The use of digital tools within the education sector has increased significantly in recent years. Studies have shown that around 86 per cent of teachers claim that the use of ed-tech in the classroom is now a necessity. Furthermore, as many as 96 per cent of educators believe that ed-tech boosts student engagement, while 63 per cent believe it accelerates learning.
Digital tools on the rise
A recent report published by ed-tech company LearnPlatform reveals that US school districts were using 1,449 digital products on average per month during the 2020/2021 school year, which represents a 59 per cent increase compared to the period prior to the pandemic. The one thing that hasn’t changed much in that period is that Google Docs retained its top spot as the most-used technology tool. Besides Google’s suite of products, which placed in the top 10 for four years in a row, other notable tools include YouTube and Zoom, with the latter the most used video technology for virtual classrooms.
“No matter the key focus of the technology, we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of digital tools used in classrooms, whether virtual or in-person. Tech-enabled learning is here to stay and now is the time to ensure that edtech is effective in supporting teaching and driving student outcomes”, explains Karl Rectanus, CEO and Founder of LearnPlatform. “While we focus on equipping districts and states to improve the safety, equity, efficiency and effectiveness of their learning environments, this analysis provides an important broader perspective to help K-12 decision-makers.”
The benefits of digital tools
There is no doubt that digital tools provide both educators and students with a wide range of benefits.
Digital tools offer an unparalleled degree of flexibility by allowing participants to complete their tasks from any place and at any time. All that they need is a digital device and an internet connection. For instance, a student could use their mobile phone to submit their assignments or complete a course evaluation from the privacy of their own home, while faculty members could review proposed curriculum changes on their train commute. Teachers can also use digital tools to continue delivering quality instruction in times of emergency when it’s not possible to do so in person.
Where data is concerned, there are two main advantages of digital tools compared to manual processes. First, digital tools enable educational institutions to consistently gather information from multiple sources. Second, they provide a shared repository of data, which eliminates the need for endless browsing through binders, filing cabinets, thumb drives, and individual spreadsheets.
A shared workspace for collaboration
Another important benefit of digital tools is that they allow multiple participants to work together on a common process or project through a shared workspace. Whether they are looking to approve curriculum changes or gather evidence for accreditation, a digital tool can capture all of the work and guide the participants through the process until they reach a proper outcome.
A dedicated communication hub
Having access to a shared workspace allows participants to contribute to a common project at any given time, while simultaneously offering them real-time insights into the project’s progress. Participants can see what has already been done and what needs to be done next. They can even discuss the next step of the project with other participants. Rather than keeping track of the project’s progress manually by making calls and sending emails, participants can automate the process by delegating it to a digital tool, thus ensuring that deadlines are met.
Consistency and transparency
Digital tools can also add an element of consistency and transparency into high-stakes processes like curriculum review, outcomes assessment, course evaluations, and faculty reviews. This helps eliminate some of the risks associated with these processes and provides the relevant stakeholders with peace of mind by giving them real-time insights into the progress of the project they are involved in.
One might argue that digital tools have had a transformative impact on education, providing both teachers and students with access to a nearly unlimited pool of content, resources, and platforms that enable better instruction, as well as a more personalised student learning experience. There are multiple ways in which digital tools can affect the teaching process. By implementing the right digital tool, teachers can increase the accessibility, effectiveness, and efficiency of classroom processes and routines, making it easier for everyone involved to reach their goals.
For instance, the implementation of web-based discussion platforms can have a significant impact on the manner of student involvement. By switching to an online environment, teachers can facilitate communication and the exchange of ideas with their students. Digital technology can also benefit students in other ways by allowing them to process large amounts of information and obtain valuable insights from them, and encouraging them to share their views and collaborate with their peers.
The assessment process can also be improved significantly with the introduction of digital tools that enable teachers to provide real-time feedback to their students, while at the same time giving learners more control over their own education. By choosing digital tools that are more suitable to their unique learning styles, teachers can significantly increase students’ engagement levels and improve their learning outcomes. Digital tools also facilitate the development of essential 21st century skills like creativity, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, digital literacy, and global awareness.
However, the recent proliferation of digital education tools does come with certain drawbacks as well. According to some estimates, there are more than 500,000 educational apps currently on the market, which makes it rather challenging for educators to find the ones that can actually improve the teaching and learning processes.
How to choose the right digital tools for your students
There are multiple factors that teachers need to consider carefully when deciding which digital tools to integrate into their classrooms. The first and most important question to answer is which instructional mode they plan to use: in-person, remote synchronous, remote asynchronous, or some combination thereof. Whether lectures are delivered synchronously or asynchronously, teachers have a wealth of options to choose from, including communication tools, collaborative tools, homework and assignment activity tools, exam and assessment tools, and feedback and polling tools.
