Friday, May 29, 2015

An Evolution in Education: The use of Technology to Engage and Empower Students

It was almost two years ago when I reflected on the importance of integrating technology in the classroom. If my recollection is correct, I wrote that particular blog post because people were constantly asking me what the big deal was. They were reading and hearing about it but needed more information to be convinced that the integration of technology into the classroom/curriculum is as important as other high yield strategies.

As I re-read that post to prepare for this one, I have to admit that it was unsettling. What I had written no longer sat well with me. The unsettling feeling I experienced turns out to be a good thing. It was telling me that I have grown in my understanding of the use of technology in the classroom. I kept referring to the integration of technology as "revolutionary" in my blog post. I don't see that as the case anymore. Check out the following video called "This will Revolutionize Education" to see what I'm talking about:

As you saw in the video, many things (e.g. technology) were introduced in Education with the belief that they would would revolutionize it....but none of them have. What technology has done is help with the evolution of education. The technology we have and use in classrooms is of almost no use to students if it is simply dropped into their laps without any connection/context to teaching/learning. The technology is simply a tool, one of many, that teachers leverage to meet the needs of their students. This is not to say that it isn't a powerful tool, but the power really comes from good pedagogy that is amplified with the use of technology. 

So, what is the big deal? My experience with the use of technology in the classroom has been a rewarding journey - for my students and myself. The world we live in today has no boundaries anymore. With the use of technology and cloud based services like Google Apps for Education, we can connect with anyone anywhere as long as there is an internet connection, acquire knowledge easily, and do so on our own terms and at our leisure. 

From an educational perspective, we are no longer bound by the walls of the classroom. Combine this with co-created learning goals, success criteria, anchor charts, accountable talk, rich tasks, and other proven teaching strategies and you have the ingredients to not only engage students, but to empower them. As an elementary classroom teacher I can say, without a doubt, that students are engaged by the technology (e.g. Chromebooks, iPads) being used in classrooms. They love the interactivity, ease of use, immediate feedback and quite frankly the speed at which they can engage in a variety of activities. The technology is also fostering creativity, collaboration, technological literacy, and digital citizenship.

It all starts with engagement. For a variety of reasons, the technology hooks students in. To this day, I have never had a student tell me that the technology is boring! Once you attach a learning goal or provide a purpose for its use, something magical happens. Engagement starts to turn into empowerment. The students begin to realize that they can harness the technology to create rather than consume. They realize that they can easily seek immediate feedback about what they are doing. They begin to take risks and share their work with others in the hopes that they will ultimately benefit in the end. They begin to use the technology for their own purposes, based around their thoughts, ideas, and reflections. They find new ways to use the technology to learn and demonstrate their learning. It is a sight of beauty and one that is hard for me to describe sometimes.

The use of technology in the classroom is helping education evolve. We have models like SAMR and TPACK that provide a framework for teachers to help them combine effective pedagogical practices with technology enhanced learning environments. The integration of technology can provide teachers with a way to design and create new tasks that were once unimaginable. That is the big deal. If it can allow for this to happen now, what will it be able to assist us with in the near and far future? The use of technology in teaching and learning is part of a wonderful evolution in education. Let's continue to evolve to benefit everyone involved.  


  1. You make some really interesting points here ... but I have to wonder about the thought that "technology is engaging." Is it the technology that's engaging or the way that technology is being used that allows for student engagement? I've taken small groups of students before and even had them play some follow-up games on the iPad to reinforce a skill or concept taught in guided reading. The app engages them for a couple of minutes, but many students have articulated that they would rather go back (even to something involving a piece of paper), if they can create with it (e.g., write a story) or choose how to use it (e.g., the type or topic of writing that they do). I think that the engagement comes from the meaningful purpose and/or real audience for the work that they do, and technology can create these connections and/or a wider audience than ever before. If it's just a blackline master, but on an iPad, I don't think that it will engage for long. What about you? And maybe this is where the technology and the pedagogy combine to real help education evolve.


  2. Thanks for your comment Aviva. You ask a great question about the technology being engaging or the way that the tech is being used that allows for student engagement. I have to say that in my experience I have seen both. Having said that, let me clarify by saying that I have seen the tech on its own engage (suck students in) the kids in a way where they are using the tech to have fun and not want to put it down or work on anything else. I have also seen the engagement that occurs when the tech is used as part of a task where students have a goal and criteria to meet as they are immersed in their learning. Certainly the engagement attached to the learning we are doing in class is much more powerful and it is what I have seen (and what my students have told me) lead to their empowerment. So, I have seen the tech do both. Make sense?

  3. It does, Rolland. I guess that your post got me thinking about a really interesting Twitter discussion that I was involved in yesterday about "engagement" versus "entertainment." What actually engages students? Why? It veers from your post a bit, but definitely made me think about the role of tech and if it engages, entertains, or both.


  4. I believe that entertainment can be engaging....and I have used that premise to hook my students!!!