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How Technology in the Classroom Is Shaping the Future of Education

If you’re a teacher, you’ve likely heard about all the ways technology can support you in the classroom. Whether it’s tablets and smart boards or the internet and social media, technology influences the modern classroom in too many ways to count. But most teachers don’t get a manual that shows them how to effectively use and implement this kind of technology in the classroom.

Key Takeaways

  • Educational technologies help teachers in multiple ways, including lecture planning, feedback collection and grading.
  • These technologies are beneficial for students as well, they can feel more engaged with the classes.
  • The tools for different age groups differ, so they should be selected accordingly.
  • Technology can also be used for students struggling with various physical and mental challenges.
  • Educational technology doesn’t always result in a positive way, instructors have to check pros and cons of technology in the classroom before deploying these tools.

This guide will help you understand how technology can empower you and your students. We’ll explore how digital tools can help teachers and students succeed, and how you can use that tech in a safe, professional way. Learning how technology is shaping the world of learning will help you see how it fits into your specific needs and your goals as an educator.

Technology in the Classroom Is Shaping the Future of Education

This guide will cover

  • The benefits of technology in the classroom. Learn how technology improves tasks like attendance-taking and standards-based lesson planning while preparing students for the future.
  • How to use technology in the classroom. Discover the power of devices for more engaging, interactive lessons for students of all ages.
  • Technology grants. How to find, apply for, and obtain grants for using technology in the classroom.
  • Assistive technology in the classroom. See how technology can expand access to learning for special-needs students.
  • Using technology for differentiated instruction. Leverage classroom data to create personalized learning experiences for each student.
  • The pros and cons of classroom technology. What are the main arguments against using classroom tech, and what benefits outweigh these challenges?
  • The current state of classroom technology. Find out how technology has shaped contemporary education — and where we’re headed.

Technology can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ll show you how to get started with the right tools for you and your students.

Benefits of technology in the classroom

There are a multitude of tools, devices, and apps specifically designed to help teachers do what they do best. Most teachers who use technology in the classroom will agree: It makes their lives easier.

Unsurprisingly, one of the fastest-growing education trends is the increasing use of laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices for learning, says Steelcase. Smartphones in particular are becoming an increasingly common tool in the classroom, and more students expect to have essential information available on mobile.

smartphone usage in the classroom

6 ways classroom technology helps teachers

It’s clear that both teachers and students are taking advantage of all that technology has to offer. But how exactly can technology support teachers?

Automating everyday tasks. One of the greatest benefits of using technology in the classroom is that it saves time.

A number of apps are designed to help teachers take attendance so the task doesn’t take time out of their day. Students can mark their names on a tablet when they enter the door, even if the teacher is busy preparing for class.

Other tasks can be eliminated completely: Photocopying and stapling is no longer necessary when students can access their assignments online.

Simplified grading. Grading is a breeze with online tools that instantly interpret test answers on a mass scale. Many apps give teachers status reports so they can gain a bird’s-eye view of each student’s progress. These reports also pinpoint areas of improvement, allowing teachers to identify learning struggles earlier in the year. In addition to making grading easier for teachers, technology helps students get the help and attention they need.

Online lesson planning and storage. The internet is full of inspiration and ideas from other teachers. Instead of creating a new lesson plan from scratch every day, teachers can repurpose and reuse great ideas from other educators.

Storing and sharing lessons in the cloud lets teachers access lessons anytime, from anywhere. Digital lesson planning also allows teachers to quickly access and apply their own lessons from past years — no filing cabinets required.

Fast feedback and workflows. Teachers can use Google Drive and other cloud applications for faster editing and grading. When students submit their work online, teachers can easily access it without having to juggle papers. This creates a more meaningful revision workflow between teachers and students because teachers can see exactly what students changed. The cloud enables students to collaborate with each other on assignments and projects too.

Meeting state standards. More lesson planning tools are equipped with Common Core standards, making it easier to check all the boxes for standardized tests. Teachers can also find lesson plan ideas and templates that meet specific standards for grades and states on the internet and in lesson planning apps.

School safety. An unexpected benefit of classroom technology is school safety. Teachers and administrators have the power to lock all school doors and send emergency announcements at the click of a button.

Teachers can also use automated email and text alerts to communicate with a large number of parents in an instant. And information about weather delays and school closings can be sent out quickly and efficiently with technology.

Just so you know

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Preparing children for the future

There’s no denying that we’re moving toward a technology-driven society. Knowing how to use technology — everything from digital menus to self-driving cars — prepares students for the future. Technology skills learned early can support the growth of students both in their careers and personal lives.

Career preparedness. Internet skills are essential for success in higher education. College students will have to use a variety of apps beyond word processing. They’ll also use tablets and share digital information. Students can explore potential careers online and through career workshops. Finding inspirational professionals on social media can help students network and connect with mentors.

Digital citizenship. Learning to present yourself on the internet is an increasingly important skill. When students grasp digital citizenship at an early age, they’re more likely to present themselves accurately and safely. This increases students’ professional opportunities because it ensures they won’t be dismissed outright as a result of inappropriate online content.

Another part of digital citizenship is learning how to stay safe by using tools like password managers and multifactor authentication, plus learning to identify scams.

Life skills. Searching for jobs, writing cover letters, and sending emails are all crucial skills for twenty-first century success. Students who know how to express themselves well online are much better equipped for a competitive job market. Learning to create a basic website or implement a social media strategy also makes students more desirable candidates in a competitive job market.

