Expert Viewpoint

With So Many Ed Tech Choices, Here's What Schools Should Be Investing In

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of educational technology grew dramatically to facilitate distance learning, and that shift spurred a boom in the ed tech sector, with a host of new software, mobile apps, and physical technologies entering the market to meet growing demand and necessity.

The rapid switch to online education platforms has opened the door for more interactive learning approaches — educators had no choice but to get creative to keep children engaged from the comfort of their homes. This is good news for those seeking a revamp in the education system: Ed tech allows educators to cater to children’s diverse learning approaches with specifically-tailored learning programs.

The challenge for schools now, it seems, is that they’re spoiled for choice. With so many programs, devices, and technologies to choose from, educators and procurement decision-makers can quickly become overwhelmed. What’s more, these technologies often have hefty price tags, so it’s important that schools choose wisely.

For Students: Invest in Interaction

One way to get started is by focusing on technologies that can make learning more engaging for students. One relatively recent trend here is “gamification,” which takes gaming elements and applies them to occupational or educational pursuits.

Multisensory educational games, like those that involve touching, moving, speaking, or even tasting, can help students develop a positive relationship with education. By increasing cognitive and sensory-motor performance in tandem, these games can boost motivation while improving academic performance. They also allow everyone to learn at their own pace, helping students with cognitive impairments or learning differences flourish.

In an age of social distancing, technologies that promote social-emotional learning can also be especially helpful. SEL can help students who have suffered from a lack of social contact and who are struggling to understand and express emotions, especially now that the world is opening up again.

In a physical classroom, SEL can involve adapting traditional games to connect students with their feelings, such as Jenga blocks with emotions written across, where students are challenged to describe scenarios that make them feel that emotion. In a remote classroom, students can play games in which they have to match a feeling to an animal face or emoji.

Web-based quizzing platforms like Kahoot are another excellent resource for educators to foster such connections. On Kahoot, teachers design games and quizzes for their students based on multiple-choice questions. The games feature colorful graphics and catchy music and can be played anonymously so students can participate without their performance affecting their grades. Students also can play collectively with their peers while working from home.

As the pandemic winds down, public schools are at a crossroads, with an ideal opportunity to invest in technologies that promote experiential learning, a process of learning by doing — even if that doing is done digitally. These technologies encourage students to look at the world around them and engage with it, whether by observing plants photosynthesizing or playing scavenger hunts.

For Teachers: Invest in Learning Analytics

Ed tech isn’t just about improving students’ experiences and lives; it also opens doors to significantly assisting educators as well. Learning analytics can make educators’ jobs easier by using apps or software solutions to analyze data to discern learning patterns at both the individual and classroom level. Analytics also help teachers monitor individual students’ progress over time through evidence-based practices.

Some learning analytics software programs can grade students’ tests automatically and then identify where students collectively performed the most poorly, for example, identifying knowledge gaps or confusion over a certain topic.

Other software programs can analyze body-performance visualizations, monitoring students’ movements via webcam to help teachers determine whether students are engaged, distracted, or fearful, through such measures as whether students are avoiding eye contact with the instructor.

These analytics programs are also ideal for promoting movement-based learning, which can be as simple as having students jump on the correct answer marked on the floor. Some programs can incorporate virtual reality software to encourage physical play and link kinesthetics to educational outcomes to create active and more well-rounded students.

When used in conjunction with more interactive educational processes, learning analytics can ease the shift from remote learning to in-person schooling, and make the education process more effective during these unprecedented times.

No matter the method or location of students’ schooling, the most important priority for schools should be to invest in diverse technologies that meet a variety of students’ needs.

About the Author

Symeon Retalis, Ph.D., is a professor of Learning Design Models for Technology-Enhanced Lifelong Learning Environments at the University of Piraeus, Greece. Retalis co-founded and serves as and chief scientific officer at Kinems Inc., a New York-based start-up whose movement-based, multisensory educational games for PreK–5 help children with learning disabilities achieve better outcomes by combining academic learning activities with occupational therapy tasks.