3 Ways to Effectively Implement Technology in a Blended Learning Classroom

From the implementation of technology to meet rigorous state standards to a desire to reach digital-age students in a way that engages them, there has been a clear push to bring technology into the classroom. While technology can be a valuable asset in the classroom, it has to be implemented properly to be truly effective.

Here are three ways digital technologies are commonly used in the classroom, and examples of ways to make those uses more effective for the blended learning environment.

1. Learning games

A familiar use of technology in the classroom involves leveraging learning games as an “extra” for students who complete assignments early or who need additional time with the content. Students may play learning games related to the topic that are found online by the teacher. Often, these are quiz-type reviews and only tangentially related to the actual learning goals.

In the most effective blended learning classrooms, however, time with technology is not perceived as an extra or an add-on. Instead, the content with which students are engaged is purposeful and directly aligned to specific learning goals. In these classrooms, student use of technology flows naturally with classroom activities and provides a powerful tool for teachers to differentiate learning.

What does a well-aligned learning game actually look like in the classroom? Here is one scenario.

A middle-school class is studying the effects of human impacts on earth systems. As part of their study, they listen to a TED talk that introduces the idea of cities specifically designed to reduce human impact on the environment. They discuss this concept and come up with a list of questions about their own city’s energy policies. They are then introduced to National Geographic’s “Plan It Green” game, which is a city-building simulation game that casts students as the mayor of a city. The teacher walks students through the game until they are familiar with how the game works. The teacher then gives students specific learning goals for the game, which are aligned to their classroom work. Students play the game at their own pace in small groups, collaborating with other groups as needed. The teacher actively engages students in decision-making strategies and checks in with groups on a regular basis to monitor their learning. After each session, students reflect on their learning in writing, and the class debriefs with a short discussion. When the game is concluded, the teacher provides an avenue for students to apply what they learned to their own city. They revisit the questions they had about their city’s energy policies, and work in small groups to answer these questions. Students then select an issue impacting their city, research possible solutions, and write a letter to city leaders advocating a course of action.

2. Testing

Testing is a common application for technology in the classroom; teachers can replace pencil-and-paper tests and quizzes with online versions that are easier and faster to score, freeing up time for other tasks. Students may use a computer to take a test before a unit of study and again at the end. These tests are then compared to measure student learning. Replacing paper tests is a time-saver, but computerized testing can have the biggest blended learning impact in formative assessment.

What does technology-based formative assessment look like in a well-designed blended classroom? Let’s look at the scenario of students taking a pre-test at the beginning of a unit.

Using technology, these tests are scored instantly, and the teacher can see which students have gaps in which areas. The teacher can then group students based on this data and teach to specific readiness levels. The teacher may also use a learning system that combines testing with specific lessons and activities for content that the test shows a student is missing. This testing and content-pairing can be done throughout a unit to make sure that all students master the content.

Taking this concept even further, technology can allow teachers to instantly assess student understanding, even as they are explaining a concept. Think of the many times you have asked a version of “Who understands?” to be answered by a show of hands. Though common, this method is not a reliable indicator, as some students may indicate understanding to avoid embarrassment, while others may believe they understand but not actually fully grasp the concept. Instead, the teacher could use one of several available tools that allow them to pose a question and have instant access to student responses. This enables the teacher to assess and address understanding as the concept is being taught.

3. Research and writing

In some classrooms, computers are used as nothing more than high-tech typewriters. Students may write and edit an assignment on paper, then “publish” that assignment by typing it into a word processing program. They may also use computers for research by going to sites selected by the teacher and searching for the information they need. While these uses of computer technology can be valuable, they represent a missed opportunity for the technology to be an integral and meaningful part of the learning process.

Today’s students are digital natives, and many are more comfortable typing than writing. As individual tech devices like Chromebooks are becoming ubiquitous in education, there are advantages to allowing students to use computers throughout the entire writing process.

Envision a common scenario in which students are writing a research paper.

They begin by reading some general text resources available at their school and list questions they have or topics about which they want to know more. From those questions, they generate keywords for an online search, which the teacher reviews. The teacher then gives a mini-lesson on how to quickly evaluate and categorize search results as useful or not, based on a preview of content and the source of the information. Once they have identified likely text, audio, or video resources, students can take notes digitally as they read or watch. They can easily copy and paste quotes or facts they might use with links back to the source, or pause and rewind video to accurately quote from it. Students may also identify books or other resources they need to find. Students write their first draft directly in Google Docs or a word processing program. They can assess their own spelling and grammar mistakes as they write, using cues from the program. Students can ask for peer review at any point, which other students can easily give by accessing the writing online and leaving comments. Tools like Google Docs also enable students to write collaboratively and share resources, even outside of the classroom. Because revising on a computer does not mean a complete rewrite, students are often more open and experimental with their edits, which is an important part of the writing process. The teacher can also review students’ writing online, making suggestions that students can see in context.

A blended learning environment is an opportunity to marry the best of technology-assisted learning with classroom instruction and activities. In whatever way technology is integrated into  the classroom, a thoughtful, purposeful approach that matches both types of learning activities to specific learning goals leads to the most effective use of technology.

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