Offering a reimagined learning experience, better than previously possible.
GUEST COLUMN | by Linda Braun
The 2021-2022 school year marked the first full year where most school districts welcomed students back to the classroom. The transition has been educational in itself, as schools have needed to learn how to manage health and safety measures amid emerging virus variants—on top of re-engaging students after nearly two years of remote and interrupted education.
Student reengagement continues to be a priority as we confront the impacts of pandemic-era learning on their academic development. For instance, studies have found that students in grades 1-6 entering the fall semester were on average five months behind in math and four months behind in reading.
Over the last year, educators have worked tirelessly to help students get back on track and have found several strategies effective for enriching the learning experience enabled through classroom technologies. Lessons learned in applying these tools offer insights into how we can enhance learning for the next school year and the future.
‘Over the last year, educators have worked tirelessly to help students get back on track and have found several strategies effective for enriching the learning experience enabled through classroom technologies.’
Re-engaging students through immersive classroom experiences
From TikTok to YouTube, today’s digital-native generation of learners have an unprecedented amount of information and entertainment at their fingertips. Educators must now compete with a world of distractions for their students’ attention. This was a challenge prior to the pandemic that was only exacerbated when students went fully remote, as they could easily divert their attention to other things happening on their screen, on other devices or at home.
To capture and hold student attention back in the classroom, teachers are thinking beyond the traditional chalkboard and passive instruction to introduce more immersive and collaborative experiences. In addition to being more engaging, research from Carnegie Mellon shows that when students proactively interact with course materials, they retain information better and learning outcomes improve.
A blend of hardware and software tools can help teachers enhance classroom interactivity. For instance, many schools now have a 1:1 learning environment where each student works from their laptop or tablet. Learning platforms like MimioConnect enable teachers to connect and collaborate with students seamlessly across devices. It becomes easy to do quick polling and pose interactive questions to measure understanding, gamify learning, as well as work with students on documents in real time.
Learning platforms can integrate with the latest interactive displays. These large internet- and device-connected touchscreens are powerful assets in the immersive, collaborative classroom where teachers can deliver more dynamic lessons, highlighting important information on the screen; having students interact with the board directly; and sharing digital content. Students can even cast from their devices directly onto the board and share their work with the class.
Such a digital, connected experience brings the curriculum to life in ways that inspire excitement and active participation from the digital-native generation of students. Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Florida, is a notable private high school using the power of interactive displays in every classroom. Since installing the displays in 2021, teachers have been able to present lessons, share content and work on assignments 1:1 with students working from their own tablets. The result has been a much more collaborative experience where dynamic media is delivered in a quick and meaningful way that holds the students’ interest. Beyond the classroom, engaging LED displays installed throughout the campus—from the STEM labs to the basketball court—enable a digitally connected campus where returning students feel more part of a community.
Accommodating different learning styles and paces of learning
Today’s teachers know that a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction doesn’t work when you want to empower everyone to succeed in the classroom. Many students are visual learners, some are more auditory learners, while others learn best through tactile, hands-on experiences. Moreover, each student absorbs information at their own pace.
Pandemic-era learning has only further highlighted the importance of differentiated instruction, given the varied experiences in how well each student has adapted in the transition between learning environments. With more students back in the classroom, teachers are finding interactive displays an effective solution for accommodating different learning styles and paces of learning.
- Visual learners naturally gravitate to the vivid displays and can be engaged through the use of images, presentations and videos.
- Auditory learners can benefit from listening to multimedia content. Teachers can also screen record their lessons so these learners can listen to the playback to review the information.
- Hands-on or kinesthetic learners benefit because they can come up to the board and write or draw on it. The act of doing it themselves and physically interacting with the material helps when retaining information.
A helpful tip is introducing smaller interactive displays that can be used like giant notepads for small group discussions, with students grouped according to learning style. Smaller screens and groups can also encourage more timid students to get involved.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of an interactive display is that the board’s contents can be digitally saved, stored and shared—whereas, with a traditional chalkboard or whiteboard, the information is gone once it’s erased. Being able to refer back to lesson notes and screen recordings in their own time means students don’t need to scramble to take notes to keep up with the pace of the classroom.
For this reason, an interactive display can be hugely beneficial to students with special needs or those who require additional time to catch up to their peers. At the School District of Manatee County, Florida, the district’s middle and high school teachers are leveraging handheld tablets (see photo, top of article) to control and push learning materials onto a professional display at the front of the classroom. In addition to being able to move freely and interact more with students, the district’s teachers can save lessons and notes from the tablets, digitally store them, and distribute them to students and parents to review according to their own pace of learning.
Providing equal opportunities for in-person and remote learners
As noted, students have had varied experiences in how they performed during the pandemic. While some struggled in remote learning environments, others found it was the best and preferred way for them to learn. For instance, Anja Herrman, a Chicago high school student who uses an electric wheelchair, reported that remote learning made her happier and felt more included within her school community. And importantly, her grades have gone up.
Hearing the demand from students and parents, one in five U.S. school districts plan to continue to offer virtual as an inclusive, blended learning option even after the end of the pandemic. These school districts are evolving to provide virtual students with supportive learning environments on par with their in-class peers. They’re moving beyond the ad-hoc solutions implemented at the pandemic’s onset and thinking smarter about using technology effectively to seamlessly bridge in-person and remote learning.
Current solutions include using multi-screen configurations to help remote students interact as freely and naturally as they would in person.
- Presentation screen: A presentation screen like an interactive display is installed at the front of the class—with lessons presented on a learning platform that local and virtual students can both follow along on. Teachers can easily control the screen using a tablet or laptop while facing and interacting with students.
- Second screen: On a second rear screen, there’s a virtual row of remote students that the teacher can address and call on to answer questions, share their work or ask to participate in small group discussions.
- Intelligent video conferencing: A mounted camera on the rear screen follows the teacher so virtual students can see the lesson in real time as if they were sitting in the class.
Through a cohesive, well-orchestrated combination of displays, learning platforms and video conferencing, schools can provide equal opportunities for all learners. For instance, when Oak Meadows, a Montessori school in Littleton, Massachusetts, welcomed students back to the classroom, 70% of its student body returned and 30% chose to stay home. Being able to teach in this blended environment effectively for both in-person and remote learners while mitigating learning loss was a key priority for the school’s educators. This was accomplished by incorporating dual displays in the classroom—one for lessons and the other for remote students. Video conferencing has allowed students at home to see the lessons, their teachers and classmates. The teachers interact with all the students just as if they were all physically together—no need to look down at a laptop—for a more natural and engaging experience where everyone feels included.
Innovative edtech tools have proven instrumental in not just welcoming students back to the classroom but offering them a reimagined learning experience, better than previously possible. In the emerging classroom of the future, students can enjoy greater engagement and collaboration and learn in the most optimal way that helps them grow and thrive.
Linda Braun is Executive Director of Sales, Public Sector, Samsung Electronics America. Her work in technology includes 20 years with Ricoh Americas Corporation, Xerox, and Eastman Kodak Company. She has also been involved in youth soccer as a referee and program manager and scheduler. Connect with Linda on LinkedIn.