Advice for using technology to effectively facilitate instruction, learning and collaboration, from Mark Anderson.

In every publication of R.I.S.E. Magazine, we share a ‘Getting started’ guide. Previous editions have included topics such as starting your own podcast, creating your own blog and dealing with difficult conversations. In this edition, we thought it would be useful to share how to get started with something very close to our hearts: classroom management using technology.

As I often share, “technology in education is too important (and expensive!) to leave to chance,” and so, in this month’s getting started guide, we explore hints, tips and some software features that can help you best utilise technology in the classroom.

Let’s collaborate!

One of the things that attracted me to using Google tools in the classroom, long before it became a ‘de rigeur’ opportunity, was the ability for learners to collaborate. Whether it was curating research together as a class on a Google Doc, adding in results from an experiment for analysis on Google Sheets, or creating a whole class presentation in Google Slides, the opportunities for peer feedback, shared research and learning with and from each other are massive. However, there were several problems back then… Google Suite for Education wasn’t even a thing, let alone Google Classroom. Bringing students into a collaborative space wasn’t easy. Much had to be done by manually inviting learners in one by one or, if you had it set up via a class group setup, through a group that had already been configured in something such as Active Directory.

Nowadays, with Google Workspace for Education, using tools such as Jamboard and Docs – or in the alternative Microsoft space, such as Word in Teams or OneNote – it’s a breeze to bring learners into a collaborative space. We do still however face considerable issues. Have you ever tried bringing thirty students into a shared document? It can be utter carnage! There are some simple things we can do to support positive behaviours in these spaces. Sometimes, the issues are with the general behaviour of learners in the school, and if this is present in your school, it may be better to focus on improving general behaviour before letting learners loose in online spaces. Other times, it can be down to learners not knowing how to interact and behave within online spaces and this is where the tools themselves or alternative third-party solutions can support positive uses of technology for learning.

The importance of scaffolding

I’m a firm believer in not leaving my success to chance in anything that I do. The same is true when it comes to using technology in the classroom. Setting up activities for success rather than leaving them to chance is one way I’ve ensured the digital activities I’ve engaged in with my learners have had the intended outcome. One approach to ensure success has been to scaffold the activities in collaboration spaces. Scaffolding is an important strategy when it comes to adaptive teaching in the classroom, regardless of whether you are using technology or not. By providing learners with scaffolds for their learning, you are more likely to have broader success than without it. Scaffolding, however, is “a highly complex process requiring great skill and deftness from the teacher and […] it can very easily go wrong if not done properly.” (Kirschner & Hendrick, 2020)

Providing a scaffold for learning activities using digital tools is highly advisable and so creating structures to promote positive learning activities is essential. One way to do this is to create structures within your activities so that learners know both what to do, and importantly, where to do it. One of the problems of using a collaboration space is that children do not know where to put their work, whether it’s research, typing, images, test results, etc.

Here are some strategies that can help guide learners so that they know where and what to do in their collaborative space.

Collaborative presentation

Share a presentation template where each slide has a child’s name on it and their activity. This will clearly signpost to individual students where they need to add their work.

Collaborative research document

In the document, insert a table with two columns, where the first column is titled ‘Name’ and the second is titled ‘Research.’ Populate each row in the ‘Name’ column with the name of the class member. Make a copy so you can reuse it, and then share it with the class. As you move forwards in time and your learners become more confident and know how to engage and collaborate with others in these kinds of activities, you should (hopefully) be able to start reducing the number of scaffolds you provide them with for their use of digital tools (in a similar way to concreteness fading).

Collaborative OneNote page

With OneNote having an infinite canvas, place a text box or insert an A4 image of lined paper where you want each student to add their responses. Create this ahead of time and save it as a template so that you can reuse it in future lessons.

Example of OneNote being used collaboratively. A page is given for each of 4 pupils to write on.

Credit - Jane Basnett

What else can you do?

Using technology to support teaching and learning isn’t just about collaboration. There are many activities you may want learners to undertake using technology in your classroom. From researching topics, to coding, writing blogs or essays, creating presentations and timelines, practising keyword retrieval, low-stakes quizzes, creating surveys, and analysing results – the list is endless. Many studies have shown that students can be easily distracted, particularly when using technology. This is where some handy classroom management software can come in.

With the ability to help you see everything that learners are working on at any time, check what websites they’re viewing, allow them to only use approved sites or approved apps, or to lock their screens in a heartbeat, you can get their attention straight back onto their learning. Tools such as these are a powerful resource to help keep your learners learning and keep you informed of their progress. Couple that with other features such as monitoring what children type to identify potential safeguarding risks and to monitor, log and respond to concerns. These safeguarding features help you to identify students at risk and spot concerning trends – not just in your classroom but across
the entire school.

To sum up

Technology can improve learning and teaching so much, but it also can make things worse. It’s always important to question if it’s going to bring about the benefits you’re seeking, otherwise, it begs the question: is it worth it? For me, it’s about supporting learners with the right approaches and scaffolds to help both them and you achieve what it is you set out to do.

When it comes to education, we all know there are no silver bullets that are going to make a huge difference. It’s often about the marginal gains you can achieve and then build on, so that over time, you make a much bigger impact.

By making some pragmatic choices about how you both approach the use of technology and the tools to support those online activities, you are far more likely to see a benefit from the decision you’ve made to incorporate technology use in your classroom.

References

Kirschner, P. & Hendrick, C. (2020) How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice. Routledge

Author

  • Mark Anderson

    Mark is a global speaker, EdTech expert, trainer, blogger, author and key note speaker, known as the ICT Evangelist. He has over 20 years of experience in the classroom. Mark is the head of education at NetSupport, an Independent Thinking associate, an MIE Expert and fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. His latest book can be found at edtechplaybook.com.
    twitter icon LinkedIn icon Website icon