Supporting collaboration and connection

Technology enables students to connect with people in the classroom and around the globe. Learning how to use digital tools to collaborate on projects prepares students for nearly any career.

Connecting to students in other parts of the world fosters cultural learning and teaches students how to work with people who are different from them. While the internet can sometimes be an ugly place full of hate, it offers an immense sense of community and support when used wisely.

Classroom websites. Students of any age can benefit from classroom websites. They often foster connections between students and create a place for them to collaborate on group projects.

They also benefit students by creating a shared sense of belonging and community. Websites, which are usually filled with student work, classroom updates, and assignments, mimic what it’s like to be part of an online forum or group. Students can gain experience designing and editing the site as well as uploading files to the site.

Global citizens. Technology connects students to other classrooms in different countries across the globe. Learning how other students live promotes cultural understanding and reduces fear of those who are different. It also helps students develop interests in travel, other cultures, and different career paths.

Historical context. The internet connects students to archives from around the world. Students can learn about their world through images, videos, and text archives. The internet can also illuminate the past: Accessing historical archives makes history lessons more relevant and tangible.

How do you actually use technology in the classroom?

Whether it’s gamification, online quizzes, or group collaboration, there are a near-infinite number of ways to use technology in the classroom.

The most effective educational technology applications use digital tools to meet specific learning objectives. Here are some of the most common ways teachers can enhance everyday lessons through strategies and lesson plans involving technology.


Passive vs active learning

Technology can be used for two different types of learning: active and passive. Both are important, so let’s explore how technology plays a role in each.

Active learning. Active learning engages the student through activities and discussions that reinforce concepts, says Classcraft. The benefit of active learning is that it helps students draw connections to real life. In turn, this gives them a better understanding of their place in the world and facilitates important skills such as analysis, evaluation, and collaboration.

Active learning may also improve student attention while fostering meaningful discussions and divergent learning, in which there is more than one correct answer to a question. Many educators think of active learning as activities and lessons that don’t involve digital tools. However, online games and tools that foster real-time collaboration can facilitate active learning.

Passive learning. With passive learning, students are responsible for absorbing and retaining information at their own pace. Passive learning fosters skills such as reading, analyzing, listening, and writing.

This method primarily relies on convergent learning, meaning there’s a single answer to the question at hand. Traditional tests and quizzes evaluate students’ understanding of concepts learned through passive methods.

Passive learning lessons give teachers a stronger grasp of how class time is spent and what’s learned each day. They also offer a standardized presentation of learning material, which some students may benefit from. Reading something on a tablet, viewing an educational video, or watching an online lesson are all ways that technology can facilitate passive learning.


One of the greatest benefits of technology in the classroom is that it can be used to foster fun, engaging learning through games. Games use the processes that students already know from video and computer games to create fun lessons that promote active learning. Almost any lesson can be turned into a game.

Points and badges. There are myriad classroom apps that allow students to earn points or badges instead of grades. In fact, points can be accumulated throughout a unit to determine a grade once the project or lesson is finished. Badges can symbolize different levels of mastery and can include small rewards or titles, like “reading rockstar” or “algebra expert,” to help students feel proud of their accomplishments.

Progress visualization. Instructional video games or gamified lesson plans can also help students visualize their progress. As they earn points with every success, students can begin to clearly see the roadmap toward a long-term learning goal. This may make them more excited about working hard and staying focused. Seeing other students’ roadmaps promotes healthy competition and creates a culture of collaboration, community, and respect.

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Instant feedback

Online tools facilitate a meaningful exchange between students and teachers. When students can easily see teacher feedback, they internalize changes privately and safely. Teachers can use feedback from students to shape a learning program that’s optimized for the specific needs of their class. This is possible through the use of the following:

The cloud. Cloud-based tools allow educators to view student work, and make comments and suggestions for improvement, from anywhere. Students can see these edits instantly and make quick changes to their work. This is helpful both for individual and group work.

Online polls and quizzes. The use of online polls and quizzes ensures that students gain instant feedback on their work. Teachers can also poll students on specific aspects of a lesson to gauge how well they understood it. Digital quizzes provide teachers with analytics so they can identify areas where multiple students are struggling.

Distance learning. Even if you teach in a traditional classroom environment, you may still benefit from the ability to record and share lessons with students. If you have a snow day, for example, a recorded lesson can keep students from falling behind in the curriculum. A student who has to miss school due to a medical or family emergency can also stay up to date through such recordings.

Flipped learning. Digital tools give teachers the opportunity to test a flipped classroom model, which can optimize class time to answer questions and facilitate discussion. As certified educator Elizabeth Trach points out, a flipped classroom allows students to explore new concepts in their own way, at their own pace, which provides more differentiation in learning.

Integrating technology in the classroom

Choosing the right technology for your classroom can be overwhelming. But as we mentioned before, getting clear on your learning objectives can help you determine which tools will be best.

Device-to-student ratios. Not all schools have the luxury of a one-to-one device ratio in the classroom. If you can’t offer a device to each student, how can you use them strategically so that each student has an equal chance to learn from them?

One idea is to use devices to offset high teacher-to-student ratios, says Emily Levitt, vice president of education at Sylvan Learning. In environments where there are many more students than teachers, digital tools help provide personalized instruction for every student. Personalized digital applications can ensure that, while teachers are meeting privately with other students, the rest of the class is using devices to work on their specific areas of improvement.

