These Lesser Known Educational Technologies Remain Vital to Learning


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Aug 21, 2023

These Lesser Known Educational Technologies Remain Vital to Learning

Lauren Manfuso is a Content Marketing Director at Hanover Research.

Lauren Manfuso is a Content Marketing Director at Hanover Research.

Everyone knows the mainstays of digital transformation in the classroom: one-to-one device programs, interactive whiteboards and learning management systems.

They’re known because their outcomes and uses are as tangible as they are critical, infusing classrooms with opportunities for hands-on, visual and collaborative learning. Teachers can create dynamic, animated charts and graphics for lessons on the interactive whiteboard. They can then upload the lessons to the LMS, and a student who is stuck at home sick can view them and catch up using their school-issued laptop.

Yet, digital transformation is about more than laptops or high-tech displays, especially in the K–12 classroom. Behind every eye-catching piece of technology, after all, are the workhorses — the unsung technology tools that ensure the performance continues uninterrupted and accessible to all.

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught educators anything about the digital transformation journey, it's the importance of staying on track, if not ahead of schedule. Moreover, that journey can't just be about the technology, says JR Renna, coordinator of educational technology at Parkland School District in Allentown, Pa.; it must be about the pedagogy, including whether and how the technology aligns.

"The curriculum and pedagogy have to drive the technology and not the other way around," Renna explains. "Otherwise, you just end up dropping technology into people's classrooms and looking for a problem it might solve."

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The problem Parkland wanted to solve, Renna says, was how to personalize learning for students without pulling teachers in too many directions to be effective: "How do we clear the brush for teachers and make it as easy as possible for them to personalize learning for students and amplify student agency in the classroom?"

For that, Parkland administrators chose Airtame, a wireless screen-sharing and collaboration solution that they introduced in the high school and, shortly after, implemented districtwide. The technology, Renna says, enables teachers to work more collaboratively with students instead of being tied to the front of a classroom by a cord or cable. This can be particularly beneficial for students who might need extra assistance to keep pace.

"Learning should be driven by the students whenever possible," Renna says. "There should be the ability for students to work on things at their own speed.

The teacher can be like a maestro, in a sense, keeping things moving for one group while having a sidebar with another."

RELATED: Schools prioritize mobile and flexible technology for anytime, anywhere learning.

Even the most talented, multitasking master of a teacher can't prevent kids from doing what comes naturally: breaking, losing or forgetting things, particularly device chargers. A laptop without a charged battery is just a brick.

With the proliferation of one-to-one device programs in recent years, K–12 district technology teams have had an influx of IT assets to tag, track, update and maintain. It's no easy feat, particularly for large districts like the School District of Palm Beach County, the 10th largest public school district in the U.S. and the fifth largest in Florida. It's also why this district invested in Ergotron charging carts to protect, service and store student devices.

Click the banner to unlock complimentary resources from CDW for your modern K–12 classroom.

For Seth Moldovan, principal at Palm Beach County's Blue Lake Elementary School, the benefits have been clear.

"Having these charging carts in everyone's classroom allows us to easily move them all over campus," Moldovan says. "So, if we’re doing a project in the robotics lab, we just unplug a charging cart, take it to the robotics lab from our media center, and the kids have the access right there. Then, the kids put their devices right back in, and the updates come automatically. The computers are always ready, it takes up less space, and you don't have to worry about them not charging overnight."

About two or three of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with some level of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 3 percent of U.S. children have some degree of vision impairment. In a K–12 landscape where there is an increasing emphasis on interactive and visual learning, this presents educators with a compelling challenge. How can they ensure the same quality of learning for students with vison or hearing impairments?

At Blue Lake Elementary School, the district invested in a wealth of audiovisual supports to ensure all students have equal access to the learning materials and knowledge resources necessary for a meaningful, effective education. Every classroom has Audio Enhancement speaker systems and flat-panel touch-screen monitors. The district also invested in Audio Enhancement's EPIC System for paging and intercom announcements.

"One of the biggest things we’ve invested in are audio enhancements," Moldovan says. "Our teachers have the speaker system, but also a microphone so that every child can hear."

LEARN MORE: Why school leaders shouldn't overlook audio technology.

Claudia Newman-Martin Partner, Boston Consulting Group

Of course, all of these investments are for naught if the infrastructure can't keep up with the heightened demand for speed, agility and accuracy. This is where investing in high-quality Ethernet cabling becomes critical.

At Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, Mass., that level of reliability, efficiency and speed is particularly helpful, says Technology Director Joshua Shearer.

In addition to traditional academic coursework, Shearer explains, Smith Vocational is home to a fully operational farm and 15 industry-specific programs, such as automotive repair, carpentry, cosmetology and plumbing. Each of these programs has its own unique requirements for the software and other technology it supports, including computer-aided design software and, for the criminal justice students, a 911 simulator.

READ MORE: Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School turns to tech for operational efficiencies.

With so many diverse technology needs, Shearer says, it was critical that the school have the infrastructure in place to keep everything running smoothly and reliably. So, when the time came to upgrade its CAT 5 cabling, Shearer and his colleagues decided to prioritize a future-focused, more-is-more approach for the school, ultimately investing in CAT 8.

The new cabling provides more bandwidth than the school needs for now, he says, "but you never know, with how technology keeps growing. I'd hate to have to rip out cables and go back to redoing everything. Better to invest in more than you need up front and then not have to invest in something different later."

That kind of forward thinking will ensure schools and districts procure technology that fulfills its purpose well into the future, says Claudia Newman-Martin, a partner at Boston Consulting Group. "How will the technology change school practices on a daily basis? A deep understanding of the end user — and the job that the end user needs the technology to do — is essential to make sure you’re procuring the right hardware to support that job."

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The percentage of K–12 educators who say that digital transformation is highly important

When it comes to digital transformation, it's important that your technology investments accomplish a range of best practices:

1. Eliminate the Front of the Classroom

Examine your classroom layout. No matter what amenities you offer, the student experience remains the same if they’re all still staring at the front of the room. By simply changing how teachers and students move and collaborate around the room, the technology can have an immediate impact on how your students learn.

EXPLORE: Learn how K-12 schools are overcoming one-to-one hurdles.

2. Make Every Space a Learning Space

Ensure that common spaces — including those where learning isn't always the focus, such as hallways and auditoriums — are learning spaces. By doing this, schools give teachers new ways to encourage collaboration, particularly among students who may feel more comfortable in open areas.

3. Differentiate Spaces

Every student is different, and the same is often true of the spaces where they experience their best learning. Make sure your classroom learning spaces are designed with their use and subject matter in mind. A science-focused classroom might require more robust technology and different furniture compared with an English or history classroom.

Related Content: RELATED: Click the banner LEARN MORE: READ MORE: DIVE DEEPER: 1. Eliminate the Front of the Classroom EXPLORE: 2. Make Every Space a Learning Space 3. Differentiate Spaces