Emerging Technology and Teaching Today’s Child
The Millennial Generation, the first fully digital-native generation, is now having children of their own, a cohort sometimes known as Generation Z. The arrival of second-generation digital natives in schools has far-reaching ramifications for educators and parents.
Many schools strive for a one-to-one ratio of students to computers. Some provide a computer or tablet for each student, but budgets often prevent this. Many schools therefore have a “Bring Your Own Device” policy, or BYOD. Use of devices in any given classroom is usually left to teacher discretion to ensure they are used only when necessary.
Flipping the Classroom
A team from Wayne State University studied 122 Head Start students and found that those who studied with a computer and educational software performed better on standardized tests than those who used traditional methods. But not all schools have such equipment. Classroom Technology: Where Schools Stand, an investigative report by Education Week, found that many K-12 schools fail to use technology to its full potential.
Parents should ask whether classrooms have high-speed internet, how teachers are trained, and whether students use digital devices actively or passively. Interactive software generally produces favorable results, while passive watching does not.
One exception to this is the “flipped classroom.” Rather than attending a lecture in person and then working on assignments at home, students watch a recorded lecture at home and then work on assignments and group projects in class. This lets teachers better help underperforming students, while high-achieving students can work at their own pace.
Google for Education
In 2014, Google Classroom debuted. It’s an online environment for students and teachers to coordinate using G Suite for Education, including Drive, Calendar, and Hangouts. Because G Suite is delivered through a web browser, it can be accessed from any device, which is helpful in BYOD schools. Other schools use Google’s low-cost Chromebooks to control costs.
Here in Florida, Brevard County Schools provided Chromebooks and the Google suite to several schools. According to a report by Evergreen Education Group, Quest Elementary saw test scores in English and Language Arts rise by four percentage points under the program. Scores in Math rose by three percentage points.
These gains may be due to the Chromebooks, or may be due to improved communication via the Google suite. Parents can check assignments in Google Calendar. Students can work on group projects in Docs. And student papers can be saved and turned in through Google Drive.
At Williams Elementary, Principal Chris Reed saw communications improve among students, teachers, and parents. “Achieving a one-to-one environment for so many students changed everything... We now live and breathe the new approach every day.”
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Once reserved for uses like military training, Virtual Reality (VR) hardware has spread into the gaming community, bringing prices down. In higher education, VR is used to train medical students, who practice on virtual patients.
The Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning found that in 2016, 5 percent of teachers were using either VR or Augmented Reality apps in the classroom. Those numbers go up to 9 percent among science teachers and 11 percent among technology teachers.
In 2016, Polk County Public Schools received a grant from Nearpod, a company that produces content for the Google Cardboard, a low-cost VR headset. The grant provides students with headsets and programs that take them on virtual field trips to sites like the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef, or the planet Mars.
The interactivity and immersion of VR heightens student engagement. Nearpod CEO Guido Kovalskys told Fortune magazine that “with efforts like ours to make it simple to find and deploy high-quality VR pedagogical content, we’ll see VR a much more commonplace tool in teachers’ toolkits.”
Educators agree that technology must serve lessons. Bill Ferriter, writing for The Center for Teaching Quality, said, “Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome.” In addition to seeing whether technology is available in schools, parents should also know what students are learning with those tools.
What’s the difference?
In Augmented Reality, software projects objects onto images of real-world scenery in real time, as in the game Pokémon Go.
In Virtual Reality, a headset fully enclosing the eyes projects a 360-degree view of a setting, as in the online game Minecraft, which can be played using the Oculus Rift model VR headset.