The Changing Landscape of Education: Tools You Didn’t Know You Should Be Using

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What does a typical day for a student look like? Breakfast, pack your books and notebooks, go to school, take notes in classes, maybe get scolded for bad handwriting, turn in a paper at the end of class, wash the chalk or marker off your hands, read a book or chat with friends during the break, perhaps talk to someone on the bus on the way home, or take a shortcut through the park, or be angry at parents because they’re late to pick you up; come home, do the homework, mess up a notebook with a leaking pen, watch some TV or read a book. Sounds about right?

No, most likely, not.

Some notebooks and books will be packed, but with laptops capable of becoming both a textbook, and a notebook, there is also an increasing number of totally paperless courses, which might be good for students’ backs, but has implications for learning, too.

Bad handwriting? Some countries, like Finland, drop the handwriting courses altogether, and with the increasing prevalence of typing, the value of cursive as a time-saving writing technique is dwindling. Some teachers ask that the homework be submitted online instead of hardcopy submissions. During the recess, our hypothetical student is likely to check his  Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp, rather than read a book, and ‘chatting with friends’ is not necessarily going to happen in the cafeteria. On the way back from school, the student will stay glued to the phone, and if the parents are late to pick up, some might tell the kid to get an Uber. And at least part of the evening’s TV time will likely be occupied by a phone, Xbox, or laptop.

The teen and tweens of today are growing in a different, rapidly changing mobile world, where many spend around nine hours a day on social media. This change is bound to affect the way student think, work, study, and consume information. What does it mean for educators trying to reach students and help them learn?

We’ve asked some experienced educators for their opinions on the matter.

A seemingly unquestionable view was verbalized by one of the respondents,  Michael Karlin, Associate Instructor & Ph.D. Student in Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University and Author at EdTech Round Up: “The internet is changing education in enormous ways. Every piece of information you could ever need is instantly accessible. For me, this means teachers should shift away from having students simply memorize information and recall facts, and shift more towards helping students learn how to think critically, how to evaluate information from different sources, and all the other 21st century skills that are required for the future.”

We also wanted to see if the brave new student has become resistant to some of the classical education methods. As it turns out, the total interactivity of social media and games has left its mark here. Michael Karlin shares his thoughts saying: “In my own experience, direct instruction has proven to be incredibly ineffective and inefficient. Students at all levels, including adult learners, seem to prefer active learning. strategies that are more interactive and engaging.”

Jayne Clare, CEO Co-founder of Teachers With Apps, has a similar view: “Many mainstays that were thought educational sound are no longer accepted. We know so much more about how the brain operates and the science of learning that many theories, practices, and policies are changing in education strategies that are more interactive and engaging.”

However, while many teaching techniques are proving less efficient, directly or indirectly to the impact of technology on today’s students, the digital offers tools of its own to help make the learning more efficient, interactive, and manageable for both parties involved. Jayne Clare points out that “Weekly spelling words” are no longer effective, “multiple choice assessments” are now under scrutiny in regards to whether they indicate true mastery of the topic.

Do kids respond better to new techniques?

Miсhael Karlin thinks they could, but only if applied properly: “It depends on the technology, and it depends on the purpose. If a technological tool is relevant and applicable to their needs, aligns with the learning goals, and offers a clear benefit over a non-technological option, then yes, in general students are amenable to it.”

An important note here is that the teacher using technology in learning needs to be fully aware of its specific benefits and how it helps achieve a particular educational goal. If an educator uses it without a clear understanding of its purpose, the technology will be a distraction, and if they don’t believe in its efficiency, then the students might not feel involved with it. “Teachers need to be honest if they are going to be using something new and invite the students to help explore the new tool. Students will resist anything if they are not shown how it is meaningful to them”, Nicholas Provenzano from TheNerdyTeacher cautions.

So, what are some of these educational technologies that teachers can take advantage of today?

Well, first of all, of course, there are the LMS: learning management systems. Canvas was characterized as a “perfect solution at the higher education,” and Miсhael Karlin also uses Nearpod (also appreciated by Jayne Clare), Piktochart, Smore, Scratch and many more. Kiddom was noted alongside Nearpod by Jayne Clare.

Nicholas Provenzano found Google Classroom and Seesaw useful: “They allow students to access the work they are doing in class and stay up to date with the assignments. Seesaw allows parents to access and see the work their child is doing. It is a great way to increase engagement at home.”

Unfortunately, there’s a dark side: the ubiquity of social media and its mandate of sharing, as well as the easiness with which one can “copy and paste” when writing on the computer, might be the reason for the steady increase in plagiarism rates over the past several years. And in some cases, going ‘paperless’ comes with a price: as James Welsch, American politics teacher at Gorham High School, puts it: “You could also see an increase in copy-and-paste. Whether it’s from another student, whether it’s from a piece online, digital sharing is what these guys do.”

This is where plagiarism detection software can come in handy.  Developers of such software in some cases are also sympathetic to the cause and try to make their products available, convenient and affordable. For example, Unicheck’s plagiarism checker allows for uploading files in multiple text file formats, including pdf, run a fast analysis of the text and identify similarities, and then download a .pdf report. It can perform a real-time search across the Internet and allows to upload documents directly from cloud services. It also shows perfect effectiveness working in synergy with other modern educational tools like Google Classroom.

The key motivation that defines the features of such a plagiarism checker is that plagiarism is a major issue which needs to be taken seriously; and educators, being on the frontline of the fight against it, need to have the most efficient, affordable, and flexible software at their disposal.