From regular use of tablets and computers to artificial intelligence, today’s educators are no strangers to technology in the classroom. The increasing prevalence of educational technology, or EdTech, means teachers and students are more connected to advanced digital tools than ever before. It is this connectivity that can prove to be one of our greatest assets for providing better learning experiences.
The vast majority of teachers agree that technology in the classroom allows for a more hands-on experience during lessons. When utilized properly, EdTech applications can encourage interactivity, content personalization, immediate feedback and motivation for students at all educational levels.
Children today also have unprecedented exposure to apps and are incredibly familiar with their use and capabilities. According to one report, the average daily app usage per child is over three hours, meaning kids spend approximately six and a half weeks per year on apps.
However, while their benefits may be numerous, apps should never completely replace former, “old-school” teaching methods. When using EdTech, teachers must be even more involved and invested in their student’s learning. Apps are best used as a complement to more traditional methods. If teachers rely exclusively on apps, their students will miss out on a number of aspects critical to their educational development. Below, I share what teachers and educators should focus on in order to bridge that gap when using apps as part of their educational curriculum.
The most important aspect of learning students will miss out on with exclusively app based learning is human contact. When looking at holistic learning, it is more than just engaging the brain. Learning should also include social skills, engaging the heart and the spirit. Studies have shown that students remain more focused and receptive when taught by a person as opposed to a video or a machine.
Human contact through the teacher/student and student/student social interaction allows the brain to become most receptive to learning. Educators can best maintain this interaction by encouraging use of apps in group settings or workshops, fostering interaction and cooperation among the students. Plus, there is nothing better than being able to tell a student they did a great job or see them understand a concept, rather than rely on a device to do it.
Learning Through Physical Objects
Through her works, renowned philosopher and educator Maria Montessori showed that manipulating physical objects helps many students better understand abstract concepts such as numbers or symbols. By having students work exclusively with apps, instructors inhibit that sort of material learning. However, when apps are used in conjunction with interactive physical parts and toys, it can allow for both technology based instruction as well as the added learning benefits physical objects provide.
Physical objects can allow for a creative, discovery style of learning that many apps cannot. A child can read on the tablet screen about the science of architectural engineering. The comprehension of the concept will only increase when given the physical tools to attempt to build their own building. With physical toys, children, particularly younger children, can create, build and imagine stories. Even if the story created isn’t directly related to the lesson at hand, the object served to boost creativity more than touching a screen could ever do.
Once a concept has been taught, it must be continuously reinforced through training and exercises. This is perhaps one of the strongest areas for app usage in education. Using apps as a reinforcement tool for lessons can be completely complementary to traditional teaching approaches. They can provide a new angle for a lesson to students who need it, engage students by turning the lesson into a game, as well as be a tool for teachers to objectively gauge the student’s understanding of the concept or if it needs further instruction. But, even when used this way, teachers must be hands on because apps are often too directive. A student has a problem to solve or question to answer and, when done correctly, the student moves on. That can dry up imagination and limits instructor insight into the student’s thought process. When it comes to selecting the right app for educational reinforcement, it’s best to choose those with an open mode or sandbox.
Teachers can, and should, welcome the use of educational technology in their classrooms, keeping in mind that apps are great tools to engage students and make learning fun. They are not meant to replace human educators or traditional learning methods. Human contact and learning through the manipulation of physical objects are still essential for good teaching.
Technology and digital apps have, and will continue to, dramatically revolutionize the way teachers instruct and students learn. But when using apps in schools, never forget that they are just an ingredient for learning – and the best recipes have more than just one ingredient, no matter how good the ingredient is.