When I was in 6th grade there was one computer in our class. The screen only displayed one color and we had the choice of two very basic games that we could play. The computer wasn’t used for anything other than to entertain kids who had either already completed their work, or who weren’t likely to do it in the first place. It was basically a babysitter. I remember being totally fascinated by those simple games. There was something almost magical about that old computer. It was cool, it was new, it was different, it was the future! Or at least it felt like it to a bunch of 11-year-old kids in 1985. Today kids would see games like those as some sort of punishment, but it shows that, even in its infancy, the personal computer was engaging young minds right from day one.
It’s remarkable how far technology in the classroom has come over the past thirty years, or even the past ten for that matter. Schools today have interactive whiteboards, tablets, laptops, and a whole list of high-tech devices available. Innovative educators are using technology to connect with their students in new ways and taking student engagement to new levels. Not only has hardware made incredible advances, but the software that these devices run has evolved dramatically over the past decade. Publishers are bringing a new breed of more intelligent software applications to students and educators. These programs can do everything from assess student proficiency to track ongoing progress and serve up individualized curriculum programs.
Unfortunately in the majority of cases, technology is not being integrated into the daily curriculum to the extent that I wholeheartedly believe that it should be. Computers and software are such a valuable curriculum support tool that I believe they should really be used every day for a minimum of an hour.
There are a few reasons why I believe this should to be the case.
First and perhaps most important, computers and software are able to provide every student with the individualized instruction that they need regardless of class size. With growing enrollments and shrinking budgets, school administrators are expected to do more with less. One area that often suffers as a result is class size and student-to-teacher ratios. In most cases teachers simply do not have the time to provide each student with the one-on-one learning experience they need. As a result, struggling students fall behind while others become disinterested by a lack of challenge. Utilizing computers and software, teachers can ensure that their students are engaged and receiving individualized instruction that’s tailored to their specific skill level and learning style. Educational software presents curriculum through the use of auditory, visual and tactile activities and lessons. Tactile practice is achieved by having students answer questions by typing on the keyboard, clicking with a mouse or trackpad, or touching using touchscreen technology. Computers and software also allow students to work independently at their own level and pace.
This brings me to my next point: Computer instruction is a huge time saver for teachers and can help them be more efficient in their jobs. Teachers have so many responsibilities and are often squeezed for time. Between instruction, grading, and countless other ongoing tasks, it can be difficult for educators to fit everything into their daily schedule. The ability to have students work independently on the computer frees up teacher’s time to focus on other things. A good example of this would be for a teacher to have most of their students working and learning independently on software while they do intensive reading intervention with a small group. A similar approach would be to have a class split with half the students being provided initial instruction by the teacher while the other half works independently with educational software to reinforce and master the skills being taught. These are just two examples of how computers and software can be utilized to save time and help teachers work more efficiently with their students.
Student engagement is another major benefit of using not only computers and software, but technology in general in the classroom. Today’s students are “digital natives” in that they are completely immersed in technology. Many have access to laptops, tablets and smartphones, so it makes perfect sense to carry this natural connection over into their learning environment. In fact, kids today are so accustomed to technology, that when it’s not incorporated into their schooling, they can quickly become uninterested.
Another way technology plays an important role in student engagement is through immediate, one-on-one interaction. Teachers typically work with relatively large groups of students, as there simply are not the resources and person-power to provide more intimate interaction with individual students. A good example of this is when you have a teacher ask a question of their class and a number of hands shoot up in response. The teacher is then forced to select one student out of that group to provide their answer. As soon as this is done, every other student just became an observer versus an active participant. There are students that may very well know the answer, but for any number of reasons were reluctant to raise their hand. And, listening to one of their peers provide the answer does little to help the students who may not know the solution themselves. Technology allows each student to answer questions at their own pace and provides immediate feedback, reinforcement and encouragement. The ability for students who may be struggling to work independently at their own level and pace without the fear of embarrassment, or put down from their peers is an immeasurable benefit of technology.
Ever since I became involved in educational technology, I have been struck by how much I could have benefited from the resources that teachers and students have at their disposal today. I think that it would have made a world of difference to my level of engagement, and that I would have had more success as a result. This is why I am passionate about educational technology and why I get up to go to work each day. I know it can make a huge difference for young people, and that makes me want to be a part of it. It’s my hope that school administrators and educators will not only continue to embrace educational technology, but consider how it can be better integrated into the daily curriculum.
About Our Sponsor
The author is Matt Brown of Essential Skills, which has been developing educational software for schools for over 20 years. Their programs are used in tens of thousands of schools and have engaged and motivated well over a million students; are developed by teachers; and utilize a balance of auditory, visual, and tactile activities for all learning modalities. They offer a wide-variety of interactive learning programs for K-6 reading/ELA, math, science, geography, and English language learning. Their programs are ideal for K-6 students, RTI, special education, English learning, and older remedial students. Visit simplek12trial.com to sign up for a no-obligation 30-day free trial, and discover the Essential Skills difference.