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20 Ed-Tech Concepts and Devices That Every Teacher Should Know About

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Since the Information Era began some decades ago, it has dramatically changed the way we educate our children. We live in a world of rapid change and the resemblance to yesterday is fleeting. Above all, communication has changed, and an enormous variety of information is now accessible to almost everyone at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger.

We have seen a lot of advancement in education technology designed for the classroom, and to be effective, teachers need to stay abreast of these new technologies and concepts. This is the perfect time for teachers to receive retooling in the area of educational technology.

Here, I will discuss twenty education technologies and concepts that every teacher should know about:

1. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). As a kind of movement within education, BYOD has already gained momentum in many districts across the country. In places like Chesapeake Public Schools, students are allowed to use privately owned electronic devices to access the wireless network on the school system's filtered Internet. In Chesapeake, as in the other public and private schools where BYOD policies exist, students must sign a responsibility form that says they will only use the mobile device for academic enrichment while on school property. Students who bring their own devices into the classroom eliminate the initial costs and are also already comfortable with the technology. The downside is that not all students can readily afford such technology. Many must look for schools to develop technology financial assistance programs for families to help offset the full cost and maintenance of school-owned devices.

2. Customized learning experiences. Self-directed learning experiences are based upon the needs of individual students. The traditional way to look at learning is via the creation and assignment of work by teachers in a one-size-fits-all approach for every classroom. Customized learning, however, allows students to direct focus on feedback techniques that provide strategies for improvement during the process, instead of waiting for a given test period see if the methods are working.

The idea of personalized learning is often met with hostility, especially as teachers must relinquish some classroom control for this trend to really work. On the flip side, though, customized learning has the potential to incorporate a variety of resources, such as virtual learning, to aid in the learning process while allowing teachers to moderate one-on-one learning experiences in practical ways. I think that the idea of handing control to students is frightening to some educators and administrators but once attempted, even on a small scale, it is easy to see the benefits of personalized learning.

3. Online learning. Virtual learning is certainly not new to the K-12 scene, but its increasing popularity is difficult to ignore. Once, only the world of distant learning embraced the process of online learning. Today, though, online learning is increasingly part of more traditional learning experiences. It is no longer all or nothing. Distance learning has become mainstream and will continue to transform in-classroom learning.

Virtual learning also makes it possible for parents, teachers and students to have access to information they may need regardless of their actual physical location. In essence, it expands the classroom and gives students more time and space to complete and comprehend their lessons.

4. Virtual laboratories. Virtual laboratories are popping up in school districts and online learning curricula across the country and making it easier and less expensive for students to do experiments remotely.

Perhaps the most often cited benefit of any online learning is convenience. The same is true of virtual laboratories if the experiments are on the student's own time. In some cases, a virtual lab may be used during regular class time but still, in such instances, there is flexibility for the teacher who is not limited by using resources within a strict timeframe. Another benefit of virtual laboratories is instant feedback. Students can redo experiments on the spot if needed. All the results are recorded automatically, making communication between teachers and students more efficient too. Experiments no longer have a "one chance" option and students can analyze what went wrong immediately and critically.

There is a fee associated with using virtual labs, but the capital and maintenance costs are drastically reduced. Instead of one school footing the bill for resources, the cost is split among the clients of the particular virtual lab. This allows schools to provide a better learning experience for students at a fraction of the cost.

5. Autism and iPads. Depending who you ask, the iPad has varying effects on children with autism - but most parents and teachers would say that the device has made in-roads in their students' attitude towards learning. Experts at Apple say that iPads "cure" sensory overload and give autistic children control, along with opportunities for effective communication. Using less extreme language, researchers at Vanderbilt University say that speech-generating devices, like iPads, can encourage late-speaking children with autism spectrum disorders to speak. In other words, the basic technology that is readily available in classrooms and many households may also support learning initiatives for children with a specific disorder that impact traditional learning.

6. Online tutoring.  The supplemental education services industry is expected to make over $10 billion per year annually in North America by 2017, and it's no wonder. As students face higher pressures in classrooms, companies like Sylvan and Kumon make millions every year by encouraging parents to bring in their students and pay a premium fee to have them tutored one-on-one.

However, tutoring outside school hours is inconvenient for both parents and students who already have tight schedules. After a day in school, kids are not keen to head back into a traditional learning environment, which can mean a lot of extra tension between parents and kids that surrounds an already-anxious experience.

But what if the same flexibility that is afforded to regular K-12 and college classes was extended to tutoring too? Of course, many online tutoring options are already available but as an industry, online tutoring lacks the sophistication of the larger-scale academic offerings. As demand for this form of flexible learning rises, though, tutoring in remote ways will see a spike in popularity and availability.

Students are already native online learners and virtual tutoring could open the doors for a lot of breakthroughs - and at a greater convenience and lesser cost to students. These emerging companies just need to look for ways to set themselves apart from the outdated model of in-person tutoring to provide the most help and succeed.

7. Cloud computing. When it comes to greater educational collaboration, cloud computing has unlimited potential. This is true for teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent, and teacher-to-student applications. By using a common location, academic expectations can be better accessed, along with actual student work. Instructors can also share learning materials and experiences through the remote opportunities that cloud computing provides.

Simply put, cloud storage saves space, money, and time for teachers, parents, students, and administrators. A report by CDW Government found that over 40 percent of schools use cloud applications to store their data. By 2016, schools are expected to spend 35 percent of IT budgets on the cloud. The savings add up though. Right now, K-12 schools report that their cloud initiatives are saving them an average of 20 percent on IT costs. By 2016, those savings are expected to reach 27 percent.

