How to Create a Connected Classroom: Tools, Boundaries and Considerations

From iPhones to smart homes, technology plays a pivotal role in our everyday lives. Our devices can often be likened to a second brain, reminding us when to wake up, how to eat right and where to head on the highway. And while technology can’t teach students everything they need to know, it can certainly be useful to them and their teachers.

When using tech in the classroom, striking the right balance is key. Here’s how to create a connected classroom that makes the best of technology, ensuring student success and well being across all fronts.

Acquiring the Proper Tools

When setting your classroom up to be more connected, a few tools are essential. Most teachers today have interactive flat boards. These have touch screen capability and can connect to other devices to play videos or display content, says Matthew Hastings at edtech provider AVer Information. The interactive nature of these boards allows students to be creative and expressive, making them more valuable than a lab filled with personal computers.

Mobile phones are also becoming more common in today’s classrooms. Many schools have a bring your own device program, where students can connect to the learning module or app using the phone or tablet they bring from home, says the team at LiveTiles, a global software company. These applications allow students to collaborate and stay connected outside the classroom, which is why many teachers prefer using this method.

Community-based social tools like Google Classroom can help teachers make the most out of their devices too, adds tech writer Sammy Ekaran. For example, students can post questions that can be answered by either students or teachers, thereby fostering productive collaboration. Forms and lesson materials can also be sent via Google Classroom, making it a strong compliment to many of the lessons learned in school.

Chromebooks, laptops and other tablets are also important classroom elements. Not every student needs to have one of these devices in order for them to be effective: Teachers can assign multimedia projects that students work on in groups on the tablets. These are digital versions of projects using poster board and marker, notes the team at Wabisabi Learning. Using tablets and other devices allow students to learn technology while demonstrating their knowledge.

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Fostering A Healthy, Balanced Relationship

Like anything else, too much technology can be detrimental. That’s why creating a healthy balance between physical and digital learning is important when implementing a connected classroom.

In a recent report from The Reboot Foundation, founded by corporate director Helen Lee Bouygues, it was found that too much technology actually hinders student learning. 

Specifically, fourth graders who used tablets in most of their classes scored 14 points lower on a reading exam than students who reported never using tablets. In contrast, students who used desktops or laptops in some of their classes outscored those who never use tablets by 13 points. This shows that technology has the potential to increase student outcomes significantly, but only when used strategically and in moderation.

Parents and teachers alike are concerned about student technology use. One of the best ways to master this balance is to think about using technology more creatively and productively. Rather than just passively watching a film, for example, choose games and programs that encourage students to act, suggest professors Christian Moro and Kathy Mills.

“Avoid educational software that simply requires students to engage in closed answer, ‘fill-in-the-blank’ responses. Try to choose technologies that support interactivity, critical thinking, and problem solving,” they write.

When considering how to approach a project, think about whether it would be better to use a digital or analog method. While traditional books can provide learning experiences for children, e-books have capabilities impossible to deliver in print format, says the Office of Educational Technology.

“The thoughtful use of technology by parents and early educators can engage children in key skills such as play, self-expression, and computational thinking which will support later success across all academic disciplines and help maintain young children’s natural curiosity.” 

Choose learning methods that engage students and allows them to develop real-world skills. Relying on technology for every lesson can also get expensive, so using old-school techniques like books and field trips can also be a smart way to save money without sacrificing learning.

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A Connected Classroom and the 4 C’s

According to a report by Cisco and The Center for Digital Education, students need four cornerstone skills in order to be successful: collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. These skills can be honed and refined using technology, and their presence makes technology use more effective.

Collaboration is essential not just for helping students work together, but to create a school culture that celebrates and uses technology well.

“Regular and persistent use of collaboration or web conferencing technology in the classroom is the best way to create and grow a digital school culture — and thus, a new digital learning environment,” says Renee Patton, Cisco’s global director of education industry.

For teachers interested in fostering communication, the cloud is an easy and user-friendly way to start. Using Google docs, for example, help students learn to collaborate by sharing documents, adding and reviewing content. Other cloud-based applications can be used by students for group projects such as creating podcasts, videos and digital portfolios, writes Heather B. Hayes at EdTech Magazine.

Don’t forget about makerspaces to help foster creativity, writes Matthew Lynch at The Edvocate.

“Makerspaces are designated spaces in libraries, in labs, on college campuses, and in other learning centers for artisans, scientists, and learners to engage using given space, materials and supplies,” he explains.

Collaborative makerspaces allow teachers and students to collaborate on a project that motivates and inspires them and can use high tech tools or no tech tools at all. The idea behind makerspaces is to leverage creative problem solving in a way that yields tangible, real-world results.

Critical thinking is another essential skill and can also be developed through technology, as long as the right tools are used. Tech teacher Jacqui Murray points out that gaming is one powerful, yet often overlooked strategy for engaging kids in critical thinking. “They choose the deep concentration and trial-and-error of gameplay over many other activities, because figuring out how to win is exciting. So why is there the disconnect among teachers and parents when applying gameplay to learning?,” she writes.

Murray suggests that teachers create an environment where learning is a fun activity rather than hard work. She points to games like Quandary by MIT — a space-themed online game requiring critical-thinking, perspective and ethical evaluation to make smart decisions for the planet.

EmergingEdTech writer Patrick Cole agrees that critical thinking skills can be harnessed through game play. Those skills help students become lifelong learners, productive employees and active and engaged citizens. “The key to getting students to pick up these important skills is to keep them engaged in the learning process. Web based technology tools can be a great tool to help facilitate student engagement,” he writes.

Images by: dolgachov/©, rawpixel, pixabay

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