Another important thing to consider is whether the tool they are interested in is designed to replace them or support them in their work. No matter how sophisticated digital tools are, there will always be certain aspects of the job they will never be able to replicate, which is why they should generally be used in a supplementary role. Before they introduce a new tool into the classroom, teachers first need to make sure that they know how to use it themselves, identify potential problem areas for students, and then carefully incorporate it into their work.
For teachers who use a blended learning model, it’s important to choose a virtual learning environment (VLE) that supports a consistent learning experience, such as Canvas. One of the key features a good VLE needs to have are discussion forums, which encourage students to engage in collaborative learning by participating in online discussions with their peers. Furthermore, by offering a higher degree of flexibility, discussion forums also help teachers account for different learning styles and needs, allowing those students who may not be willing to participate in oral discussions to express themselves in writing.
One of the most useful tools in blended learning are video recording apps like Kaltura. By delivering lectures in the form of bite-sized videos that students can watch anywhere and at any time, teachers can make the learning content more accessible and provide students with a more personalised learning experience. Furthermore, by incorporating questions that allow students to reflect on their learning, teachers can help them better prepare themselves for in-person sessions and ensure that they make the most of the synchronous teaching time.
To facilitate collaborative learning in synchronous environments, teachers can use a student response system (SRS) like Padlet to introduce an activity. An SRS allows students to respond anonymously to their teacher’s questions and receive instant feedback, which helps increase student engagement and improves classroom interaction. Students can express their thoughts and opinions in various media formats, including links, images, videos, and audio recordings. All responses are gathered in real time and displayed on the screen for everyone to see.
Synchronous learning environments also need to enable students to apply their knowledge and demonstrate what they have learned. By using web conferencing software like Zoom, teachers can recreate various classroom interactions in an online environment through features like screen-sharing, voting polls, whiteboards, and breakout rooms. However, to make this work, they need to make sure that all of the students complete their assignments before the synchronous session starts.
As we already mentioned, there is a staggering number of digital tools aimed at the education sector out there. For instance, ALEKS is an online learning platform that offers an individualised, assessment-based approach to learning. Similarly, Korbit is an AI-powered tutor that uses machine learning, natural language processing, and positive reinforcement to offer students interactive, personalised online learning.
Mixed reality platforms like CoSpaces, on the other hand, allows users to create and engage with interactive multimedia content, while 3D printers like the MakerBot’s Replicator+ enable them to bring their ideas to life. As remote learning becomes an increasingly common feature of the education experience, there will also be more demand for virtual learning apps like Classkick, which allows teachers to create and share assignments with their students, keep track of their progress, and provide real-time feedback. Furthermore, with STEAM skills becoming increasingly sought-after in the workplace, there will be a growing need for tools that can help students acquire these skills, such as Hopscotch.
With so many tools to choose from, how does one decide which to implement? To help them make this decision, teachers are advised to check out each tool’s reviews first before they actually bring it into the classroom. This will allow them to gain a better understanding of its potential applications and help them decide whether it’s the right tool for them and their students. One way to go about this is to consult one of the websites that compile exhaustive databases of tools that are currently available on the market. There are a number of websites of this type out there, including our own portal, which offers a carefully curated, searchable database of some of the most interesting tools aimed at the education sector, and which is guaranteed to help everyone find something to match their needs.
How to evaluate a tool
The first and probably most important evaluation criteria for a digital tool is whether it has already demonstrated its effectiveness in helping teachers and students meet their goals. In addition to being effective, a digital tool also needs to be accessible and easy to use for all learners, including students with disabilities. It also needs to provide students with a fun and engaging learning experience that will keep them coming back for more.
It is just as important that it helps teachers make their jobs easier and enables them to deliver a tailored learning experience to each student. The tool also needs to have built-in safety and transparency features, which will safeguard the privacy of student data and keep them safe online. Another important thing to consider is the cost. You need to think about whether what you are getting from the tool justifies the price you paid for it. It’s also worth pointing out that there are a number of tools out there that are completely free.
Digital tools have taken on an increasingly prominent role in education over the last couple of years. Once considered a gimmick, they have gradually become a necessity, helping teachers be more effective at what they do and allowing them to provide students with a more personalised learning experience. However, with so many different tools out there, it can be difficult for educational institutions to decide which ones to implement into their classrooms. To help them make this decision, they need to consult the right sources, which will guide them through the evaluation process and ensure they choose the right digital tools for their students.