As college and university students settle into midterm assignments for the school year, they will be depending on a bundle of devices that would have been science fiction a mere decade ago. Gone are the days of sending students to school with notebooks, binders, and highlighters; parents are now expected to equip their kids with tech for everything from note-taking to interacting with classmates and participating in valuable exercises. These devices offer an exciting opportunity for educators and students to improve their experience, but they can also be pitfalls of distraction and disengagement.
Having studied emerging technologies and their effects on everyday life for a long time, the only thing I can say for certain is that the growing presence of technology in our daily lives requires constant adjustment and reflection. Today’s students have automatic citizenship to the digital world, and it’s important that we keep up with new developments to enrich the quality of education in our post-secondary schools.
Here are some tips to help students and educators make the best of their technology this school year and in years to come.
1. TURN OFF TO TUNE IN
Help students prioritize their use of technology. Common texting and browsing already pose enough of a threat, but apps like Snapchat and Periscope that revolve around instant interaction can establish “always on” practices, where they feel compelled to engage in communication.
When teachers are left to compete with digital distractions, the educational experience is diluted and it is the students who suffer. As wearable and augmented reality tech like the Apple Watch becomes more popular, it will be important for educators and parents to teach students about using these devices responsibly and constructively.
2. APPS THAT HELP PRODUCTIVITY, NOT HINDER IT
Students can often be their own worst enemies when it comes to procrastination. To reduce a student’s digital distractions, there are dozens of so-called ‘productivity apps’ that can help students learn effectively. ClearFocus and Forest are simple tools to help students track their studying time.
3. CONNECTED CLASSROOM
There are also apps and websites to help educators organize their lessons and interact with students. In addition to TED Talks and the Zite app, which offer access to unique and engaging educational content, less-popular programs StudyBlue and edmodo can help keep the class connected even after they’ve left the classroom with ongoing discussions and bonus activities.
4. SEEK OUT TECH-TORIALS
Many educators are held back by the high cost of adopting new technologies. To close this gap, tech enthusiasts have begun organizing community gatherings, or “makerspaces,” where beginners and experts can share and explore cutting-edge tech like Raspberry Pi computers, Adruinos, laser cutters and even 3D printers. Codecademy.com provides simple tutorials in an array of major programming languages that can track your progress from beginner to expert, while the Khan Academy offers self-guided lessons and exercises curated from experts of all disciplines.
5. RISE OF THE ‘INTELLIGENT TUTOR’
Along with the advent of new devices will come new approaches and shifting paradigms. As technology allows for more diverse and individualized teaching methods, educators are re-evaluating the one-size-fits-all approach that has dominated in the past.
Adaptive learning technologies, or “intelligent tutors,” are platforms that help analyze a student’s study habits and workflow to identify problem areas and alter the curriculum accordingly. These programs would be most effective in a “flipped classroom” environment, where class time is spent performing group-based cognitive thinking exercises and the knowledge retention is saved for homework. While the tech is currently several years away from being widely available, companies like Knewton, SmartSparrow and Cerego are all developing adaptive learning platforms for all levels of education.