The How's, Why's and Value of Educational Technology

1/18/2012 12:00:00 AM

Educational Technology - it's a term that technically can mean anything from a pen or overhead to laptops and interactive web 2.0 technologies. Some schools and teachers use a lot of technology with their classes, some use very little. Some schools and teachers use technology very well and others don't. Some use it to do things differently and some use it to do different things. Let's explore how, why and the value of educational technology. How should it be used? Why should it be used? What's the value in using it?

There is a lot of technology out there to use. At a minimum, every teacher should have a computer, projector, and speakers. Ideally, every student should have access to a computer, whether laptop carts, computer labs, or computers in the classroom. I'm lucky in that I have 7 student computers in my classroom to use. We also have a laptop cart and computer lab for the science department. It's also important to find out what computer and internet access students have outside of school before using technology.

With the huge amount of hardware, software, and web apps, an educator has a lot to sort through. How do you find good resources and ideas of how to use them in your classroom? Twitter, educator blogs, conferences and professional development are great ways to learn about educational technology resources and how to use them effectively in your classroom. Google apps and toolsEvernoteGlogsterDiscovery Education are some of the major technology products used by educators and they have great resources for educators. Create a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and learn from them. Explore the internet and see what's out there.

The lesson objectives always come first. What are the students going to learn? How do you want them to learn it? What resources do you have? Once you have your lesson objectives and answers to these questions you can start to look at how technology might be used in that lesson. I use very low tech labs with my Physics classes and I use high tech labs with sensors, electronic graphs and more. I use virtual labs and investigations. I use simple labs because the concept they are exploring won't be overshadowed by technology. I use high tech labs and sensors so that they learn how to use the technology. I use virtual labs for two reasons. Sometimes I don't have the physical lab equipment, so virtual labs, like PhET, allow my students to do these labs for free and online. I also like some virtual labs because they let students visualize the concepts better than a hands-on live lab. Thermodynamics is an example of this. In the virtual labs, they can actually see the molecules moving and changing speeds, along with the change in temperature and kinetic energy. This is very hard to visualize in a live lab.

I do a lot of projects. Technology comes into play in some when students use simulation and analysis software to design and investigate the project. They go low tech when they build their design using balsa wood or paper. Students can create low tech project reports using posters, or they can use technology and create web page, Glog, etc.

Technology is also a great communication tool. Class blogs, websites, messaging, and the like can help teachers communicate and share with students and teachers. It also allows students to communicate among themselves and collaborate on projects.

Technology can also be used to differentiate teaching and learning. Teachers can use PowerPoint to have text, images, videos and more for students. The slides can also be printed and posted to helps students. Teachers can use videos, animations, web sites, podcasts and more to present information in different ways. Teachers can also differentiate assessment by having students choose how they would like to demonstrate their learning. Students could create electronic posters, Glogs, web sites, videos, blogs and more to show that they have mastered the material.

I have also used technology for backup plans, to communicate lessons when I'm absent, and to save my back.

Backup plans are extremely important as a teacher. Also having all of your files and data backed up is important. Technology can fail, so you need to have back up plans that account for that. You also need to have backup plans for students who miss class and when class runs short. Technology can provide you with alternative assignments and lessons, as well as last minute lesson plans and resources.

I have had a couple of extended absences due to illness, injury, or serving on a jury, over the last 10 years. I have been able to use technology to communicate with my students and create some great lessons for them to do when I was away. Virtual labs and investigations, web quests, interactive software all were used while I was out instead of boring work sheets. I could communicate with my students and colleagues to answer questions and make sure things were going well in the classroom.

I have a serious back injury from working as a Paramedic. There are times when it really bothers me. Technology has helped with this. I don't carry things home because I have everything electronic and synced online. I can also use a document camera and my projector and my smartphone with remote control software to sit and still "write things on the board" and control the computer. This has saved my back on many occasions.

Money and budgets are a huge issue right now in education. I haven't been able to order materials or lab equipment for years. Online, free, virtual labs and simulations have allowed me to continue to have students explore concepts in a lab atmosphere even without the equipment. Free alternatives to licensed software can also help save money, along with going paperless and saving the cost of paper, printers, and copiers.

Value of Educational Technology: (or, how does it help teachers and students)

Organization - things like Google Calendar, iGoogle, Evernote help keep us organized and more efficient 

Collaboration - Google Docs, Twitter, Prezi, Blogs, Wiki's, Scriblar, and more allow teachers and students to interact, work together, and work with others. 

Web 2.0 - in general, allows students and teachers to create and interact instead of just observing

Personal Learning Network (PLN) - learning and sharing what you know

Professional development - online resources, informal through PLN, online classes

Research/Information - the internet ('nuff said)

Virtual labs, trips - take your students to places they'd never get to see otherwise, do labs and experiences with them, even when you don't have the supplies or equipment.

Save time and money

Provide new learning experiences and help improve education

Connect with students and parents easier - email, websites, blogs, etc.

Provide differentiated educational experiences (video, audio, print, interactive, help and tutoring)

My physics classes do not have a textbook because I use two free online physics texts, three great websites, and a free downloadable pdf version of a physics textbook. Savings of $140 per student. (the textbook we have is very old and out of date)

I don't print out anywhere near the amount of paper for students that I used to because I post things on the class blogs and website. Savings of literally tens of thousands of pieces of paper and copier toner and my time.

Electronic grade book, attendance, note taking, etc. has saved money on grade books and paper (and allowed parents to keep track of their child's performance)

Free online virtual labs and simulations instead of paying for licenses or lab equipment

Free software / services (Google Docs, Sites, Blogger, Evernote, etc) instead of paying for licenses - students can therefore do things at home that they normally couldn't afford to do either.

Educational technology can save money, allow use to communicate, and allow for new and exciting learning activities for students. The lesson objectives come first, then you can find some technology to help you and your students reach those objectives.


My Favorite Resources for Students and Educators

Differentiating with Web 2.0 Technologies

Technology I use Everyday as an Educator

Unfettered by Stuff - or "Why I don't lug stuff home every night"

Google for Educators

Evernote for Educators

25 Free Resources from Discovery Education

Technology has Helped During Absences and Injuries

Tools to Go Paperless in School

How do you use educational technology? How do you decide what to use and how?

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