Technology in education is the biggest change in teaching we will ever see. For years, policy makers, teachers, parents and students alike have been weighing the potential benefits of technology in education against its risks and consequences.
Prior to March 2020, some would say that technology allowed you to experiment in pedagogy, democratize the classroom and reach Generation Z students. Others may have argued that technology in the classroom could promote cheating. But after 2020, technology in education has become essential—especially as the COVID-19 pandemic forced higher ed and public schools to swap face-to-face instruction for distance learning.
Below, we share 20 best practices for using technology in the classroom—and offer workable solutions that will help you meet the needs of your students. You can also download our free guide, which highlights how five acclaimed educators use technology to help their students excel in any course.
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How technology can support learning outcomes for today’s students
Students are digital natives. They’ve grown up with technology; it’s woven into their lives. In fact, it’s one of the basic 21st-century skills that they’ll need in school and the workplace.
Technology integration in the classroom now begins during elementary school and carries through to high school and higher education. But using computer technology in the classroom isn’t just about digital devices in class—it relates to anything that facilitates an interaction between teacher and student. Technology in education programs could be seen as a culprit, or it could be harnessed to improve student engagement and effectiveness—and that’s what we’ll discuss below.
“Digital education is generating new learning opportunities as students engage in online, digital environments and as faculty change educational practices through the use of hybrid courses, personalized instruction, new collaboration models and a wide array of innovative, engaging learning strategies,” says David Goodrum1, Director of Academic Technology and Information Services at Oregon State University.
“Furthermore, a 21st century view of learner success requires students to not only be thoughtful consumers of digital content, but effective and collaborative creators of digital media, demonstrating competencies and communicating ideas through dynamic storytelling, data visualization and content curation,” Goodrum says.
Types of classroom technology
Education technology allows you to engage, interact with, and inspire students in and out of your class. Plus, certain types of technology tools like podcasts or video streaming platforms can help meet the unique learning styles of your cohort. Many of the technologies below are used to operate online education programs—including lectures, labs, group meetings or class tutorials. Plenty of higher education institutions have already integrated some of the following technology tools into their degree programs today.
- Learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas, Moodle and Blackboard allow you to manage courses, assign homework and tests, and track student grades.
- Digital courseware such as ebook products by Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Macmillan can be used to create and distribute teaching resources (such as textbooks or question packs) to students as a way to create engaging homework experiences.
- Classroom response systems including iClicker and Poll Everywhere help students reflect on their learning via polls or discussions in class.
- Virtual classroom tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom are used to host synchronous online lectures and let participants engage in breakout rooms or ‘share their screen’ with one another.
- Remote proctoring software like Proctorio and Honorlock help maintain academic integrity by monitoring student behavior during tests and flag behavior indicative of cheating.
This article looks at the pros and cons of using technology in the classroom. We’ll also share the advantages and disadvantages of technology in the classroom when incorporating new digital teaching and assessment techniques into your lesson plans.
8 pros and cons of using technology for student engagement
1. Technology in the classroom helps ensure full participation
Online polling and other digital tools help to engage all students, including shy students who wouldn’t normally raise their hands in class. Online engagement systems allow you to regularly check in with students for feedback on course materials and assignments. Student insights can also be used to help spot areas where learners might be struggling.
Student response systems help learners measure their understanding of a topic while professors can see what areas they need to review. For instance, iClicker offers questions that may be multiple choice or true or false. Students are then asked to identify a correct answer to a question in exchange for participation points from a professor. Clickers, virtual classroom software and assessment platforms like Socrative or Kahoot! can make for great engagement tools for educators looking to enhance their lectures. Student response systems help foster digital citizenship in the classroom and give students an opportunity to engage in class and get rewarded for it at the same time.
Another active learning technique that education technology can facilitate is offering students quizzes (not for credit). At the beginning of the class, students can gauge familiarity with a subject by taking a quick, anonymous quiz on the topic you’re teaching—and this can also inform and direct what you need to focus on. At the end of the class, facilitating the same quiz again allows all students to gauge what they do and don’t understand.
2. Using technology in the classroom allows you to experiment more in pedagogy and get instant feedback
Technology allows for more active learning. You can increase engagement through online polling or asking quiz questions during online lectures, with instantaneous results. If you’re using a digital textbook, subject matter is dynamic and timely with embedded links to relevant materials or immersive multimedia.
Whether adding a single tool for a specific project or term, or making a more dramatic change such as a flipped classroom, being well-versed in technology can help build credibility with students and even fellow colleagues. Video conferencing software, live polls and discussion boards are all ways to form feedback loops with your students. An LMS such as Moodle and polling software like Poll Everywhere can also help educators get an instant understanding of student comprehension.