If you do have a one-to-one device ratio in your school, it’s still important to consider how devices will support learning. Having access to technology doesn’t mean devices should be used in every single lesson. In fact, being strategic about device use makes technology more effective.

Setting healthy boundaries. Whether you have one device in your classroom or 100, you’ll need to set healthy boundaries around use. Technology should only be used when it can enhance learning and make lessons more engaging and effective.

You may choose to use technology only in the morning, for example. Or you may have one day a week where technology isn’t a basis for any lesson plan. Regardless of technology’s prevalence in our daily lives, educators should strive to strike a balance between manual and digital activities.

Technology for different age groups

Technology is used differently in the classroom depending on what grade you’re teaching. For example, elementary school teachers tend to use technology to keep students engaged in and excited about what they’re learning. In contrast, middle-school or high-school students may use technology as a means of connecting to the outside world and learning career skills.

Technology in the elementary classroom. Tablets are a great way to provide each elementary student with equal access to learning material. If a student is falling behind, the teacher can quickly see who is struggling and what the problem is.

Elementary teachers also use technology to give young students more ownership over their learning. Gamification, for example, often allows students to make an avatar for themselves and control how they collaborate and participate.

Many teachers also use technology to involve parents and families in the learning process. Teachers can provide parents with access to project reports, grades, and classroom calendars to demonstrate what students are learning — and what they may need to work on at home.

Technology in the middle-school and high-school classroom. As with elementary students, middle and high schoolers benefit from the engaging nature of technology. However, more advanced learners may also profit from using tech tools to digitally collaborate with other students.

Digital study guides and test prep quizzes can help students prepare for standardized tests. Online databases allow students to explore history and find primary sources for research projects. This can facilitate discussion about how to find reputable sources online, which also ties into important conversations about how to keep data safe and private.

Moreover, middle- and high-school students benefit from the real-world exchanges offered by the internet. Whether communicating with a classroom abroad or watching video clips from another country, devices connect today’s students to new people and places to foster cultural exchange and understanding.

Grants for technology in the classroom

Budget constraints are one of the main obstacles preventing teachers from implementing technology in their classrooms. Whether it’s switching to a smartboard or buying some Chromebooks, even small device adoptions can feel unattainable without proper funding.

This is problematic because learning how to use technology is essential for student success. Being unable to access the right hardware and software can limit a student’s personal, academic, and professional growth.

Fortunately, there are many grants available. Local, state, federal, and nonprofit grants can all help teachers acquire educational devices and pursue technology-driven projects. Here’s what you need to know about finding and applying for grants that can improve access to technology and promote learning equity for students of all backgrounds.

What do you need an educational technology grant for?

Educational technology grants can fund the purchase of specific hardware and software needed to fulfill a learning objective. Grants are often given to schools or teachers pursuing a certain initiative, such as improving device equity in a low-income school or teaching STEM skills.

Grants can be applied to small-scale projects that further a certain unit or lesson in a classroom. They can also be on a larger scale, advancing technology access across an entire school or district. If you feel that technology would give your students more opportunities to learn, chances are you could benefit from a grant. The next step is understanding where such funding could be applied and how it could make a difference for your class.

Evaluate technology access at your school. Before you make any major requests or send any applications, it’s important to assess the technology currently available at your school. Consider resources like computer labs, personal student devices, and internet access.

What educational technology is already furthering learning at your school? Where are there opportunities to expand access? Give grant donors a clear picture of what the students at your school are working with. This will make it easier for you to articulate how their funds can complement existing resources.

Clarify your project. It’s important to have a clear focus when applying for a grant. This makes the impact of technology access more measurable over time. When you know what goal the technology is meant to help achieve, you can better quantify the impacts of those devices.

Getting clear on your goal early can also make the application process easier. Most grant applications will ask for details about how you’ll use the technology. The more specific you can be, the more likely a grant will be awarded.

Many donors, especially those in the private sector, will also want to see how their funding made an impact. Keep tabs on student growth before, during, and after the grant money was applied. When you can clearly articulate how the grant advanced student learning, you boost the chances of your classroom or school receiving a grant again in the future.

Applying for classroom technology grants

When writing a grant proposal, it’s best to keep your options open to numerous funding sources. Your list of potential resources should span both public and private donors. Each of the entities you apply to will have different requirements, notes Gregory Firn, Ed.D., a former school administrator and current executive at RoboKind.

“The way grants are structured, the amounts available, the specific deadlines, the time it takes to be notified of an award after application, and the number of people on grant application review committees vary widely, which is why it’s important to explore many different sources and to apply to multiple agencies.”

Grants tend to have specific requirements about who is granted funds and why. Not every available grant is going to work for your classroom, your students, and/or your school. Diversifying your grant applications can increase the chances that you’ll find the right funding fit for your project.

Keep it simple. It’s easy to get caught up in jargon when talking about technology. Don’t fall into the trap that so many teachers do when writing grants.

You’re talking to people who care about advancing education equity. Use data and details to illustrate how your students can benefit from technology, but don’t be afraid to use emotion and storytelling to explain why your students deserve the grant. Strike this balance, and your grant application will be both well-rounded and relatable.

State measurable, actionable goals. Clarifying your project’s goals and intentions early on will make your grant application more powerful. Break down your goals into measurable learning outcomes within the proposal, but remember to keep it simple.

