Many of today’s students are used to having access to the latest gadgets at home. It seems like most kids today have been streaming media and playing video games for a few years by the time they enter elementary school. A recent study  found that 20% of third-graders and 83% of middle schoolers have cell phones. Now compare their experiences in the digital world in their personal lives with the static nature of most traditional classrooms today, dominated by analog tools like flashcards, text books, and whiteboards – classroom tools that haven’t substantively changed for decades.

The stark contrasts between the analog classroom and the digital world in which students are immersed outside of school illustrate the significant barriers to reaching and motivating today’s students. So, how do we create a “Connected Classroom” where technology is used to engage “digital natives” and to improve learning outcomes, both inside and outside the classroom?

Creating Classroom Engagement

Technology tools, such as iPads, interactive whiteboards (IWB’s), and even mobile phones, are paving the way to enabling a more stimulating learning environment. A 2011 study by National Academies Press showed that interactive tools, like game-based applications, had the potential to promote higher-order thinking skills, collaboration, communication, and problem solving.

Teachers need technology tools that can reach students in their digital comfort zone. Many are finding that integrated multimedia and other supporting content – such as images, websites and videos – delivered via IWBs or tablet computers enhance interaction during the lesson and increase engagement among students.

Fostering After and Out of School Reinforcement

In addition to in-classroom needs, teachers need tools that can reinforce curricula outside of class, creating a classroom that connects outside of school walls and hours. Arming instructors with the technology to capture and disseminate content before, during and after the lesson, can drive better overall engagement and performance. Teachers also can leverage technology to share the lesson or notes with remote or absent students, so that these kids don’t miss a beat.

The Legend of the Bully Slayer is about two Something as simple as a teacher or school-created website where classroom materials are uploaded allows students and parents to engage with the curriculum anytime, anywhere. Think about a student who misses class due to an illness or medical procedure and the set-backs he or she suffers. With recorded and uploaded lectures, homework posted online and the portal to keep up with daily lessons from home, the student doesn’t have to fall behind. At home, online portals, class blogs and other web-based tools keep parents connected so they can reinforce the lesson, review materials with the student and access worksheets, homework assignments, and teacher notes.

Navigating Tightening Budgets

It’s no secret that many schools are struggling to make ends meet and purchase the materials and textbooks they need, let alone additional technology, and those making purchasing decisions are forced to prioritize. A recent study conducted by Luidia Inc. showed that 91 percent of educators cited budget and cost as a significant challenge to technology adoption.

But without technology as a priority, we lose or reduce our access to the educational efficiency and effectiveness gains that are critical to reaching this generation of digital natives and those who will follow them.  The Federal and state governments need to find ways to fund experimentation by teachers and administrators to explore newer, more effective ways of teaching. In the interim, districts can make smaller, incremental purchases, or apply for the grants that do exist today.

District IT decision-makers are getting creative in the face of these challenges. Danielle Kozoroski from Florida works with her peers to re-evaluate their purchasing strategies, holding school and community fundraising events to raise money for technology purchasing, and investing in portable, shareable and flexible tools that can adapt with her district, rather than bulky, proprietary systems. As a result, the district has been able to incorporate cutting edge technology into the curriculum and deliver a 21st century experience to the students despite shrinking budgets.

Prioritizing Technology

In the face of budget restrictions, many districts are struggling to revamp both how they teach and what they teach in light of new technologies.  Doing both together may seem unaffordable, yet many of the tools and techniques described above (accessing materials for review before and after class, interacting with instructors and classmates via email and websites, etc.) are used even more extensively in college. Thus, investing in connected classroom technologies and approaches for K-12 classrooms not only engages students in their digital comfort zones now, but teaches both the independent and the collaborative learning skills they’ll need later in life. 

Jody Forehand – VP of Product Planning, Luidia 

Jody Forehand is the vice president of product planning for Luidia, bringing 15+ years of experience in product strategy and marketing to the Luidia team.  In 1995, EFI recruited Jody from her position as a semiconductor analyst for Frost & Sullivan to provide market research and analysis for a number of development efforts, including eBeam technology.  During her career at EFI, she worked on several other EFI product lines and coordinated international development efforts with major customers in Japan. In 2003, Ms. Forehand was part of the team that managed EFI’s spin-off of the eBeam business unit into an independent company, Luidia, Inc., and has continued to serve in a variety of roles at Luidia.