Almost 90 years ago, an overhead projector was used to display images in a classroom for the first time. A few decades later, Texas Instruments invented the handheld calculator. In the 1980s, schools started introducing Apple Macintosh computers to the classroom. The ratio of computers to students in U.S. schools at the time was 1-to-92.
Today, technology is widespread among schools. Access to computers has become so ubiquitous that digital devices are replacing the use of pen and paper in many classrooms. While public opinion on the use of technology in schools has been divided, experts have found that technology has the ability to create profound changes in teaching and learning, creating opportunities for unprecedented collaboration, engagement, and support. The key is knowing how to use technology in meaningful ways—a skill some education degree programs are bringing to the forefront of their curricula.
Instructional technology is the theory and practice of using technology for education. Encompassing the design, development, use, management, and evaluation of technology in education, instructional technology can take many forms. Anything from electronic whiteboards to online courses or even virtual reality classrooms can be considered instructional technology.
While the applications and benefits of instructional technology vary widely, all instructional technology shares one main purpose: to create engaging and effective learning experiences. And many applications of instructional technology have proved effective at achieving this goal. Experts widely agree that instructional technology provides many benefits to the education process, including better access to information, more opportunities for collaboration, and better capabilities for meeting diverse learners’ needs.
Just a couple of decades ago, teachers used very little (if any) technology in the classroom. Today, technology is a fundamental part of the education process. A recent study conducted by MidAmerica Nazarene University reports that students complete less than 42% of their work, both in and out of the classroom, using paper and pencil. In addition, the study found that 73% of teachers said that their students use tablets or laptops every day.
The increasing prevalence of technology in the classroom reflects a broader cultural shift. As the modern world becomes more digitized, tech literacy is becoming increasingly important. Teachers who use technology to support learning in meaningful ways can help prepare students for success in the digital era.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, schools can use educational technology to support both teaching and learning by infusing the classroom with valuable digital tools, expanding course offerings, increasing student engagement, and accelerating learning. Instructional technology offers nearly endless applications, but experts have identified three key areas where integrating technology can have a significant impact.
Instructional technology provides unparalleled opportunities for collaborative learning. Advances in technology have made sharing information easier than ever before. Today, educators have access to digital tools that allow students to work collaboratively outside of the classroom, discussing ideas or completing projects remotely and eliminating constraints such as standard classroom hours or geographic location.
Instructional technology also provides opportunities for students to work collaboratively with teachers, discussing ideas or asking questions outside of the physical classroom. For example, teachers could hold digital office hours, making themselves available via instant messaging or video chat to support students as they tackle the day’s homework.
Virtual classrooms can be a useful tool at every level of education. One common challenge of the traditional classroom environment is that students learn at their own pace, so teachers need to find a way to tailor their lesson plans to the average learner, rather than addressing each student’s unique needs.
Online courses level the playing field and provide students with the time and resources to develop the skills they need. For example, students could listen to a lecture for a second time if they didn’t immediately grasp the subject matter or move ahead to the next one if they grasp a particular subject quickly. On top of this, online learning provides access to a wider array of topics, giving students opportunities to enrich their education by taking courses that their schools might not offer.
Instructional technology provides better capabilities for gathering or providing feedback compared with more traditional methods. Teachers can use a variety of digital tools to gauge where their students are in a particular lesson. For example, teachers might conduct an online survey of students’ current understanding of a topic to gain insight into where they should focus the next lesson. Or they might opt for using digital education software so they can provide immediate feedback to students on lessons and homework, which could help keep students on track with learning objectives. Some schools have even been piloting virtual reality classrooms, where teachers can rehearse lessons or work through professional challenges in an artificial environment, helping them hone their abilities without negatively impacting real students.
Technology in the classroom can have impressive benefits—but only if educators understand how to harness these new capabilities in meaningful ways. LSU Online’s Master of Arts in Education with a specialization in Educational Technology is designed specifically with this goal in mind. The program’s cutting-edge approach to technology integration, digital transformation, and online training helps teachers transform their expertise into innovative educational leadership.
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