Heading back to school: How technology will continue to play a primary role this school year
Nashville, TN (August 19, 2021) - Over the past decade, technology use has increased to become a prominent part of our everyday lives. We use it to connect with friends and family, pay our bills, and even work from home. Then the coronavirus hit, and suddenly we were dependent on technology to keep our regular lives going.
Many industries took a hit when everyone was forced to switch to virtual communication. But it was the education that arguably had to make one of the largest transitions. When Covid hit and forced everyone to stay at home, schools had no choice but to continue virtually. This posed many challenges for administrative leaders, teachers, and students. But as we saw with time, everyone adapted to a new style of learning and continued to progress.
Now as we are starting a new school year in 2021, one question remains: Will technology continue to be a regular resource for students and teachers? And how will this affect learning?
We have to start from the beginning. How much of a role did technology play in schools before Covid? The 2021 Learner Variability Project survey, a national study produced for the education nonprofit Digital Promise by Langer Research Associates, has released data on this very subject. According to the study, substantially more teachers, 40 percent, said they had a lot or a good amount of input into the choice of educational technology (EdTech) they used in the classroom pre-Covid. Jenna McCoy, a librarian at Creekside Middle School in Woodstock, Illinois, also agreed.
“Prior to the pandemic, many districts like mine were already starting to use Learning Management Systems to organize student work, turn in assignments, and communicate with students and parents. This is much like universities have been using for years,” said McCoy. “But the pandemic forced all districts to embrace the use of technology full time. Districts who did not have experience with Learning Management Systems turned to Google Classroom to fill this role.”
Teachers who had their own input on EdTech for their classes also showed higher effectiveness while teaching. According to the survey, teachers who have access to their desired EdTech are 29% more likely than others to say their online classes are very or somewhat effective at teaching academic content. Also, 43% of those with substantial say into which software and apps they use call their online classes very effective at teaching academic content, versus just 10% of those with little or no input.
But that raises the question: Were there any problems with online teaching? The answer: Of course. According to the research article “Teachers’ use of technology and the impact of Covid-19”, “Two issues have been identified as the main challenges to its successful use (Johnson et al. 2016). These are factors related to equipment, resources and training that are external to teachers, described by Ertmer (1999) as ‘first-order barriers,’ and internal factors such as attitudes and beliefs, confidence and skills described as ‘second-order barriers.’”
Most if not all teachers and students were not properly trained to use the equipment and applications that were forced upon them in such a short period of time. But it was how they adapted that led them to success.
The best way to prevent this from happening again is training our teachers and school staff members on these new types of EdTech. The survey also states that participants want in-school training and support as well as appropriate equipment to integrate technology fully. Although technology is required in the curriculum, research highlights that teachers must believe in it and be willing to use it in their daily practice.
According to the Learner Variability Project Survey, teachers with a high degree of comfort with technology are significantly less likely than others to say the pandemic has worsened their ability to work with each student’s individual learner variability, at 59% versus 72%.
“Even though teachers had online technology training before Covid, remote learning was a challenge that forced many teachers to figure it out on their own since the school year did not stop,” said McCoy. “They had to learn as they went on just as the students did.”
Educators figured out how to run classrooms online despite the challenges faced during the initial months of virtual schooling. But was it as effective as in-person learning?
According to the survey, most parents and teachers alike rate teaching academic content online as effective, but few (28% of parents and 19% of teachers) say it’s very effective. The two areas that were lacking were: building community and social connection, and helping students work collaboratively in groups.
“Teaching online can be effective only to a point. The older students are, the more effective it can be,” said McCoy. “The most effective element in teaching and learning is the personal relationships between teachers and students. This is the key to true learning.”
So why is all of this information important if you or your child is attending in-person schooling this year? Because technology is always going to be a part of student curriculum going forward. That being said, they will still need in-person interactions to get the full educational experience. Now that teachers know how to work EdTech and are back in-person, this year is shaping up to be a better school year than the previous one. We should all be embracing this progress on the classroom technology front.
About the Author: Lily McCoy is the Social Media Communications Specialist for Connected Nation. She provides support to the Communications Department through social media outreach and writing for all the Connected Nation state programs. She handles external email outreach, marketing, video editing, and website development for the Digital Works program based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. She also adds a source of creativity to the team with a background in personal relations and marketing. Ms. McCoy has a bachelor’s in corporate and organizational communications from Western Kentucky University.