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For many students, technology is shaping a significantly different kind of learning environment than the one their parents experienced. Devices like smartphones are not only being used to communicate and access resources, but are also allowing kids to edit and submit their assignments on the go. Advances in technology are helping streamline and ease the workloads of teachers, from platforms that enable the sharing of resources to software that customizes lesson plans and manages assignments. The impact of these new capabilities is sizeable – by 2020, it is estimated that the global market for educational technology will be worth over $161 billion. Here, we explore a few of the educational technologies that are changing the way students learn.
The first modern blackboard was invented in the early 19th century by a teacher in Scotland, and its use was rapidly adopted across the ocean in American classrooms. Since then, the use of the blackboard has evolved over the past century, initially from chalkboards to dry erase boards. Today, those writing boards are being replaced by interactive electronic whiteboards (smart boards), offering teachers a flexible and engaging visual aid that provides students with a shared resource and point of focus. Teachers are able to present lectures, use the internet, type, and draw with a smart board’s touch screen technology. After presenting a lesson on the board, the teacher can print it for students after the board has been “erased.” Additionally, document files can be opened onto smart boards and edited in real time, allowing more options for the class to learn from and interact with each other.
In the not-too-distant past, students wrote letters to remote pen pals. Today, technology has opened up the avenues of communication and enabled students to connect in real time. Video chat programs are helping extend the reach of education across the globe. Students can “meet” virtually with experts from around the world, as well as communicate locally with their teachers outside the classroom. For example, a school located on the edge of a rain forest in Sri Lanka relies on technology to connect its classroom with the outside world. Through video chatting, students communicate and learn with children in other cities and schools – teaching those students about tropical rain forests, while at the same time learning about other geographic regions. In addition to sharing knowledge, kids have the opportunity to work on their language skills.
Many schools are working toward equipping all students with an electronic device, such as a laptop, netbook, or digital tablet – a concept known as “one-to-one computing.” The idea is to provide every child with ready access to important educational resources like digital textbooks and the Internet. For example, in the United States, many public schools aim to provide at least one computer for every five students. Schools in the U.S. purchased more than 23 million devices for classroom use in 2013-2014 alone. In recent years, tablets and less expensive web-based laptops have become the popular choice for many schools. On the global level, One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit program that produces and distributes laptops, along with the software and content, for children in developing countries. Through multimedia learning and efforts to provide broadband Internet to schools, OLPC is helping rural children gain access to education at the same level as children living in larger cities.
New technologies geared toward customized learning aim to alleviate challenges teachers face in meeting the needs of diverse student populations. Personalized learning programs include digital devices, software, and platforms that are integrated into various teaching methods. These offer innovative and unique options for tailoring education to each individual student’s academic strengths and weaknesses, interests and motivations, personal preferences, and optimal pace of learning. One example is a personalized student dashboard, accessed on classroom laptops, that outlines lessons completed and tasks yet to finish. By making use of multiple technologies and a flexible classroom setup, different learning styles can be accommodated simultaneously. For instance, some students may learn best using laptops together, while others prefer gathering in front of a smart board for interactive small-group instruction. Those needing individual instruction can have their own desks and devices. The goal is to provide enriching and engaging experiences customized to help students achieve at their own pace.
The use of technology is creating diverse educational opportunities that address a variety of learning needs and desires. At the same time, these advances nicely complement the fundamentals of good education: building an environment that encourages curiosity and challenges students in innovative ways, while providing them with problem-solving tools for the future.