Some practical perspective from an online educator.
GUEST COLUMN | by Dominique Baroco
Long gone are the days of textbooks and chalkboards. Classrooms have evolved, and teachers are now turning to technology to develop lesson plans. This evolution comes as no surprise considering the variety of options available to students, parents and teachers. With computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and more, learning no longer requires the standard tools of the past.
From blended learning options within a traditional classroom to online homework assignments to fully virtual education, teachers are meeting the challenge to become even more creative with assignments and keep students engaged, interested and successful. According to PBS Learning Media, 74 percent of teachers surveyed said technology is a key motivational tool for their students.
By survey, 66 percent of students measure their academic success by the achievement of their own personal learning goals, outstripping parental pride, or school awards and honors.
Meanwhile, 73 percent said technology helps teachers respond to different learning styles, and 69 percent said technology helps them do more than ever for their students.
Choosing the right tools
Using technology for the sake of technology clearly is not an optimal strategy. Teachers choose different technology tools based on various criteria:
- What tools are available within a respective school district?
- Will students use a desktop computer or a laptop? Are mobile devices or tablets available?
- How will tools or programs fit into lesson plans? What purpose will they serve? Will they play a large or small role?
- Is there a free or low-cost option?
- How comfortable will students feel with the program?
Of course, technology does not always require internet access. There are many programs and applications that students can download and use offline, which is helpful if they are doing homework or studying in a setting where Wi-Fi is unavailable. Some include:
- Explain Everything: Students can use this screencasting tool to record what they’re thinking as they design videos.
- Book Creator: Helps students write stories and publish their own books.
- The Solar System: Offers an interactive experience while students learn about the solar system.
- iBooks: Allows student to save PDFs so they can read them offline.
- Toontastics: Students can create their very own movies.
Online options and customizable solutions
There are hundreds of online programs available to research, although sometimes it takes trial and error to discover which programs will be most effective in helping students learn and reach their goals.
According to Dreambox Learning, 66 percent of students measure their academic success by the achievement of their own personal learning goals, outstripping parental pride, or school awards and honors. Tools that can help personalize the learning experience and track academic success for each student better aids development.
Some teacher favorites include:
- Safeshare.tv: Safeshare converts YouTube videos to ad-free mode so that students can watch the video without any commercials or pop ups.
- Classtools.net: Classtools helps teachers create games, quizzes and activities for class.
- Kahoot!: Kahoot! offers fun live quizzes that can assess students’ knowledge of a subject.
- Desmos: Desmos is a free online calculator for math students that is identical to the $100 TI calculators.
- Google Knowledge Graph: This offers a more advanced search bar for students seeking out answers online.
- iCivics: iCivics is a free website that offers a variety of resources for teaching history.
As a foreign language teacher at a virtual school, I incorporate technological tools throughout the courses. I look for programs that can help personalize the learning experience and offer feedback options to help ensure proficiency and fluency. Each student learns at a different pace and in a different way, so being able to customize these programs is critical.
Some of the best foreign language online programs I’ve used in my classroom include:
- Acapella Box: Allows students to hear a native speaker pronounce a word and practice the target language prior to submitting a voice assignment.
- Powtoon: Provides custom animated videos for presentations.
- DuoLingo: Offers practice with reading, writing, speaking and listening in the desired language.
Technology can offer many benefits, but obviously does not replace human interaction entirely. It’s important that students and teachers still develop a one-on-one relationship. Whether it’s in a traditional classroom or through virtual learning, that dynamic can make a huge difference with their success. However, it’s easy to see why technology has become such a valuable asset to educators. It provides a number of opportunities for further customizing lesson plans and offering personalized learning for students. The future looks bright for the advancement of education in the digital realm.
Dominique Baroco is a French and Chinese Instructional Leader for Florida Virtual School.