Opinion: 5 golden rules for using technology in classrooms

There has been much discussion recently around the topic of technology in the classroom. Is it a distraction? Does it help teachers and students in their learning journeys?

Following Sydney Grammar School’s headmaster John Vallance’s comments that providing students with laptops is “a scandalous waste of money,” evangelists and other commentators have added their two cents to the discussion of benefits versus disadvantages of these now ubiquitous educational tools.

The discussion has focused on the technology itself rather than what the technology can do – or what the purpose of the technology is.

I would certainly agree that when technology tools are not used to their proper potential, at best it is a wasted expense – useless equipment that gathers dust. At worst, it can be distracting or detrimental to students and teachers.

A recent Canvas survey of 182 Australian teachers revealed that 80% agreed that technology made their job easier and saved them around three hours per week in marking and planning time.

The problem is not with the technology, but how it is being used. The right technology used for the right purpose can prove to be the best purchase your school ever makes.

To ensure success, there are some golden rules you can follow to make technology a genuinely ground-breaking tool to increase student engagement and assist teachers:

Prioritise the challenges you would like to overcome

Before purchasing any technology, schools need to identify what problems they are trying to solve with technology, rather than we need to buy some technology.

Increasing student engagement whilst easing the burden on teachers is a hard balance to strike for many teachers, particularly in primary schools. Selecting a technology system that can speed up the marking process or help create reports over time about student learning journeys is an easy way to reduce those time restrictions.

If the challenge lies in getting students interested in their lessons, then look for something that will deliver the content in a compelling way. Is it video, is it real-time conversations, is it games? If you don’t know what problems you want to overcome with technology, then this isn’t the right time for you to be investing in it.

Work from the bottom up

All too often, when school technology is not used to its full potential, it’s because the system or devices have been selected by management team or school leaders who are not the day to day users of the technology in the classroom. 

When purchasing technology for your school, involve class teachers in scoping of needs, the evaluation and the decision making process – having their insight as to what goes on in the classroom is a crucial way to gain buy-in for the chosen technology.

If some teachers are resistant to the changes technology in the classroom will bring, schools can open up discussion and feedback loops to help them feel involved in the journey. These teachers often end up being the most useful advocates for telling other staff and students about the benefits.

Get the parents on board

Parents can be apprehensive when it comes to new technology for their children. There are fears about privacy, distraction, or lack of sociability with other children. Debates like the one happening in NSW right now aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to removing these fears, which are unfounded.

Online learning systems can bring children and parents closer together, because they allow parents to have a more active role in their child’s education. Involving parents early in the purchase decision of school technology will ensure they give their support and advocacy to the program later on.

Embrace possibilities of open education

The concept of open education will be an important one moving forward, particularly in Australia, where the population of students is scattered from urban hubs to small rural centres.

Open education platforms – the ability to access an education, both through technology and remotely – can provide the gateway to the wealth of content that’s being created and shared across the world, giving less advantaged schools the opportunity to access resources.

This approach, powered by online technology, can totally change the learning experience, for the better. But to get the most out of technology, teachers must be prepared to embrace new techniques and open their mind to a different way of teaching and learning.

Constant evaluation will eliminate waste

Schools often don’t continually evaluate and look at ROI and this can lead to a belief that technology is a waste on money.

Identifying where equipment is being underused or ignored is vital. Schools need to evaluate their purchase decisions consistently through setting objectives and key performance indicators, to make sure they are achieving their goals from the beginning.

By following these steps, schools will ensure that their purchase of technology is a success for all involved.
Troy Martin is director of APAC at Canvas by Instructure, a cloud-based Learning Management System designed to make teaching and learning easier.