Technology integration into classrooms across the country has taken on a new urgency. That’s a huge success for students and educators alike. But moving beyond the first flush of victory when schools adopt technology will require innovative use of new technologies and understanding how technology will shape the future of education.
Regardless of which form new technologies take—whether students access classes through laptops or tablets, and how much of their curriculum will have an online component—the emphasis needs to shift from viewing education technology as just the addition of cool new gadgets plugged into the same old classroom environment.
How Do We Get There?
For technology to reach its full potential in transforming the education process, we need to fundamentally change the way we view it. There was a time when new technologies were integrated into classrooms and made pre-existing workflow and routines easier. We’re way beyond that now. Many of the students who are graduating high school in the next few years will go on to pursue an online degree and experience an online learning environment far more dynamic and engaging than what we can offer them in primary or secondary education environments in the present. I think that part of reason we haven’t taken technology farther in public schools comes from an underlying fear that it will either displace teachers or produce less than desirable learning outcomes. Neither of these fears has any grounding in fact.
Getting Students Engaged
Introducing online engagement with educational materials can become a tactic in a teacher’s toolkit. When I was teaching, one of the things I struggled with most revolved around finding ways to tailor information in a fashion that would result in student engagement.
When students are engaged, education happens.
And if you have an intellectually gifted student whom you can’t engage, the learning outcome is likely going to be grim. When teachers have thirty students in a class who all have different points at which they can be coaxed into engagement, it can be humanly impossible to create the learning outcomes that an educator wants for every student.
My experience with Moodle in an English classroom demonstrated to me that technological tools in the hands of a good teacher can produce astounding results—even for students that many folks had likely given up on sometime in junior high school. I think that making an online learning environment a standard part of a normal class schedule just makes good sense. And it doesn’t replace the need for a teacher.
Improving Education Outcomes
Creating online learning environments doesn’t just help teachers engage students. It results in better learning outcomes across the board. And regardless of whether students actually have different learning styles—or not—I suspect that the ability of students to follow their own path to the informational gold nugget is part of the reason.
When the U.S. Department of Education released their findings after examining more than twelve years worth of research equaling more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning, the results were interesting: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” So online learning environments don’t result in less than desirable learning outcomes. The opposite is actually true.
Reaching Educational Success
Replicating these results in our classrooms with a teacher may produce even better results. Taking what works with online education environments and integrating it with an instructor-led setting in a blended learning context could result in dramatically improved education outcomes.
If we embrace the technology once we have it in our classrooms, and use it to it’s full potential, there’s no reason to believe that we can’t transform education with the tools we have at hand. And that’s when we can move beyond the first flush of victory and begin celebrating educational success.