3. There are countless resources for enhancing education and making learning more fun and effective
From apps and e-textbooks to organizational platforms, there’s no shortage of tools that can transform the classroom. Some instructors are turning toward classroom ‘gamification,’ the use of competitive scenarios, and the distribution of points and rewards to make the online classroom more fun and engaging. The key to ensuring these methods are also effective is designing them to support your course learning objectives. Digital storytelling, where students use simulations to immerse themselves in a fictional environment, can make learning more exciting and relatable for students. Gamification also allows for interactive lessons and can reduce passivity in the classroom.
Some gamification activities introduce healthy competition to your class. In role play, for example, students are asked to pose arguments on behalf of historical figures. Technology can greatly aid the implementation of classroom games, while students may be incentivized to complete their assessments. Blended learning can also play an effective role here, whereby student curriculum is partially delivered in person and partially via digital means.
4. Technology makes it simple for students to collaborate and engage in group work outside of class
Gone are the days when one student was tasked with creating a PowerPoint presentation for a group. Through technology, students can start working on a project together in class and seamlessly collaborate, communicate and bounce ideas off one another using social media, interactive whiteboards and more. Physical and social barriers no longer exist, letting students work together from anywhere and at any time. Technology has also enabled students to engage in spontaneous discussions and find instant answers to problems or questions they may have about a topic.
5. Technology in the classroom can be a distraction
Tech savvy students may find it hard to concentrate in class when a wide range of digital devices are around them. It can be hard to keep students’ attention while lecturing behind a screen, but James Lang2, Professor of English and the Director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College, has a solution. Lang argues that change renews attention—meaning that if students are starting to tune out, it’s time to incorporate opportunities for class discussions. Lang calls these moments ‘signature attention activities’ as they are designed to spark engagement in the midst of a slump.
Matthew Numer, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie University, says in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education that banning laptops is an “insult” to students. “Our students are capable of making their own choices, and if they choose to check Snapchat instead of listening to your lecture, then that’s their loss. Besides, it’s my responsibility as an educator to ensure that my lecture is compelling. If my students aren’t paying attention, if they’re distracted, that’s on me.” To Numer, students glancing at their mobile devices may indicate that a course’s curriculum and instruction needs to be revamped.
This makes the notion of creating a structure and culture of respect all the more important from day one. Identify specific projects, opportunities for breaks and your intentions for participation and engagement using technology in the classroom. Creating expectations and guidelines for students—and sticking to them—will be important for them in respecting your boundaries.
6. Technology can disconnect students from social interactions
Many people are skeptical of technology and what it does to students’, and everyone else’s, ability to verbally communicate.
By creating assignments in class that use both technological tools as well as oral presentations and group collaboration, student learning has the potential to become more dynamic and interactive. Participation can also go beyond verbal communication. Consider how your LMS, discussion board or live chat can be leveraged to increase student engagement.
7. Technology can foster cheating in class and on assignments
Students have always found ways to cheat, but the digital age makes it even easier—from copying-and-pasting someone else’s work to hiring an essay-writer from an online essay mill. Here, digital technology could end up hindering students’ professional development.
While technology could be seen as yet another avenue for cheating, it’s possible to structure assignments and exams in a way that makes cheating difficult. Alternatively, you can make exams open-book and focus on problem-solving and mastery rather than retention. Some classroom software allows you to set questions that are subtly different for every student, making them focus on the technique rather than the answer. Ed tech software such as Turnitin is already well-established in most higher education settings. With COVID-19, some institutions have relied on proctoring software to maintain academic integrity from a distance. These assistive tools can help professors maintain academic integrity.
8. Classroom technology doesn’t necessarily make students more accountable
While it can certainly help, technology use in the classroom doesn’t always mean students are more likely to stay on top of their deliverables. For example, it can be tricky to know if your students are viewing the full lecture recordings or coming to class having completed their assigned readings. Social media and other ed tech platforms don’t necessarily indicate completion. Some LMS providers may show if a student has opened a file, but that only says so much. Whether students have reviewed, absorbed and are able to retain that information is a question that—like traditional learning materials—not all classroom tech can solve.
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9. Technology can automate a lot of your tedious tasks
Automation can speed up tedious, time-consuming tasks, such as keeping track of student attendance and performance. Engagement tools can help streamline grading for writing assignments, discussions and participation, as well as answer common student questions, which otherwise could seem daunting due to their objective nature.
The canonical example of this? One professor at Georgia Tech coded an artificially intelligent teaching assistant. ‘Jill Watson’ was able to answer a selection of student questions and pass any that she couldn’t handle to a real person. Integrating technology in the classroom has the potential to reduce the amount of time spent on minor tasks.
