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Head of the Class: 2016’s Top Technology

Like your students, educational technology is constantly evolving. The best digital resources–including apps, websites, video, and wearables–make lessons more enriching for students and classroom management easier for teachers. What were 2016’s best educational technologies, and what can you expect to see next year?

Top Tech of 2016

Student-Makerspace

Makerspaces

The workshop-lab trend is often characterized by 3-D printers, woodworking materials, robotics, and other tools.

Pros: Enthusiasts claim makerspaces promote hands-on learning, innovation, and cooperation; and research suggests the approach is effective.

Cons: Tools and equipment can be expensive; one guide estimates the cost of a classroom makerspace at just under $4,000.

Virtual-Reality-School

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (computer-generated environments that users experience via headset) and augmented reality (the enhancement of images viewed through a device) offer immersive and engaging lessons. For instance, VR headsets, such as Google Cardboard and Nearpod, provide virtual field trips as well as other digital educational tools.

Pros: Apps like Google Expeditions, accessed with Google Cardboard, allow students to explore some historically inaccessible spots, like outer space and the ocean floor.

Cons: Several researchers have noted that some virtual field trips “can never recreate the sensory stimulation, insights or fluid social interactions” of live site visits, nor do they encourage the same level of problem solving.

Learning Management Systems and Virtual Learning Environments

E-learning software like Versal, Formative, and Google Classroom bring the interactive nature of the Internet into the classroom.

Pros: Versal allows teachers to create media-rich lessons without requiring advanced coding skills; you can drag and drop tools created by others into your lesson. Formative lets teachers track students’ work in real time, and Google Classroom allows students to organize their assignments, ask questions, and submit their work.

Cons: As one blogger notes, it’s important to consider how such tools affect a school’s Wi-Fi. Great tech tools are of limited use if the infrastructure can’t guarantee reliable service. This caveat applies to much of the technology on this list.

Wearables

Educational devices that are attached to students will see a compound annual growth of close to 46% between 2016 and 2020, according to Research and Markets.

Pros: There are plenty of ways these devices can enhance education. The Narrative Clip, which is clipped onto clothes, auto-captures images and footage and is great for recording important events and activities. Muse, the “brain-sensing headband,” sends data about wearers’ brain signals to an app; it’s currently being used to help students with social and emotional disabilities.

Cons: Wearables are expensive (Narrative Clip 2 costs $199), and some teachers may find that they distract students.

Students-Video-Chat

Video

Traditionally, video in the classrooms meant lectures and presentations, but with live streaming apps like Periscope, the experience is much more interactive.

Pros: Students can connect with and learn from their peers in classrooms near and far, parents may view school events they can’t attend in person, and users become content creators and broadcasters.

Cons: The public nature of Periscope raises privacy concerns, particularly for minors. Broadcasts are public by default, though broadcasters can specify who they want to share theirs with.

Apps for Streamlined Administration

Whether teachers need to enter and report grades and create lesson plans (LearnBoost); manage classroom seating on mobile devices (Smart Seat); track attendance (Easy Attendance); or communicate with parents (ClassDojo), there are plenty of options to help teachers get and stay organized.

Pros: These apps cut down on paperwork and can help manage time-consuming classroom tasks.

Cons: All these apps take some time and effort to get started.

Apps for Behavior Management

Appropriate behavior is vital to a productive learning environment, and apps like ClassDojo, Class Charts, and Too Noisy help teachers monitor, encourage, and reward good behavior. Too Noisy displays the noise level in a room on screen and can be adjusted to reflect different activity levels. It also sounds an alarm when the room gets too loud. Traffic Light!, for the iPhone and iPad, shows four different colors that to indicate different learning and behavioral modes, such as listen or work in groups.

Pros: Traffic Light! and Too Noisy are simple and easy to use.

Cons: ClassDojo, in particular, has raised concerns about privacy; critics also suggest that behavior apps can shame children, and the emphasis on rewards may undermine motivation.

Kids-Tablet-Classroom

Formative Assessments

Gooru, incorporating Exit Ticket, allows teachers to create and administer different kinds of assessments. After students submit their answers, teachers can immediately see their responses and provide real-time feedback. Socrative‘s Exit Ticket option also lets students digitally submit answers. Plickers consists of a deck of unique images; students answer multiple choice questions by holding assigned cards in a particular direction. The small lettering allows students to answer incorrectly without the possibility of public embarrassment. Answers are captured by the device as the teacher walks around the room, and teachers can see which students, and how many, have understood the lesson.

Pros: Teachers can see whether every student understands the lesson quickly and privately.

Cons: Digitized formative assessments can be time consuming.

The Future of Education Tech

So what’s next? In 2017, we’ll see improvement and expansion in the technologies discussed. VR and AR experiences, for example, will become more immersive, and as the price of 3-D printers continue to slide, they’ll be available in a greater number of classrooms.

We’ll also see some technologies not mentioned above. The use of biometrics–the measurement and analysis of personal physical characteristics–will grow. Eye tracking, in particular, could find a home in the classroom with screens and devices that record and analyze students’ eye movements. Such tools provide information on what students are focusing on and can help improve reading skills.

Finally, oversized LCD touchscreens will supplant whiteboards, permitting multiple students to interact with the screen at the same time.

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