We need to digest the fact that our students are ‘digital natives’. Their lives practically revolve around technology. Whether it is using the Internet to research for projects, social media to engage with friends, grammar and plagiarism checkers to check their work, or using voice commands to get answers to the most basic questions. Their lives depend upon technology to the point of making them feel crippled when they do not have access to it. On the other end of the technology spectrum, stand the parents, caregivers, and educators of these students who struggle with basic tasks such as attaching documents to emails, understanding the meanings of the various emoticons, and ordering items from delivery apps and e-commerce websites. Although these ends are dichotomous, this is not a gap that cannot be bridged. Instead of finding reasons to dismiss technology completely or having a rigid attitude towards using it, the adults governing the lives of students must be willing to learn alternate ways of using technology, be flexible in their approach, and comprehend that technology will continue to have a profound impact on the students of today irrespective of other factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how far technology can be stretched to meet the needs of learners dispelling both distances and differences. Additionally, it has allowed students across the globe to compete on an equal footing and to broaden their horizons as one had never seen or imagined before. With the help of technology, the ever-changing needs of modern learners are being met at new-fangled levels. Coming specifically to the classroom, investing in technology is critical to enhancing the teaching-learning process and enriching the students’ experiences of acquiring knowledge. In the context of primary education, some people might be sceptical about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to integrate technology in the classroom appropriately. Let us deal with the ‘why’ first:
- It helps reimagine the possibilities for teachers
It expands the realm of how teachers teach. With the help of relevant YouTube videos, games and activities on Quizlet, community learning on ClassDojo, or simply collaborative work in Google Classrooms, technology opens endless avenues for teachers to manage routine tasks and instead place their focus on student engagement and retention.
- It makes learning flexible
According to Matt Wallaert, a behavioural scientist at Bing, “We don’t all have to study the same thing anymore. One kid can be interested in butterflies and take a journey down that path, while another can be learning about rockets, and both are learning practical skills of physics.” We need to acknowledge that the learning preferences and abilities of all students cannot be uniform. Educators need to tailor their content to personalize the learning for each student. Hence to weave the multi-modal approach to learning in the classroom, implementing differentiated instructions becomes much easier with the help of technology.
- It helps create self-directed learners
The learners of today differ from the learners of yesterday who were interested only in learning the facts. Learners of today take charge of their learning, identify their mistakes, and work towards rectification and course correction. Technology tools such as interactive multiple-choice questions, repetition of challenging content, and assessment tools help students gauge their understanding of concepts and help them accomplish their learning goals.
- It gives easier access to information
Most students prefer using the Internet to read up about a topic or to find information about something instead of scrouging through encyclopaedias. Search engines and e-books are partially replacing textbooks. Physical classrooms have also been replaced by MOOCs and self-paced learning courses. Providing students the correct grounding in using these tools will enable them to use these continuous learning tools and augment their future potential.
- It encourages collaboration
Students do not need to be in the same physical location or even in the same time zone to be able to connect with their peers, teachers, or even industry experts. For example, video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Skype provide an easy way for students to hold virtual meetings with classmates from anywhere in the world. With free online storage solutions like Google Drive, students can easily share and edit projects with each other, helping to foster better overall collaboration in both the academic sphere and the world of work.
- It prepares students for the workforce
To thrive in the 21st century workplace, students need to have more than a working knowledge of certain technological tools, such as mailboxes, electronic calendars, web pages, chatbots, teleconferencing, electronic whiteboards, etc. By integrating these into the everyday school curriculum and ongoing activities, schools can ensure that their students are better prepared for becoming a part of the workforce of the future.
- It adds the fun element to learning
Teaching methods such as game-based learning (GBL) allows instructors to deliver lesson via interactive games and leaderboards. An insight tool such as Blue can be used to gather feedback and critically assess the impact of these gamification efforts, ensuring that teachers move beyond the anecdotal and can assess how effective these new tools are. Keeping tabs on these efforts is a great example of organizational agility in action.
As we see a paradigm shift in the role of the educators of today, we must acknowledge that teachers are no longer the primary source of information for kids. As the network of content creators, tech giants and internet connectivity ripens, students continue to have access to learning material anywhere and anytime. Meenal Arora, a teacher and the founder-director of Shemford Schools, a large private school chain, has a different take on the role of teachers in the future. “Ten years from now children will not be coming to school to learn but to develop social skills, to develop friendships because with educational technology coming in big time, kids can access everything from home.”
In a 2017 report, the US Department of Education said the role of tech in classrooms needs to be geared towards increasing access to learning opportunities and strengthening relationships between parents, educators and children. It also indicated that technology is more effective when adults and children interact together in the learning journey. In a tech-enabled classroom, teachers would move on from information providers to co-learners and this is why the role of teachers will change from instructors to guides or chaperones.