What technology do you need to meet your goals? How long will it take to execute these projects? What will success look like for your classroom? The reviewers will likely be looking at hundreds of applications, and keeping things direct will help your application stand out.

Ask for help. Your district likely offers many resources for helping write your grant application. There may be other teachers in your school who have successfully applied for a grant in the past. Similarly, administrators at your school may have insight into funding sources or proposal writing tips. You may also have a district grants coordinator, whose sole job it is to help teachers like you secure essential grant funding.

Finding state and federal grant resources

You may investigate government-sponsored programs, such as The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which helps each state create its own plan for improving access to technology, among other initiatives. Depending on your state, there may be ESSA funds available for expanding technology access in your classroom.

New ESSA changes have expanded the availability of technology funds, which can be used for “purchasing devices, equipment, and software applications in order to address readiness shortfalls.” ESSA also grants funds to provide educators with professional learning tools, implement school-wide technology instruction, execute blended learning projects, and expand technology access to students in rural environments.

You can find state funding sources by looking at your state’s education website too. For example, The New York State Department of Education offers a list of funding resources for schools and districts across the state. The Office of Educational Technology also has information and resources to support the advancement of technology in the classroom. The U.S. Department of Energy provides grants to classrooms pursuing STEM initiatives as well.

Foundations, associations, and unions. In addition to looking at state and federal grants, it’s a good idea to explore national and private foundations, associations, and unions. For example, the Corning Foundation provides technology grants to teachers with a specific plan for learning advancement in STEAM. The Captain Planet Foundation provides technology grants to projects with a sustainability focus.

 Technology companies. Many international technology companies have educational foundations specifically designed to help low-income schools obtain devices. The Toshiba America Foundation provides K–12 teachers with grants to put toward classroom materials. The Verizon Foundation provides schools with technologies that support educational STEM projects. Another corporate source is the Oracle Foundation, which seeks to close the technology gender gap by providing technology access to young girls.

Assistive technology in the classroom

The number of American students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent in the past 10 years, according to the National Education Association. And nearly every classroom across the country has students with special needs.

This rise is in part due to increasing awareness and understanding of the many types of learning challenges that exist. Instead of focusing just on students with visual or auditory impairments, for example, schools and teachers now better recognize the signs of dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and intellectual disabilities.

Assistive technology in the classroom

Modern research and technology have made us more adept at understanding learning challenges and supporting students living with disabilities. That has led to more personalized education programs to suit the varying needs of these students.

Assistive technology already plays a pivotal role in expanding learning opportunities. Text-to-speech tools, for example, can help students with visual impairments and dyslexia, as well as those with ADHD. Understanding the many opportunities for using assistive technology allows educators to create equitable learning environments for all students.

Personalizing learning with assistive technology

Assistive technology in the classroom takes into account the fact that students learn in different ways. It allows all students in a classroom to work at their own pace using tools that support their specific needs. This is especially beneficial in schools with larger class sizes, where it can be harder to cater to each student in a personalized and meaningful way.

Assistive technology also empowers teachers with a deeper understanding of each student’s needs. This is because many assistive technology tools offer data on how each student is performing. Such data arms teachers with greater insight into which students need special attention in specific areas. It also tells teachers which topics might be challenging for all students — and where a classroom-wide review could support everyone.

Some teachers may think that adding technology will complicate lesson planning and increase their workloads. However, integrating technology into the classroom doesn’t have to involve any extra planning. Special education teacher Morgan Tigert explains that she doesn’t offer an alternative curriculum for special-needs students in her class. Instead, she creates one curriculum and provides students many different options for learning the same information.

Using this model, teachers can create one lesson plan designed to be taught across a variety of assistive technologies and mediums. Tigert’s approach allows students to work at their own pace and demonstrate aptitude in their own way. Special-needs students in this classroom model may feel more included when using assistive technology, as everyone is using individual tools. This may reduce the stigma on students who use assistive technology in a classroom where others don’t. It can also provide all students with more agency over the learning process, which can boost motivation, reliability, and self-advocacy.

Since students in the classroom are all learning the same material, albeit in different ways, they can collaborate during meaningful discussions. This ensures that special-needs students of all levels have the opportunity to learn real-world communication and teamwork skills.

In this way, assistive technology can promote learning equity, unlike traditional special-needs teaching. Different students in those more traditional special-needs classrooms are presented with varying levels of material, which can actually widen the achievement gap.


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Assistive technology for special needs

From simple timers to complex voice recognition tools, there are a variety of assistive technologies available to the modern classroom. Different tools, apps, and devices can support nearly all learning challenges and abilities. Here’s an overview of the most common assistive technology in the classroom.

Assistive technology tools don’t have to be advanced or complicated to make a difference in student learning. For example, audio players and recorders can record what’s taught in class so that students can replay the files at home when they do homework. Timers are a visual aid that can help students who struggle with time management and self-pacing.

Large-display and talking calculators can help students who have visual or auditory impairments with their math assignments. Students with dyscalculia may also benefit from talking calculators, which help them perform equations and read numbers correctly.

Digital assignments can also be helpful for students with challenges like dyslexia. Electronic worksheets can guide students through the proper alignment of words, equations, and numbers. Similarly, audiobooks can help students follow along with written textbooks both in class and after school. An audio version of the day’s lesson allows students to replay the lecture so that they don’t lose or forget information.

Advanced assistive technology tools

More advanced technologies can also support students with visual, auditory, and motor skill challenges. The benefit of advanced technology tools is that many of them can be incorporated with laptops and tablets, meaning all students can learn from the same devices, yet in different ways.

