resources can support collaboration, engagement, and students’ ownership of learning. They can also often be used beyond their original purpose, so it is important for educators and students to maintain a growth mindset when learning and utilizing new tools in the classroom. It is through this gradual release process of modeling digital learning resources, encouraging creative discovery, and building blended learning experiences that educators can leverage technology to accelerate learning and meet the needs of all of our students.
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