10. Technology in college classrooms gives students instant access to fresh information that can supplement their learning experience
There is value in having textbooks and course materials that are always up to date, which can even include additions suggested by students. This also fosters a more collaborative learning environment—students can share information, work together on group projects and interact with their instructor online. Collaboration between professors and their students is put into practice through a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle or Blackboard, where professors upload new content for students to review online.
Educational technology enables students to engage in an ongoing cycle of learning: before, during and after class. Student response systems such as clickers can also help learners apply their understanding of concepts covered in class and can indicate areas that need to be reviewed. For Generation Z, technology is arguably the best way to meet student needs. Demian Hommel, Senior Instructor of Geography and Environmental Sciences and Marine Resource Management at Oregon State University, uses a classroom response system to poll students every few minutes during lectures. “Using technology to help students understand the trends and patterns that are going to affect them is transformative,” he says.
“Using technology to help students understand the trends and patterns that are going to affect them is transformative.” —Professor Demian Hommel
11. Students have the choice to learn in real time or at their own pace
Using technology in the classroom has given students more choice in, and control over, their learning experiences. Learning tools have also given professors the flexibility in how to deliver their lectures or labs. For instance, students can tune into live-streamed lectures hosted at a specific time, while others can view lecture recordings on their own if they’re unable to attend a live session. Plus, real-time lessons in online learning can help students feel a great sense of belonging and camaraderie that would otherwise be lost.
Asynchronous learning provides a new level of flexibility for both students and educators. For example, instead of waiting for students to show up at your office, host your office hours via Zoom and let your students know that they’re free to drop by during a given time frame. Additionally, technology can be used to help students take asynchronous tests. Just make a test available on your LMS for a 48-hour period so that students can take their assessment at a time and place that works for them.
12. Address the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines with thoughtful technology use
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for ensuring your course delivery meets the needs of all students. It’s the ultimate way to provide flexibility in how, when and where learning takes place. The three tenets of this framework are providing multiple means of engagement, representation and expression.
In order to represent content in a variety of ways, you might consider complementing a textbook reading with a podcast. Alternatively, multiple ways of expressing students’ understanding could mean offering students learning opportunities through journal articles or video reflections. Finally, multiple forms of engagement might mean gauging students’ interests at the start of the term through icebreakers or a student interest inventory—and then use these insights to tailor your units of study accordingly.
13. Lesson planning might become more labor-intensive with technology
The task of adapting technology into your classroom can seem daunting or overwhelming. In many ways though, using technology can become as natural to you as any daily activity.
When you’re choosing classroom technology, it’s important to engage with the software vendor and make sure you have the appropriate level of support in place. Some questions you should ask include whether they supply training or onboarding, and what their reliability statistics and support functions are. After all, you don’t need to be the person all the students come to if the technology goes offline.
The most important factor is to allow yourself time to learn how to use a new ed tech tool and make sure you ask for, and receive, the support that you need.
14. Students don’t have equal access to technological resources
An online education should be accessible to students. But some students can’t afford iPads or even the textbooks required for class. Others simply do not have reliable Internet access. Point these students in the direction of your institution’s library or community resources, or create assignments that allow them to work in groups and share resources. You might also consider using open educational resources (OER), which provide a cost-effective alternative to the traditional college textbook. Don’t make technology the focus of your class, and don’t make it a barrier. Incorporate it in a holistic and inclusive manner—and ensure you do your part to find equitable learning solutions.
15. Technology in education can create privacy concerns
Video conferencing or web-hosting solutions have brought with them some concerns around data protection. For example, do platforms offer end-to-end encryption in basic plans provided to students? Social media handles set up as part of a tutorial or learning activity can also lead to student information being accessed by a wider audience than intended. What’s more, Zoombombing—disruptive intrusions into a video conference call—became a common occurrence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And though they maintain academic integrity, remote proctoring solutions can make test-takers feel uncomfortable. Students may not want to have their homes shown in front of a proctor and being monitored can increase stress and anxiety.
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16. We live in a digital world, and technology is an essential life skill
Being digitally literate is more than obtaining “isolated technological skills,” according to the NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Rather, it’s about “generating a deeper understanding of the digital environment, enabling intuitive adaptation to new contexts and [the] co-creation of content with others.” Here, the traditional whiteboard is almost extinct, while technology has never been more essential in the virtual classroom. Creating presentations, learning to differentiate reliable from unreliable sources on the Internet and maintaining proper online netiquette are all vital skills that students will learn to develop in the classroom.
Technology use can also help universities deliver a better return on the investment students pay for their education—as well as make learning relevant to a primarily Generation Z audience. Mobile technology in classrooms is a must-have if students want to be prepared for almost any career today. Student achievement may be boosted if they have the means to continue working on projects outside of the classroom.