Text-to-speech (TTS) tools support students with blindness, dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and other issues that cause visual or concentration impairment. These can be integrated with a Braille translator. Text-to-speech tools scan textbooks, assignments, and other materials, then read the text aloud to the student.

This shows students not only what material is presented, but also how to properly pace their words and how to pronounce them correctly. This can be especially helpful in subjects where new vocabulary and concepts are presented.

Screen readers are another TTS tool that teachers can incorporate into lessons that use e-readers, tablets, and laptops. A screen reader can be hooked up to headphones for a student in a large class so that it doesn’t disrupt or distract other students.

Speech-to-text assistive tools. In contrast with text-to-speech tools, speech-to-text tools can help students transform spoken words into written text. Also called dictation technology, these tools are ideal for students who struggle with writing challenges such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, poor penmanship, or poor spelling.

Students with attention issues like ADHD and ADD may also benefit from speech-to-text tools, as they can help them record their thoughts more efficiently. Students can use these tools to write, edit, and revise their work using just their voice. These tools can also be used to record the teacher so that lessons can be transcribed into notes for the student to review later.

Alternative keyboards. Alternative keyboards assist students with a variety of learning challenges. For example, some keyboards have extra-large buttons and colors, making it easier for those with visual impairments to see each key.

Students with dyslexia might also benefit from a keyboard that reads from A to Z, rather than the standard QWERTY keyboard. These keyboards can be connected to the laptops or tablets that other students are using so that everyone can view and complete the same work at once.

Onscreen keyboards can also help students with limited physical ability because they can be used with alternative microphones and switches, as well as eye gazes.

FM listening systems. Frequency modulation (FM) systems help students with impaired hearing better understand the teacher. FM tools require that the teacher wear a microphone, which directs information either through classroom-wide speakers or directly into students’ earphones. They reduce background noise so students with auditory impairments, attention deficits, language processing issues, and autism can better hear what the teacher is saying.

Virtual and augmented reality. Virtual reality is an emerging education tool that holds a lot of promise for special-needs students. For example, mixed reality headsets can support students who struggle with reading by walking them through a text step-by-step, adding highlights and notes along the way.

Teachers can also join students in virtual reality scenarios to walk students through specific instructions or lessons. Mixed reality headsets can provide students with a more personalized learning experience, even in a large class where other students are progressing at a different pace.

Apps and software for assistive technology. Many apps and software tools bring the functionality of assistive technology straight to your student’s device. The following are few common assistive technology apps:

  • Voice4U is an interactive communication app that helps English language learners and students with autism express their feelings. 
  • Dragon is a speech-to-text app that brings dictation to any device, without an additional tool. 
  • Notability helps students with motor skill and processing challenges take more effective notes.
  • ClaroRead is a robust text-to-speech tool that helps students with visual and attention impairments in reading, writing, studying, and test-taking.
  • Co:Writer helps students write not only through speech recognition and translation, but also through intuitive word prediction.

How classroom technology enables differentiated instruction

Differentiated instruction can be an intimidating concept for many teachers. When there are already so many units to plan and papers to grade, creating a personalized plan for each student sounds like a big job.

Contrary to popular belief, differentiated instruction doesn’t require that you create a unique plan for each student. Rather, a differentiated instruction strategy helps you understand each student’s unique learning style. It helps teachers cater to these strengths to make teaching and learning easier and more efficient.

classroom technology enables differentiated learning

For example, differentiated instruction might mean organizing your class into groups based on students’ interests or skills. It could also mean giving each student access to a device, then using their recent history to tailor their course of study.

Technology offers an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to learning personalization. With the right strategies, technology can differentiate instruction and improve learning outcomes — all while making life easier for the teacher.

What is differentiated instruction?

Students enter the school system with a wide range of learning styles, skills, and knowledge levels. Usually, as students advance through each grade, these differences deepen due to minimal differentiation in instruction.

Imagine two students who are equally capable of mastering a lesson, but only one of them receives instruction in their preferred learning style throughout the year. The other student will likely fall behind because they don’t have an opportunity to learn according to their skill set. This widening achievement gap is perhaps the biggest reason why differentiated instruction is a growing trend.

Casting a wide net when teaching to different learning styles helps meet each student’s needs more effectively. For teachers, this means greater flexibility around how students learn and how they demonstrate knowledge. It also ensures that students aren’t left behind just because they have a different learning style.

Understanding the fundamentals of differentiated learning can ensure you personalize lesson plans effectively, without feeling overwhelmed. 

Leveraging personalized learning strategies

There are many ways to differentiate learning in the classroom. When you’re first getting started with differentiated instruction, it can be helpful to learn the basic strategies that other teachers follow for success. These include creating student groups, curating content, and leveraging student performance data.

Create dynamic student groups. To improve lesson planning for differentiated instruction, plan to separate students into different groups. You may start the year with two groups, then differentiate further as you get to know students’ strengths. Each group can have one or two captains, students who have demonstrated mastery of the material. These captains can support the other students who need further help with a lesson.

Another idea is to break students up into pairs. Students should only be paired if they demonstrate a similar skill level. Students can also be grouped or paired by interest, preparedness, or choice.

Regardless of how you create groups, be sure to rotate them often. This ensures students have continual opportunities to learn and grow alongside students with different learning styles. You can also switch back and forth between larger groups and pairs to ensure no two students get too accustomed to working together.

