Bringing tech to teaching - the benefits of an increasingly connected classroom

With students settling into the fall semester, the transition from holiday to homework is made easier by the increasing use of mobile educational technology – ed tech. With mobile already an integrated part of most people’s daily life, ed tech is playing a bigger and bigger role in education and the classroom.

This is a relatively new area and impact results are not widely available; however, it’s a certainty that today’s students will be leaving education to enter a world of work that is largely powered by mobile. Of course, some kids are inseparable from their smartphones, but encouraging mobile usage for education can better prepare students for professional life. For teachers, ed tech can make work more efficient, enhance their ability to communicate in ways that students will respond to more readily, and enable the involvement of parents and carers in the educational program and process.

One of the most popular ed tech apps is Remind, which helps teachers connect quickly and easily with students and parents, from and to any connected device. Teachers can send one way ‘announcements’ which can be received by students as texts, emails or smartphone notifications. Teachers can also start two-way conversations with students and parents. Personal contact numbers are not visible.

The Edmodo app is all about sharing – among other features, it lets teachers share the day’s teaching via parent and carer accounts to enable students to get support at home, as well as to showcase and share education ideas via the Edmodo Spotlight. Similar is Class Messenger, which enables teachers to send home student information and updates – and to see which parents have read each note. Doesn’t that beat the crumpled ball of paper forgotten and buried at the bottom of the backpack that would have told Mom or Dad about the latest assignment requirements, or the kit list for the upcoming field trip? Who hasn’t had to call friends the night before looking to borrow torches, sleeping bags or small-size thermal gloves?

For the really young ones, the Tadpoles system can be used to keep parents and other carers fully apprised of their child’s activities, with photos and videos shared via email and smartphone. The Tadpoles app is designed to make reporting better, faster and easier for the teachers so they can spend more time with the children.

For a truly personalized approach, look to the example set by the Summit Public Schools in Redwood City, CA, who are lucky enough to have the Facebook HQ as a neighbor. The schools worked with volunteer engineers from Facebook to build a dynamic Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) platform, which factors in students’ long- and short-term goals within the educational program, enabling teachers and families to engage with individual student progress. Development of the PLP is ongoing - there is a small pilot running across other schools, and the collaborative approach means new features are constantly being incorporated into the learning tool.

A Harvard study on teacher-to-parent communication concluded that a single-sentence message from teachers each week on student schoolwork increases the student’s academic success, and catalyzes parents to better support their children. As well as increasing student pass rates, the communication improved student attendance and also generated parent-student conversations outside school. The study suggests that the positive results were due to the effectiveness of the interactions, rather than the frequency.

Educators, parents and ed tech companies are gradually calibrating the role that ed tech plays in teacher/parent/student interaction. The success lies in creating a balance: ensuring participants are not overwhelmed by information, and enabling effective control of the message channels. Finding the right balance can make all parties better informed and better organized, and create an altogether more productive educational experience. It’s all about effective communication.