Updated from an original post on DefinedSTEM.
Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.
I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices.
Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?
Here are four strategies for helping students to communicate, collaborate and create in the traditional learning space as well as beyond the classroom setting. By trying some of these ideas, you will see some positive changes that promote student voice, create more time for you to interact with and support students in learning, and it will help students to build digital citizenship skills as they learn to leverage the technology and navigate in the digital world.
Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use
One way that I have used technology that has had a big impact in my classroom is by using a messaging tool. A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with students and the class, either they were absent and could not get materials or they had questions after the school day had ended. By using messaging apps, I can send reminders, answer student questions and provide feedback when students need it. You can also use some of these apps to connect with families as an alternative to email. There are a lot of options available and your choices will depend on the level and area you teach and whether your goal is to set up communication between students and you or with parents. I use Remind with students and parents, and BloomzApp is another option for creating a space to interact with parents. Either of these is good for providing students and parents with live feedback. It is easy to sign up for either of these using any device, and privacy and security are provided.
However, I was recently looking at communication tools and thinking about promoting family engagement and came across ParentSquare before attending FETC in January. ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed.
ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.
Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces
By establishing a specific location for students to access class resources, find out about assignments, and to ask questions, we can provide the support that students need to be successful. Some of the ways that I have used Edmodo and Google Classroom are to curate and provide resources, post daily assignments or reminders, announce upcoming class events, and to be accessible for student questions. Depending on the platform you use, it is easy to update the site and it is also a good way to help parents stay informed of what is going on in the classroom. It can be a collaborative learning space for students to interact with their peers or to connect globally using additional digital tools that are all housed within one learning space. Tools like Edmodo, a blogging site, Google Classroom or creating a standalone website will help to create a connection between you, the students, and their learning.
Foster Active Discussions
Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet.
Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.
Enhance Visualizations and Presentations
Some students are visual learners and having tools which enable them to display different types of information and content, they will be able to retain the content in a more authentic and meaningful way as they create. Infographics are useful for so many class assignments and projects that are student created, but they are beneficial for teachers to create a course syllabus, make visuals for the classroom, or to create a flipped lesson and display all of the learning materials in one graphic. Beyond creating representations of learning, they are useful for sharing information and offering ways for students or parents to contact you or access class materials. Some of the options available are Buncee, Canva, Piktochart, Smore, and Visme. It is always good practice to learn with and from the students, so try creating some new materials for your classroom as well. Perhaps create a class newsletter, or make some signs that will be useful for your learning space.
There are many ideas for how to expand the learning space and to set up different learning opportunities for students. These are just a few of the ideas that we have used and that have worked well in our classroom. Sometimes we just need to brainstorm a little or, if you want to find new ways to use some digital tools in your classroom, try asking your students. Students come up with really creative ideas and by involving them in some of the classroom decisions, they will feel more valued and have a more meaningful learning experience.