Curate content, tools, and resources. When getting started with differentiated instruction in the classroom, you’ll want to give students a variety of learning options. Gathering a list of content, tools, and resources ensures you always have a reliable library of content available.

The internet connects teachers to an endless number of online tools and resources. Since it can be daunting to sort through all the content available online, consider a website that aggregates educational content.

For example, Epic! is an educational digital library for children under 12. Teachers can use Epic! to search for books, learning videos, and quizzes based on age range and content type.

Another tool for finding and curating content resources is Edcite. Their online library contains assignments crafted by other English language arts teachers. This free teaching tool also makes it easy to change or pivot lesson plans based on where students are at the moment.

Tap into student data. One of the greatest benefits of differentiated instruction is that it gives teachers insight into student comprehension. It shows not only where students may be struggling, but also what tools and techniques will help them best.

To better help students succeed, teachers need to expand the possibilities of how a single lesson can be learned. Then, they can leverage tools that provide data on student progress and learning outcomes.

There are a number of tools that can evaluate learning aptitudes across different projects. Edji, for example, is a reading tool that tracks student progress within a given text and provides them with prompts based on their skill level. Since all student interactions with the app are monitored, teachers can glean insights, such as how long students read, when they were engaged in a text, and what passage was most engaging.

Allow students to choose their own methods of assessment. The next step in differentiated education is giving students more say in how they demonstrate aptitude. This is beneficial because it ensures students are learning and presenting knowledge to the best of their ability with the tools and resources available. It recognizes the unique needs of each student and prevents them from falling behind or getting bored. Plus, students are much more motivated and engaged in assessment projects when they have a voice in their own learning.

Instead of assigning everyone a unit test, for example, you can give students options. Technology can help facilitate each one of these assessments.

Students who feel more comfortable using a keyboard to type out their thoughts can stick with an essay. Other students may prefer to give a presentation and use video to record it. Whether students make a video, create an art project, or record an audio presentation, technology allows teachers to assess student comprehension.

Another idea is to provide students with surveys to see which methods of learning and knowledge demonstration they enjoy most. Try asking

  • What projects they’ve enjoyed in the past
  • What projects they might want to try
  • What you can do as a teacher to provide these opportunities 

Surveys are great because they let you solicit student opinions anonymously, which helps many students open up and share opinions they otherwise might not.

Modern, adaptable learning environments

Flexibility is another core benefit of differentiated instruction.

Teachers in traditional classroom environments create one lesson plan with the same assignments and projects for each student. This doesn’t allow much room for flexibility. If one student is struggling and asking questions, the rest of the class is brought down to that level. Likewise, if a student is excelling and moving forward, they may finish early and get bored because there isn’t enough content to support their needs.

The goal of differentiated technology is to cater to each unique skill level. Closing this gap early helps students realize what their learning styles are and where they excel — something that can serve them throughout their schooling.

Flipped classroom models

Flipped classroom models encourage both differentiated learning and flexibility. A flipped classroom is when teachers film themselves lecturing (or providing another instructional method), and students learn at home. Classroom time is spent discussing what students learned from the video lesson, answering questions, and engaging in collaborative group work.

Two of the most common teacher tools for flipped classroom models are

  • Hippo Video. Teachers can use Hippo Video to record lessons, explainer videos, screencasts, or interviews. Students can then engage with this content at their own pace. Teachers can also use this tool to give feedback on student work. The addition of facial cues and voice intonation can help certain students better understand their feedback.
  • Edpuzzle. With Edpuzzle, teachers can create their own video or upload one from a library of educational content that includes resources like YouTube and Khan Academy. They can then incorporate the videos into at-home assignments. Teachers can see viewing data for each student and add assessment questions to gauge understanding.

A flipped classroom transforms how classroom time is used by creating more flexibility around what students do in class. It provides opportunity for differentiated instruction, as some students can advance to supplemental texts and materials while others can review lessons.

Throughout this personalized learning process, the teacher is there to support and oversee students as they progress. This also redefines homework entirely. Instead of asking students to demonstrate aptitude at home on their own, flipped classroom models provide a safe and supportive atmosphere at school for questions, collaboration, and advancement.

The pros and cons of technology in the classroom

From making learning more accessible to advancing personalized instruction, it’s clear that  technology has many benefits for the classroom. But these pros don’t come without their cons, and technology can be just as challenging as it is beneficial.

For example, teachers, parents, and community members who oppose technology in the classroom may feel that it’s too distracting. And students may use tools in unethical ways to cheat or bully other students.

the pros and cons of techonology in the classroom

Many parents are also concerned that technology use may contribute to additional screen time in a world where students are already bombarded by cell phones, televisions, and tablets.

While tech does have the ability to boost equality among students, it can also widen equality gaps between students of different socioeconomic levels. Another common complaint against technology in the classroom is that it can lead to hyperactivity and attention disorders, which is one of the leading learning challenges students face today.

These arguments against technology in the classroom are both important and valid. However, it’s also true that most innovations in the world come with both benefits and drawbacks. Diving into technology without information isn’t a good idea, just as avoiding technology can cause your students to fall behind. Understanding the many pros and cons of technology in the classroom can help ensure that you know how to deploy these tools correctly.

To help you make more informed choices when using technology in the classroom, here’s a breakdown of how digital tools benefit students and how they can be a detriment.