17. Classroom technology is a cost-effective alternative to traditional course materials
Technology can help save students hundreds during a semester. Rather than asking students to buy a copy of five different textbooks, some professors might want to direct students to their institution’s library or adopt open source textbooks.
Using technology in the classroom has its benefits for the environment as well. Institutions can reduce the amount they spend on ink and paper by distributing important documents in a centralized digital location. As opposed to asking students to buy a print book from your campus bookstore, authoring your own digital, interactive book can help students save big. Katie Thompson-Laswell, Senior Instructor of Human Development and Family Science at Kansas State University, was able to save her students $70 on course materials in the spring 2019 semester. Two years later, new cohorts of students continue to enjoy a low-cost, interactive homework experience from anywhere.
18. The quality of research and sources students find may not be credible
The Internet is a blessing and a curse. Your students may need guidance on identifying legitimate and unreliable sources. Many colleges have writing centers that can help with this. You can also use OER—ranging from lecture notes, examinations, assignments and textbooks—and adapt them to fit the needs of your course and students. How can you tell if content is written by a competent authority? Use these tips to find effective OERs. Top Hat’s Marketplace—filled with hundreds of low-cost, interactive textbooks—is also a reliable source of OER you can use, regardless of your discipline or teaching modality.
19. Some classroom technologies could eventually replace professors
Classroom technology has helped position educators as a ‘guide on the side’ versus a ‘sage on the stage.’ But that shift in the role that professors play has the potential to put them on the sidelines—especially with online learning. Technology has automated many learning processes such as grading. With asynchronous online learning especially, it’s possible that students could now have little-to-no interactions with their educators compared to their experiences in the traditional classroom.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which prioritize unlimited participation and open access, let students gain an unrestricted learning experience without a professor present. Platforms like Coursera let students watch on-demand video lectures from leading universities and companies for a fraction of the cost of a university degree. These platforms even offer selective degree and certificate programs. Other platforms like LinkedIn Learning prioritize skill-based learning, which allows students to complete courses or learning modules at their own pace—without the guidance of an instructor.
20. Institutions’ lack of IT support can make it challenging to evaluate and implement new classroom technologies
Where do you begin if you’re new to teaching? Educators may understandably feel overwhelmed when adopting new tools and platforms to meet the needs of their Generation Z students. While colleges may have a site-wide license for a particular LMS, educators are often left to their own resources to decide how to bring their material to life. Depending on the scale and quality of instructional design services offered at their institution, this can be a lengthy and uneasy process.
How classroom technology can help you meet your teaching goals next semester
This past academic year has highlighted the essential role that technology plays in student learning. No matter where you’re teaching next semester, the best practices for using classroom technology below can help make your course more engaging, interactive and active. For additional advice, download our free guide on how to effectively use technology in your next face-to-face, hybrid or online classroom.
|Teaching Goal||Best Practices|
|Eliminate distractions in class||1. Use frequent polls to make sure students pay attention—and to hold them accountable|
2. Begin lessons with a game or icebreaker to encourage focus and collaboration from the start of class
|Allow students to learn at their own pace||1. Adopt a flipped classroom model where students can view lecture modules and complete quizzes in advance of live lectures|
2. Complement live activities with self-paced exercises such as blog posts or video journal responses, which students can share in your LMS
|Create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable speaking out||1. Incorporate an anonymous discussion board during in-class polls|
2. Ask your teaching assistants to respond to, and acknowledge, students’ contributions in and out of class
|Help students stay accountable for their learning outside of your classroom||1. Adopt or author your own digital interactive textbook that includes comprehension questions throughout|
2. Keep a digital repository of discussion board prompts or quiz questions and re-quiz students on these concepts in future homework assignments to check for subject mastery
|Provide instant feedback on student performance||1. Consider employing low-stakes, multiple choice quizzes that can be auto-graded|
2. Grade assignments using a built-in rubric in your LMS and provide personalized feedback upon student request
Technology in the classroom: The final verdict
It’s clear that the benefits of technology in the classroom outweigh the cons. But the key to technology in the classroom is always going to be the teacher-student relationship, because that’s where the education happens. Technology can be a highly effective tool, but that’s all it is—a tool. In today’s hyper-connected world, sensible use of technology can enhance education. By using technology as an aid in the classroom, educators can create memorable and impactful learning outcomes for their diverse group of college students. For best practices on how to integrate technology in your classroom next semester, download our free guide packed with tips and tools five professors have used to give their course delivery a boost.
- Kelly, R. (2018, January 11). 7 Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2018. https://campustechnology.com/Articles/2018/01/11/7-Ed-Tech-Trends-to-Watch-in-2018.aspx?Page=1
- Dhami, H. (2020, August 13). James Lang’s Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. [Blog post]. https://tophat.com/blog/james-lang-distracted/