(Written by Sameer Bhatia and Edited by Elle Yi) When majority of parents think of technology in school, most might think about online courses for high school and university students. Online classes and technology environments at these levels have become commonplace. However, few outside of those who have experience with e-school would think that students as young as Kindergarten could benefit from and enjoy an e-learning experience. Because of the pervasiveness of technology in the lives of our students, it is a natural progression for some, if not all, of their learning experiences to include an online element.
Reasons for Bringing Technology At Schools
Teachers need to be aware that, while kids are very open to using new technologies, many parents and administrators may be less-than-supportive of a shift in the learning environment. Before implementing any portion of technology integration, teachers must be ready and able to present the changes to all stakeholders as well as address questions and concerns. Once support from the stakeholders is established, implementation can begin. Instead of shifting the entire learning environment from traditional to online, it is easier for all groups involved if it is done incrementally. As students master one facet of the technology, more can be added. One easy place to begin integrating technology would be in the area of testing. While each situation is unique, the following represents some of the more common objections and ways to overcome them.
- Aren’t primary grade students too young to be working technology?
Not at all! Children and technology are a natural combination. This generation and all subsequent generations have technology integrated into most, if not all, aspects of their lives; therefore it is only natural that education and learning would follow suit. While most primary grades students aren’t ready for taking classes completely online, they do need to work into the process for later educational experiences.
- Why do students at this level need to experience technology at school?
As state and national testing becomes more ingrained into the educational environment of our students, much of that testing is moving to an online format. Students who are inexperienced in using technology for testing purposes are at a distinct disadvantage as compared to those who are not only experienced but also comfortable with the process. There is a distinct learning curve to using technology for assessment for the learner so the younger students are when they are exposed to this type of technology, the easier it will be for them to master the skills needed before they are expected to take a high stakes test in an online format.
- Isn’t online testing just making it easier on the teacher?
While technology at school does have distinct advantages for the classroom teacher, overall, there are more advantages and benefits for the learner and parents. Online testing speaks to the skills and schema in which our students operate and those they already possess. Student are able to receive immediate feedback in an online testing situation which is similar to the immediate feedback they receive when playing computer games. Assessments also can be constructed so that they are not only differentiated by ability but also responsive to the learner, giving more difficult questions as students respond correctly and less difficult questions if students answer incorrectly. Finally, assessing online makes testing feel like a game which automatically puts students into a “gaming” mode where they are more likely to work creatively and be less anxious than when faced with a traditional test.
- What benefits does technology have for teachers, parents, and schools?
The greatest advantage for all three groups is that data can be collected and archived for future reference in an easily retrievable format. Most online programs have a data analysis function that allows teachers and parents to monitor student achievement not only in real-time but also to measure growth over a period of time. Additionally, online assessments allow a more complete picture of student achievement through learner-responsive questioning and differentiated testing based on student ability and needs. Finally technology allows for greater flexibility in physical testing environments as well as created more in-class time for instruction.
- How would technology affect exceptional students?
Students at both ends of the spectrum of exceptionality would benefit from technology at school. Students who are accelerated would be challenged by a leaner-responsive testing environment and the ability to work at their own level of ability in order to maintain a consistently challenging learning experience. Students needing educational supports based on IEP, ELL, or other prescribed accommodations would be able to receive their supports without the need for an intervention specialist or aide administering the test in a separate environment from the rest of the class who is also taking the test. Students could have the test read aloud to them, receive scribing, have the material clarified as needed, and possibly have the test available in a different language to name a few of the numerous accommodations that could be offered with an online option. Because the software can be specifically directed to the needs of each student, they would all receive the amount of support or challenge needed to be successful.
Currently, there is no question about technology in education. Online courses and e-learning will become more normal at all levels as the technology becomes more ingrained into the educational process. It is up to teachers and parents at all levels to be sure that our kids come to the learning table prepared and confident not only in their subject knowledge but also in their skills in using technology to assess their learning.
About the co-author: Sameer Bhatia is a family man and the founder of ProProfs.com, a provider of online learning management system software.