Guest post by Dane O’Leary
Technology has grown beyond our wildest imaginations and now permeates just about every area of our lives. Our smartphones are basically an extension of our own bodies while we’ve started to adopt tablets and wearable technology that reinforce our connectivity. The main purpose of the technology we use is to make our lives easier and make us more efficient, to keep us informed of what our friends and loved ones are doing and what’s happening in the world around us, both near and far. And even though things like smart watches and home automation have brought us closer than ever to living in a Jetsons-like world, consumer technology is showing no signs of plateauing; just when you think you’ve seen it all, tomorrow there will be some new gadget to hit the market and a month later we won’t know how we ever lived without it.
In addition to making our lifestyles more convenient, technology even has the potential to make us better at our jobs. Educators and teachers in particular stand to make incredible gains by incorporating some of the new technologies available. Whether it’s to increase connectivity to students, make grading or assigning work faster and more efficient, or simply to streamline instruction in the classroom, here are some of the new classroom technologies available to make educators even better at educating.
The basis of much consumer technology that we use right now comes from mobile operating systems like Android, iOS, and the much-less-used Windows Mobile. It’s mobile operating systems that run mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and even the new Chromebook notebooks are a unique combination of a mobile device and a standard desktop operating system. As Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile became further refined and more powerful, the devices that run those operating systems began to offer more functionality, especially in the form of apps.
Apps are the packaged programs that run on mobile devices and may very well be the form of technology with the most to offer both educators and students alike. Most apps are free and some cost just a couple dollars from the operating system’s respective app store. Being that they’re available and accessible to just about anyone who owns a smart device—which is just about everyone these days—apps are very easy to incorporate into the classroom since there likely won’t be any expensive hardware that students are required to purchase in order to use the apps.
Google Classroom via the Google Play Store
Google Classroom is a free app for mobile devices—Android, Chromebook, iOS—and is a comprehensive classroom organization tool. Somewhere in between a personal organizer and social media, teachers create groups for each of their classes and simply add their students to the appropriate class group. The students in each classroom can then communicate with each other, exchanging notes or arranging study groups, as well as communicating with the teacher. The great thing about Google Classroom and similar apps is that it provides students a near-constant medium with which they can have their questions answer, either about a previous or upcoming lecture, an assignment, a due date, and so on. Additionally, teachers receive assignments more quickly and can grade them more efficiently while students can access important course materials in Google Drive.
There are a number of other great apps for educational and classroom use as well. An app called ClassDojo is a classroom management platform that provides educators with a convenient points system, allowing them to give points for and monitor things like participation and outstanding achievements or take points away; it also has a number of useful statistics and reporting functions that can be shared with parents and administrators. PowerSchool offers a way for educators to record and track attendance and grades while parents can can access and view this information from home anytime they wish. There are also larger, more powerful software available such as Knewton, which is a digital course supplement that provides instructors with an efficient way to offer differentiated, individualized instruction to each student while also providing a variety of metrics and tools to track student progress and promote student engagement.
It goes without saying that software is of little use without the hardware to run it on. Not long ago mobile technology was a nuisance in the classroom and the spike of students who were trying to sneakily use their cellphones in class was like an epidemic. Over time, the functionality of mobile technology for educational and instructional purposes has become more apparent as increasingly powerful mobile devices could run software that better simulates a desktop experience.
While the basic, non-smart cellphone still exists today, they’re all but obsolete as smartphones have not only become more rich in features, but there’s also a greater variety of smartphones available today and many of them cost very little. And since just about everyone—from teenagers to retirees—carries a smartphone, these gadgets are an ideal opportunity for the implementation of new technologies in the classroom using a variety of apps that are available. Tablets are another mobile technology with great a lot of potential for educational use as they offer a better media-viewing experience, are great for art programs as students can use styluses to create beautiful works of art, and cloud storage allows both students and educators to upload or download crucial classroom documents and files from anywhere.
Google’s Chromebook—a netbook-style laptop computer that runs its own operating system that focuses the user experience on internet access and web applications—is another newer technology with great potential for educational use. Being perhaps the least expensive computer on the market, public and private school schools up to colleges and universities can purchase Chromebooks for student use while paying a fraction of the price that they would for Windows and Mac computers. Additionally, since the Chrome operating system requires internet access for most functions, it seamlessly integrates with Google’s cloud-based storage and web apps. What’s more, the maintenance for Chromebooks is almost nonexistent as they automatically receive and install updates and, much like an Android smartphone or tablet, offer users a level of customization with desktop-like functionality while being simple to setup and use.
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