Personalized education vs unequal learning

As discussed earlier, technology can support individualized instruction for students at varying skill levels. This is especially true for classrooms with students of different abilities.

Students who are already further along can use technology to access higher-level instruction, while students who need extra support can get it when and how they need it. Best of all, teachers can use technology to see where students are in the learning process and how they’re progressing. This offers more insight into each student’s learning journey, which allows for individualized instruction that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

If students in a classroom work at many different levels, this can pose challenges. This could make it hard for students to collaborate on group work. If one student is much further ahead than another student in the unit, their group collaboration time may be spent educating and answering questions rather than collaborating.

Since communication and collaboration are essential skills for students to develop, this could put the development of these traits at risk. It may also make it hard for teachers to provide equal support to each student, as more resources may be spent on the students who need additional help.

Just so you know

Ready to integrate tech in your classroom? Get started with Jotform’s free online school forms, tests, quizzes, and more.

Future preparation vs widening the achievement gap

It’s true that technology prepares students for the future in an increasingly digital world. Students who learn how to type, research, and use social media will be much more equipped to succeed both personally and professionally than those who don’t learn these skills.

And students who are comfortable using technology are more likely to excel in high school, which can help them be more prepared for a university setting. Teachers who make technology an everyday aspect of the classroom ensure that their students are ready and equipped to succeed in the world.

While access to technology helps certain students advance, lack of access can make students fall behind. Students in low-income schools may not have the same opportunities as students in high-income schools.

More privileged students may have a one-to-one device ratio in the classroom, while less privileged students may have just one computer to share. Expense is the greatest barrier to accessibility in technology, and some people feel that this cost is widening the achievement gap in more ways than one.

Expanding worldview vs a tool for cheating

Teachers often appreciate the many ways technology can expand students’ worldviews. From Google Maps to virtual museum exhibits to primary source films, technology connects students to other places and times in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Students can access any information they want — which may not always be a good thing. Many parents worry that increased technology use in schools will enable students to cheat. If students use technology to cheat now (and get away with it), it could cause them to create unethical habits for the future. This can become a serious problem in college, where getting caught cheating can be grounds for expulsion.

Teachers and students worried about cheating should consider creating a standard of ethics for technology use. This can help educate students about what’s allowed and what isn’t. Creating clear ramifications for plagiarism and cheating can also prevent students from using technology to cheat on tests and assignments. These ethical codes can also outline rules for online communication and interactions, which can prevent cyberbullying and other harmful online behavior.

Beneficial tool vs unnecessary distraction

One of the leading arguments against technology in the classroom is that it’s distracting and deters from learning. If students have become intelligent citizens without technology in schools for decades, why do we need the tools now?

The truth is, today’s students are accustomed to using screens in every aspect of their lives, so using technology in the classroom is often easy for both teachers and students. Since most children already know how to use tablets and computers, there isn’t a steep learning curve.

It makes sense for students to learn these tools in the classroom, as they’ll likely use them in the future. Students need to be exposed to technology early on in order to succeed at work and life.

Beyond being familiar with technology, students need to learn how to perform important functions like writing, researching, communicating, and creating an online identity. These skills can’t be developed by simply using a laptop once in awhile. They need to be incorporated into specific lesson plans designed to help students become technology literate.

On the other hand, the technology used in schools can be distracting. The downside of technology literate students is that they know how to use digital tools for fun and games. When your classroom is full of students on devices, it can be challenging to keep tabs on everyone. This can exacerbate distractions and, in turn, widen achievement gaps among students.

Setting healthy boundaries

Today’s children already have more attention deficit disorders than in the past. This could be linked to overstimulation caused by screens. Setting boundaries for technology can limit screen time to a certain number of minutes or hours per day. Teachers can also take time to instill these boundaries, helping students create healthy relationships with technology for the rest of their lives.

In addition, setting healthy boundaries for technology use in the classroom can ensure that students aren’t constantly checking social media or falling down a research rabbit hole. Technology should be used at the teacher’s discretion. When it can enhance and improve learning, it should be included. But not all lessons will be more engaging and memorable by simply adding a computer.

Teachers can also do their part to limit screen time in the classroom. Many people oppose classroom technology because it can lead to behavioral disruptions, sleep disorders, and social challenges. It’s too early to determine the long-term effects of this kind of technology on young children, but many people would rather take the safe route and impose healthy limits on these tools.

Whether you’re totally new to technology or you’re hoping to create healthier boundaries for screens, it’s important to be clear on the most prominent benefits and drawbacks of using technology in the classroom.

Technology in the classroom: The current situation

Technology has played an increasingly important role in the classroom since formal education began in the United States. Whether it was chalkboards and paper or computers and the internet, each invention has brought new opportunities for learning. Understanding how technology has evolved sheds light not only on where we are in today’s classroom, but where educational technology can take us in the future.

The history and evolution of technology in the classroom

From the schoolhouse to the computer lab, school environments have changed drastically over the past three centuries. Technology has been perhaps the biggest driver of educational transformation, changing the way students interpret information and demonstrate their knowledge.

Here’s a look back at how technology has changed education over the years.

1700s: Students often didn’t have access to paper and textbooks. Instead, they used what were called hornbooks — wooden paddles with lessons printed on them. Most lessons revolved around the Bible, and students were instructed to read passages and memorize verses. Students were also taught basic math, reading, writing, and poetry. Girls and boys were taught separate lessons; boys studied more advanced subjects, while girls were taught to take care of the home.