We are living in the midst of a tremendous upheaval in the fields of technology and communication. There is so much to look forward to when it comes to K-12 classrooms. The seven concepts and technologies that I have discussed will allow educators to better prepare students for the rest of their academic careers and for lifelong success.

8. Alternative input devices. These tools are designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily. Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards, and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands, or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area is sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology that is providing K-12 learners with disabilities better use of computers and mobile devices for learning.

9. Speech-to-text options. This technology is making mainstream waves through its use in popular cell phones like the Android-platform Razr M. While it is a convenience tool for people without disabilities, speech-to-text provides a learning advantage for students who have mobility or dexterity problems, or those who are blind. It allows students to speak their thoughts without typing and even navigate the Internet. speech-to-text options can also "talk back" to students and let them know about potential errors in their work.

10. LAMP. Language Acquisition through Motor Planning, or LAMP, connects neurological and motor learning in a way that makes communication easier for students with autism and related disorders. These principles have proven especially helpful for students who do not speak or have very limited verbal skills. Paired with technology, LAMP principles empower a growing student population with autism to effectively communicate and reach higher academic achievements. LAMP is present in technology - from specially made computers to learning apps.

11. Sensory enhancers. Depending on developmental patterns, children may need to learn differently than their peers. Instead of ABCs and numbers first, a child with language delays may benefit from bright pictures or colors to learn new concepts. Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools, or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.

12. Screen readers. This technology is slightly different from text-to-speech. It simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or visually impaired can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who otherwise struggle to glean information from a computer screen can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them.

13. Mobile learning. Tablets and smartphones in the classroom are no longer a matter of "if," but "when, and how quickly?" Administrators and educators can tap into the convenience of mobile technology in the classroom and the potential for student learning adaptation. Over half of school administrators say there is some form of mobile technology in their classrooms and that they plan to implement more when it is financially feasible. School districts should keep in mind that the purchase of mobile devices for K-12 use is only one piece in the learning puzzle. There must be funding for teacher training and maintenance of the devices too.

14. Learning analytics. This evolving concept in K-12 classrooms is different from educational data mining. It focuses on individual students, teachers, and schools without direct implications to the government. Learning analytics are the education industry's response to "big data" that is used in the business world for improvements and redirection of focus. Learning analytics show students what they have achieved and how their achievements match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.

15. Open content. The rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, has trickled down from college learning to K-12 education. Increasingly, K-12 educators are also coming to believe that all information on any given topic already exists. In effect, a growing number of people believe that content does not need to be re-created or purchased, and the idea has gained steam among K-12 educators specifically. Within the next three years, expect more shared content available to teachers and to students. Open textbooks, resources, and curricula are not the only benefit of an open content push; shared experiences and insights are also valuable teaching tools.

16. 3D printing. Also known as prototyping, 3D printing will allow K-12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications. The STEM Academy has already partnered with Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company, to start integration of the technology in programming classes.

17. Holography. Holography was just science fiction a few years ago, but it's now becoming a reality in some fields, such as medicine. This imaging technique, which allows one to see a 3-D view of an image, has yet to become a part of everyday classroom activities. Holography introduced in classroom activities would change entirely how some subjects are taught. Biology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry could be taught on an entirely different level (S. H. Kim & Bagaka, 2005).

18. Time-management tools. These tools are variations on calendar software. They can be used to schedule your appointments, or you may want to take advantage of more complex features. Some tools can be viewed online, affording access for more than one student at a time. A teacher can arrange appointments or make a note of due dates for assignments so that all students in a class can keep track of such details. Most of these tools allow the option to put some information in private mode, too, so the administrator can choose which calendars people can see and which cannot. Most of these tools include a feature allowing teachers to arrange meetings and groups.

19. Virtual reality. Experiential education has been used as an instructional method for years. Field trips have always served to introduce students to real-world issues, to supplement learning by helping students get a fresh perspective on what they have learned in books. Technology using virtual reality, however, has introduced new levels of experiential education. Virtual 3-D worlds allow students and teachers to visit places otherwise impossible to visit without it. They can go to space, deserts, or foreign countries without physically traveling there.

20. Natural user interfaces. In its simplest definition, a natural user interface (NUI) uses the body's movements to achieve certain outcomes. In the consumer market, examples of NUIs include the Nintendo® WiiTM, Xbox KinectTM, and the iPhone virtual assistant, Siri. The potential in the field of K-12 education is still being realized but will certainly lead to developments in the next half-decade. Students who are blind, deaf, or have physical disabilities or autism can better learn through use of this still evolving technology.

Advances in technology have influenced every aspect of modern life and are having an enormous impact on education. Technology can promote student engagement, immerse students in real-world issues, enhance discussions and workshops, and facilitate formative assessment. Plus, as students today are often digital natives, very familiar with technology.

However, the new technological advances do not come without their problems. There's a significant digital divide between students with access to technology and students, mostly from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who don't have the same level, range, and consistency of access.

Furthermore, students may spend too much time using their devices and the Internet includes information that may be harmful as well as helpful. Without clear parameters, teachers may become overly focused on technology to the detriment of information transfer.

Nonetheless, these advances will prove to assist in the education of students in the near future. Observing the development of these technologies closely will reveal the ways in which they will change learning.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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