Achieving Efficacy

Integrating the right technology tools in schools to meet learning challenges.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Raj Valli

CREDIT TabtorMost classrooms already have technology assets, according to the US Department of Education, which reports that virtually all schoolrooms have at least one computer and that 90% of classrooms have Internet connectivity. The challenge for teachers is to integrate the right digital learning tools into their classrooms to drive measurable results. Achieving efficacy is the key, and to translate digital learning tools into improved classroom performance, educators have to make sure students use them.

The bottom line on integrating technology into the classroom is this: Does it produce results?

Choosing the right programs can be difficult since technology assets differ from school to school, and learning programs are typically not compatible across every platform. Some schools rely on a lab environment with desktop devices. While there are advantages to digital learning programs geared toward delivery in a lab environment, it makes it more challenging for students to adopt because desktops and Chromebooks are typically less interactive than tablets.

Students of all ages usually find learning on a tablet more personal. Students respond well to animation-driven and interactive apps, which make lessons more interactive and entertaining than linear modules delivered on a desktop. And tablets are more portable, which gives students more opportunities for learning. But regardless of the device, it’s important for educators to ensure that the experience is as hands-on and personalized as possible to promote efficacy.

Aside from the device itself, gamification strategies are another way educators can pique student interest and make learning fun. Many educators have introduced elements of games into their lesson plans to effect a shift in how students learn, with active engagement making learning less of an abstract exercise and more of an enjoyable activity. The result is higher motivation levels, which can translate into better test scores and improved classroom performance.

Gamification works because the years students spend playing video games conditions them to respond to rewards in the form of points – plus the motivation that comes with competitive leader boards. Digital learning solutions built on a gamification model can provide practice opportunities that students actually look forward to, but the challenge for educators is to choose a program that provides the right type of practice.

Educators should look for a program that actually teaches new concepts and helps students think through problems. For example, there are programs on the market that help students learn basic math facts, which can be somewhat valuable. But a program that teaches mathematical concepts and guides students as they think through the steps involved in solving a problem are even more valuable – and engaging for students.

Educators should also look for a program that effectively motivates students. In the classroom, teachers routinely use assignments to help students practice new learning concepts, but when teachers augment pencil-and-paper lessons with gamification delivered via digital programs, they can reinforce what students learn in the classroom. To find the program with the right motivational strategy, teachers should take a look at how students get credited for achievements on their favorite video games, (i.e. badges, gifts and other rewards). A digital program that harnesses these motivating factors can be highly effective.

The good news for educators is that there are many digital programs on the market, so there are a variety of options. But one snag educators often run into is an overreliance on academic research to determine efficacy of any digital programs. Technology evolves so rapidly that it outpaces formal academic research, so educators who want to apply cutting-edge tools to give their students an advantage have to look to other sources to verify a program’s promise.

To address this problem, it’s a good idea for educators to look at what works in the consumer sector. The adoption rate for mobile devices on the consumer side has been nothing short of phenomenal, which is a good indicator that consumers – and students – find the devices useful and entertaining. But for educators, the ultimate test of value is in a given program’s ability to bolster student performance and test scores, and the best way to find out for sure is to try it out in the classroom. Educators may want to consider bypassing sales teams and interacting directly with vendor CEOs and managers to ask about a pilot program.

The bottom line on integrating technology into the classroom is this: Does it produce results? Educators should look for solutions that students will use, like interactive programs that go beyond the basics to teach concepts. They should seek a solution that motivates students, and they should look for delivery devices that have popular appeal. With the right program, educators can not only overcome challenges to learning – they can create a new generation of lifelong learners.

Raj Valli is the founder and CEO of Tabtor, a tablet-based math tutoring program that combines technology with a live tutor to provide teachers and students with a highly personalized learning experience. For more information, visit http://www.tabtor.com.

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