1800s: By the 1800s, pencils and paper were more popular in classrooms, as were textbooks and printed works of literature and poetry. The chalkboard was invented in Scotland during this century. Originally made from natural black or grey slate, it gave teachers a way of sharing information with a larger range of students. The slide rule was also invented during this century, enabling students to perform basic and complex math problems in a more organized format. The end of the century saw the invention of magic lanterns, which used lanterns and oil lamps to give presentations.

1920s–1950s: Filmstrip projectors were invented in the 1920s, taking the place of magic lanterns. These projectors allowed teachers to show multiple images on a large scale. Filmstrips were usually accompanied by prerecorded audio. This coincides with the increasing role of radio and recorded audio in the classroom, which added to the teacher’s toolkit.

“Audio cues let teachers know when to advance to the next image; later models performed this function automatically,” says educator Laura Gray. Filmstrip projectors were used until the 1980s, when videocassettes became more popular and eliminated the need for projectors. Ballpoint pens also became an important tool during this time, and students began recording their own homework on paper and in notebooks.

1960s–1980s: Overhead projectors were an important invention in the ’60s. Projectors allowed teachers to demonstrate workflows in real time. This supported visual learners, especially with math and science problems. In this sense, the overhead projector was one of the first technologies that offered differentiated instruction and made lessons more accessible to students with different learning styles.

Educational videos also became more popular during the ’70s and ’80s, helping to present material in a more dynamic and compelling way that captured students’ attention. Scantrons were another major invention of this period. They enabled more efficient and accurate test-taking and better evaluation of results. The computer began to find its way into classrooms, but it was still emerging as a personal technology and not universally accessible by teachers, students, and schools due to the high price.

1990s–2000: The 1990s saw two of the biggest technology changes in history: the rise of personal computers and the invention of the World Wide Web. During this time, typing became an important skill for all students, and more lessons incorporated computers and the internet. Word processing tools also became a major part of assignments, and typed and printed lessons were growing in popularity.

Computers enabled teachers to access, create, and print their own worksheets, and students were also empowered to create and print assignments from home. With more access to information than ever before, students had more opportunities to research information on the internet.

2000–2010: This was the decade when specific websites were incorporated into the classroom. Cloud storage allowed students to complete and share documents online, and YouTube became a destination for educational video content. Most classrooms in the United States had multiple computers available, either in the classroom or in a school computer lab.

Tools like Moodle allowed teachers to create and share lessons with students. The open-source nature of this tool also introduced the idea of teachers being able to share lesson plans with other teachers from around the world. This expanded teacher knowledge and promoted the sharing of lessons across states and countries. Clickers also became popular during this time, allowing students a more interactive way to answer questions.

2010–present: So far, this has been the most explosive decade of classroom technology transformation. The tablet is, in itself, a major transformation, with the development of apps bringing personalized education and gamification to everyday classroom learning. Digital whiteboards also created a more interactive experience that allowed students to immerse more deeply in subjects like math, English, and science. Mobile phones are also important pieces of classroom technology.

As more students began to acquire their own digital devices, including smartphones, laptops, and tablets, lessons and learning tools became accessible at all times, from anywhere. This is also the decade when social media became a major learning tool. Learning to ethically use social media and create a digital presence online became a core part of learning to navigate the digital environment.

Technology in the classroom statistics

Technology has come far from the days of Scantrons and projectors. But how exactly has technology changed? What relationship do today’s students have with technology? Classroom technology statistics offer insight into what technology means for today’s students.

How do teachers use technology in the classroom?

Larry Bernstein at EdTech magazine, citing a survey by Cambridge International, says many students today rely on a variety of tech tools:

  • 48 percent of students say they use desktop computers in the classroom.
  • 42 percent say they use smartphones.
  • 33 percent say the use interactive whiteboards.
  • 20 percent say they use tablets.

What is the state of technology access and disparity in the United States?

A study by MidAmerica Nazarene University shows that 86 percent of classrooms have Wi-Fi, and 62 percent of students use their own technology tools in the classroom. In fact, nearly three-quarters of teachers say they use a laptop or a tablet every day in the classroom.

The main reason teachers don’t have more technology in the classroom is a lack of funding.

How do teachers feel about technology?

The MidAmerica Nazarene University survey found that 66 percent of teachers think technology makes students more productive. That said, most teachers say access to cell phones can cause distractions. In fact, 93 percent of classrooms have some kind of policy about limiting the use of smartphones and the internet.

What does the future hold for technology in the classroom?

Moving forward, technology will continue to transform the ways students learn. For example, augmented reality is poised to elevate the learning experience by helping students see the world in new ways. For instance, Google Cardboard and AR experiences designed for education will help students learn in a way that feels more personalized and private.

Apps continue to change how students communicate with teachers as well. They facilitate a flipped classroom model, for example, which encourages more one-on-one teacher and student time in the classroom. This kind of tech also allows students to access lessons remotely.

The power of technology in the classroom

We live in a world that is inextricably connected to technology. The way we find information, share our lives, and connect with others is becoming increasingly digital. Likewise, more classrooms rely on technology to deliver personalized experiences that engage students and elevate learning. Tech tools give teachers the ability to differentiate instruction, which caters to different learning types and supports students with special needs and learning challenges.

Technology also holds the power to transform not only what we learn but how. Teachers can bring immersive, global experiences to their students. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or an administrator, it’s crucial to understand how technology is used in the classroom today.

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