During the preschool years, young children are developing a sense of initiative and creativity. They are curious about the world around them and about learning. They are exploring their ability to create and communicate using a variety of media (crayons, felt-tip markers, paints and other art materials, blocks, dramatic play materials, miniature life figures) and through creative movement, singing, dancing, and using their bodies to represent ideas and experiences. Digital technologies provide one more outlet for them to demonstrate their creativity and learning. Let us see ‘how’ teachers can grapple with the ever-changing trends in technology and incorporate learning apps.
• Allow children to freely explore touch screens loaded with a wide variety of developmentally appropriate interactive media experiences that are well-designed and enhance feelings of success.
• Proffer opportunities for children to begin to explore and feel comfortable using ‘traditional’ mouse and keyboard computers to use websites or look up answers with a search engine or find word meanings in an online dictionary.
• Capture photos of the artwork that children have created; videotape dramatic plays to replay for children at a later date.
• Celebrate children’s accomplishments with digital media displayed on a digital projector or a classroom website.
• Incorporate assistive technologies such as text-to-speech or hearing assist as appropriate for children with special needs and/or developmental delays.
• Record children’s stories about their drawings or their play; make digital audio or video files to document their progress and share it with their parents or guardians.
• Explore digital storytelling with students. You can attach digital audio files with the child as the narrator to co-create digital books with photos of the children’s work.
Some apps which can help educators and parents achieve this are:
Kahoot!: Kahoot is an app which is compatible with most devices. It has advanced game creation tools which help transform the classroom into a game show thus saving precious time to source and curate learning games, formative assessments, and interactive timed quizzes. This app also tracks every student’s progress individually by providing a bar graph of student answers. This way, it facilitates the teachers to plan an educative action.
edX: The edX app integrates lessons from different universities in the world. Teachers can easily stream and download videos to share in the classroom. This can be followed by a question and answer session to assess their learning capabilities.
SeeSaw: Every parent wants to be aware of their kids’ progress. They want to celebrate their kids’ achievements and help them at every step of the learning process. Therefore, it is important to keep them in the loop throughout the learning process. With this app, students can store and share their best work with their parents. On the other hand, teachers can use it to enhance classroom learning by sharing concrete examples of their students’ learning powers by creating digital portfolios and knowing about their strengths and weaknesses in real time.
Duolingo: With this app, students can learn over 30 languages. They can use it in the classroom, at home, or on the go. Teachers can use it as a primary instructional tool to reinforce language lessons.
Photomath: In this app, students can use their phone camera to take pictures of a math problem to get a step-by-step explanation of how to solve it. Teachers can use this app to improve the mathematical learning of students. They can ask them not to understand what the right answer is, but why it is the right answer.
IXL: This learning app provides educational instructions regarding reading, writing, and maths problems. Besides, it records student progress which helps teachers to differentiate instructions to deal with each student’s problems. On the other hand, it assists teachers to improve classroom learning by providing them with thousands of questions to ask for each particular subject.
Since we are orbiting in the space of primary education, we need to be extra careful about using resources and technological tools. Here are some ways to ensure the safety and age-appropriacy of materials:
- Only visit approved internet sites
Keep posters near classroom computers or tablets to remind students what they can and can’t do when browsing. Include a list of websites they can visit.
- Never give out your personal information
Students may not understand the importance of keeping their information private. Make sure your students do not give out their names or addresses without your permission or guidance. Also, they should not be allowed to chat with any stranger on social media.
- Tell your teacher if you see something uncomfortable or inappropriate
Cyberbullying or inappropriate graphics may confuse a student. Remind them that you are there if they feel uncomfortable and that you should be the first person they turn to in this situation.
- Do not download anything without permission
Whether it’s an app or a file, downloading something irrelevant or with a virus could put your equipment and networks at risk.
- Never change settings without permission
This is especially important for safety settings that block certain websites and control anti-virus protection.
To those who are still unsure about using technology in elementary education, Dylan Arena, PhD, co-founder and chief learning scientist at Kidaptive says, ‘Technology by itself will almost never change education.’ Further, Arena states that, ‘The only way to change educational practices is to change the beliefs and values of teachers, administrators, parents, and other educational stakeholders – and that’s a cultural issue, not a technological one… It’s about processes and people rather than bits and bytes.’ Standing together, students and teachers can become engineers of collaboration, originators of learning experiences, and catalysts of change by using technology for mutual benefit.
The author works as an ELT curriculum architect in the Ed-tech space. She has a Masters’ degree in English from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi and a CELTA from the University of Cambridge. She is passionate about education and putting out meaningful and relevant content into the world through her writing. Her articles on pedagogy and learning strategies have been published in several educational magazines and blogs. She can be reached at email@example.com.