The Best of Both Worlds

Why you need more than apps in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Marie Merouze

CREDIT Marbotic.pngIt is no secret that education technology, or edtech, is becoming more prevalent in today’s classrooms. From regular tablet and computer usage to the introduction of artificial intelligence, teachers and students are more connected than ever before. Advanced digital tools provide a connectivity that can prove to be one of our greatest assets for providing better learning experiences.

Learning must engage both the spirit and the heart, teaching those critical social skills.

Edtech applications can create opportunities for content personalization, immediate feedback and interactivity among students and teachers no matter the education level. A staggering 90 percent of teachers believe that technology in the classroom is important to student success, while 81 percent believe that the introduction of education technology, when used appropriately, can allow for a more hands on experience in the classroom, providing additional motivation for all involved.

Many of today’s students have grown up using apps, or at least have a high level of exposure to them in some way, and are familiar with their capabilities. In fact, it’s been reported that kids spend approximately six and a half weeks per year on apps, with a daily average use of over three hours for each child. So, why wouldn’t education take advantage of these already established technological tools?

Teacher Focus

While apps and edtech tools provide numerous benefits within the classroom, and should be used when appropriate, they should never completely replace traditional ways of teaching. Edtech is best used a companion to these traditional methods, allowing teachers to be even more involved and invested in student learning. Students who are only exposed to learning through apps will lose out on vital and fundamental aspects of education, both in a measurable sense and in those important, intangible ways. What, when using apps, should teachers focus on to combine the best of both edtech and traditional teaching methods in their educational curriculum?

  1. The Power of Touch

One of the many things taught by renowned educator and philosopher Maria Montessori taught us was that students better understand very abstract concepts best through the manipulation of physical objects. This is especially true with concepts involving numbers or symbols. Instructors who allow students to work exclusively with apps inhibit their potential for material learning. Apps just cannot allow for the same level of creative, discovery learning physical objects provide.

But that doesn’t mean apps can be a valuable learning tool. When used in conjunction with the physical manipulation of objects, tools or toys, students will receive benefits from both edtech and physical objects – the best of both worlds. For example, if a student is learning about civil engineering concepts, such as building a bridge, through an app, physical tools will only increase the level of comprehension. Younger students are still learning creativity on some level and with tangible objects, they’ll be able to create, build and imagine, supporting that creative development more than any screen alone can.

  1. Human Interaction

Perhaps the most vital learning aspect students will be lacking with exclusively app-based education is human interaction. As a society, we interact with other people almost every day. We have to learn to talk, debate and engage successfully with more than just a computer screen. Learning must engage both the spirit and the heart, teaching those critical social skills. It’s been proven that students actually learn better, are more receptive and better focused with human instructors rather than videos or machines.

Again, this doesn’t mean edtech is a detriment. It can be a valuable learning tool especially when used in group setting and workshops, allowing for both human and technological interactions. These groups allow students to develop methods of interaction and cooperation critical later on in life. And, as most teachers and students would agree, ‘hearing’ a voice on a device tell you that you did a great job isn’t nearly as satisfying as hearing it from your instructor.

  1. Continuous Reinforcement

Reinforcing concepts through training and exercises is one of the most important ways edtech and apps can be used in education. Teachers can find great ways to utilize apps as effective reinforcement tools to traditional educational approaches. Sometimes, students need a new angle to learn a concept. For example, some students find game-learning the most effective for reinforcing concepts, something apps can provide. And for teachers, apps provide an invaluable tool for gauging understanding.

Even then, teachers must stay involved with the learning process. Some apps on the market are very directive – it presents a question or problem, if the student answers correctly, the app is designed to move on. However, the teacher has little to no insight into how the student got to that answer or if it was a lucky guess. Apps with open modes or sandboxes often provide the best way to encourage understanding and imagination.

Something Beautiful

Human contact and physical object manipulation should never leave the educational setting. While education technology, particularly in today’s digital world, has a definite place in the classroom, it is not an educational “fix.” Apps can be the perfect tool to encourage fun and engagement but they can never replace traditional teaching methods or tools. Apps are just one part of the educational puzzle. And, as we all know, while complex, the most beautiful puzzles are created with many pieces.

Marie Merouze is the founder and CEO of Marbotic, an IoT startup focusing on the creating of connected devices for children. Marbotic has two flagship products: Smart Letters and Smart Numbers. Marie was previously an edtech consultant for BeTomorrow, a company focused on the innovation of connected products for the web and mobile. She has her Masters in Engineering from Ecole Centrale Paris, an engineering graduate institution.

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