How Digital Tools are Changing the Classroom
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The classroom is going digital. Even before COVID-19 forced remote learning on the world, schools and teachers were rapidly adopting new digital tools.
When we talk about "digital tools," we're covering everything from programs and apps to hardware like laptops and tablets. It's a wide category and even some games can make great digital tools for the classroom.
Digital tools have pros and cons. On the one hand, they can help students visualize complex ideas, create presentations and reports, and even gamify learning. On the flip side, there's a concern that students are spending too much time looking at screens. Smartphones and laptops can overload kids with information.
In short, the conversation around digital tools in the classroom is complex. Let's dive in.
Examples of Digital Learning Tools in the Classroom
Generally speaking, digital tools for the classroom can be divided into three categories: software and applications, hardware, and games.
Software and applications
This category includes both software and apps intended explicitly for learning and those that aren’t. Great examples of the former include BoomWriter, a writing collaboration tool, Seesaw, a learning portfolio app, and digital classroom management tools like Google Classroom and ClassDojo.
There's also plenty of more general software that still works very well in the classroom. Presentation creator Prezi and visually-inspired story writing program Storybird are two good examples.
Hardware is a much broader category. School standards like laptops, tablets, SMART boards, and projectors all fall under this category. The COVID-induced rise in remote learning has also made hybrid meeting and screen-sharing hardware like Airtame and Google Meet hardware essential.
It might seem counterintuitive, especially for younger kids, but games can make for fantastic digital learning tools. Quizlet is an easy-to-use flashcard and quiz tool, Socrative can create games and assessments on the fly, and Minecraft Education Edition is a learning-specific version of the gaming phenomenon.
Pros of Using Digital Tools in the Classroom
One of the biggest pros of using digital tools in the classroom is engagement. Engaging students with videos, games, and presentations is much easier than giving dry lectures. Digital tools also make it much easier to accommodate different learning styles.
Cooperative games can help students with collaboration and social skills. Any sort of note-taking program is perfect for kids who struggle with handwriting, like those with dyslexia or dysgraphia.
This generation of kids grew up using smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The kind of digital tools they'd use in the classroom are based on tech they already understand. That's a huge point for digital classroom tools.
Cons of Using Digital Tools in the Classroom
Even so, digital tools absolutely have cons. For one, using a laptop or smartphone in class means kids have easy access to social media and the Internet. That can be a distraction in the moment, and constant access to news and social media is arguably not healthy for kids with developing brains.
Digital technology can also be isolating. A student glued to a screen in class isn't socializing, so teachers need to make sure they get time away from their devices. Technology can also make students impatient. Tech tends to be instant, but not everything happens at the tap of a screen.
How to Implement Digital Tools in the Classroom
1. Take it slow
Even if your students are computer experts, it's important to take it slow when implementing digital tools in the classroom. Don't immediately replace established processes with something new. Instead, give kids time to learn and give feedback.
2. Figure out if you’re replacing or augmenting
This is key to thinking about digital tools: are they completely replacing something, or augmenting an existing strategy? Quizlet could completely replace the way your students prepare for tests, or it could complement existing flashcards.
3. Establish a balance
Keeping a steady balance between digital and traditional tools is very important. Digital tools can and should be used, but there are advantages to keeping things analog. Students need face-to-face time, and there's a personal touch to analog teaching that digital tools simply can't replace.
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