happy elementary school kids raising their hands in a classroom

3 unexpected ways tech can humanize learning

If you want to make students know how important they are, use tech to personalize learning

[Editor’s noteThis article appeared on the ISTE blog on Jan. 23, 2019. Find more posts like this one at iste.org/explore.]

My biggest goal as a teacher is to make every one of my students know how important they are and how invested I am in their learning and well-being. I want students to enjoy learning and to walk out of my classroom with a new level of confidence.

Technology allows me to do this because it lets me bring a whole new level of compassion to my teaching. Here are three ways I use technology to personalize learning for all of my students.

1. Shifting from content delivery to identifying and addressing student needs

One of the first ways I used technology for learning was to flip my classroom. That is, instead of delivering content during class and giving exercises as homework, I had students learn the content at home by watching videos with embedded quizzes. Using Edpuzzle, I was able to turn a passive video into an active learning experience for my students.

The embedded quizzes enabled me to view student’s responses. I could instantly see the number of times students watched each portion of the video as well as when each student watched and completed the assignment. The detailed information I received about how students were processing the material — before they even walked into my classroom—was transformative.

Related: 10 things I do to boost my students’ self-esteem

Armed with this data, I could shift my focus in the classroom from delivering the content to addressing the questions that students were actually struggling with. Not only were these analytics powerful indicators for me, the instant feedback also helped students gauge their understanding as they took in the information. This is when I first realized I could empower students to take ownership of their learning. I now use Edpuzzle to engage my students in all video content I ask them to view.

2. Creating a safe environment for all students to participate in class discussions

All teachers know that some students are vocal and shine when they are called on to share their work, while other students wilt with embarrassment. As an introvert myself, I am well aware of how the traditional classroom dynamic can be painfully uncomfortable. I remember the almost paralyzing fear I often felt when I had to respond to questions on the spot. I am an analyzer and like to take my time thinking things through.

To address this situation, I again turned to technology. The first time I saw what Pear Deck could do, I knew it would be just the tool to allow all students to contribute their work without feeling put on the spot. Pear Deck is an interactive presentation tool that allows students to engage with a lesson from their own devices.

As a math teacher, I am big on seeing how students work through problems. Instead of leaning over a student’s shoulder or waiting to collect papers to assess how students are doing, I can ask students to respond to questions during the lesson on their own devices and then I can see in real time whether they understand the content.

Once I know that all students have had enough time to think through their answers, we move the discussion to the board to analyze the responses. Because Pear Deck does not display student names on the projector, we talk about the right answers and analyze the wrong answers without students feeling called out for being wrong. There is tremendous learning in this critiquing process.

This tool allows me to gives students who need time to craft a reply from behind a screen the chance to do so. When we present all responses on the board, those students who thrive when they are given the chance to speak up in class have that chance, while shy students can sit back and listen knowing that they have already contributed.

Technology allows us to engage students in ways are not be possible without it, and Pear Deck is a prime example of a tool that I use to give all students a voice.

3. Emphasizing a reflective process to get insight into student needs

I want students to understand that the process they use to arrive at their solutions is often more important than the answers themselves. I want the shy, quiet student who is never the first to raise her hand to have the same opportunities to present as her outgoing peers.

That’s why I use Flipgrid—a threaded video discussion platform—to give all students the chance to engage in reflective activities. Students respond from their own space at their own time, so they can process, think and practice before responding.

In my math classes, I use this tool to ask students to create video solutions to problems. This actually allows me to reduce the number of problems I assign because I can clearly hear how students are processing material and how they are connecting concepts. This lets me quickly identify areas that are shaky and need more attention. It is such a simple way to get insight into student needs and immediately help them strengthen understandings.

Students are still talking to one another, and a community of learners is still central to the design of this tool. But instead of hearing from only several students during class, Flipgrid requires all students to respond.

A safe way to respond

It’s important to understand that these tools are not about having students simply hide and type behind their computer screens. Technology provides a safe space for all students to respond.

Still it’s key that teachers cultivate a real sense of class community in how they structure activities and have students interact with and respond to classmates. These tools help teachers create a forum that is conducive to all students.

Edpuzzle can prime a student with information ahead of class time so that she has a chance to let the topic marinate before class discussion. Pear Deck allows a student to form and type a response before elaborating vocally during class discussion. With Flipgrid, a student can rehearse and post a video response, then review what her classmates have said and formulate a response back to them.

When used thoughtfully, edtech can allow all students in the classroom a chance to actively participate in a format that is most comfortable for them and create an environment that allows their voices to be heard.

Related: 11 tips on creating a positive school climate

Tech offers multiple ways to demonstrate learning

Embracing technology has allowed a major shift in the structure of my classroom and provided a level of care and individualized attention in my teaching that would be hard to replicate without the tech. The reality is that we can gain powerful insight into student needs and provide them multiple ways of showcasing their understanding and expressing themselves when we carefully think about how the technology enables us to transform the design of our lessons.

Technology can allow us to free up the time and space in our classrooms to get to know the whole child and to bring a new level of compassion to our teaching. Using the analytics we gain from these tools and hearing from each student in the format that feels safe and comfortable to them, we can tap into each student’s individual strengths, personalize learning, and gain powerful insight into ways to help each student build their confidence and experience new levels of success.

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