Worlds of Possibilities

Three edtech trends to watch and how to use them to transform learning in your classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Maypole

CREDIT virtual whale.pngEducational technology continues to open up a world of possibilities for both teachers and students, but let’s be honest—it can be intimidating. With new devices and trends popping up on a regular basis, it’s difficult to know what to embrace and what to ignore. In this article, we’ll discuss three movements in ed-tech that are not to be missed and offer advice on how to incorporate them into your curriculum with minimal fuss and maximum results.

The thought of adapting curriculum to include new technologies can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

1. Makerspaces

Project-based learning has been a trend in education for years now, but thanks to recent advancements in technology, this initiative is gaining even more steam. Tech-inspired teachers are now beginning to incorporate makerspaces into their classrooms and curriculum. What are makerspaces? Makerspaces are physical spaces within the classroom where students can apply what they’ve learned during instructional time in order to create something tangible. High-tech maker spaces may include fancy tools such as 3-D printers, die-cutters, and even robotics. Even the budget-strapped classroom can create a makerspace using low-tech essentials that are widely available for discounted prices. Makerspaces are incredibly effective learning environments because they appeal to students’ innate curiosity and ingenuity, and perhaps most importantly, they facilitate truly authentic learning experiences. Now, instead of simply discussing a concept from a desk in their classrooms, students can actively participate in their own learning. Moreover, students in makerspaces are often encouraged to work in teams, practicing the kind of communication and collaboration they’ll one day be asked to apply in professional environments.

2. Virtual Reality

Teachers have always tried to bring learning to life for their students. Think about all the times you’ve passed around pictures, showed videos to your students, or asked them to simply imagine a scenario in their minds. Although these enrichment techniques can certainly enhance learning experiences, they stop short of the ultimate goal—to allow students to experience subject matter firsthand in steps (this is what is commonly referred to as virtual reality, or VR). Although VR is still in its infancy in terms of applications in the classroom, it’s growing at a rapid pace and becoming more and more accessible, even for teachers on a budget. Consider Google Cardboard, for instance. With a smart phone and a simple piece of cardboard (or even a pizza box!) you can put true-to-life experiences in front of your students via free apps, making learning more fun and meaningful than ever before. Imagine being able to instantly transport your students into the past during a history lesson or have them navigate a “real” marketplace during an economics unit. This is the power of virtual reality in a classroom.

Is virtual reality really a worthwhile endeavor, though? The answer is, quite simply, yes. Although it may seem a bit gimmicky, it actually has real learning implications for your students. The reality is that our students are enamored with technology applications. Virtual reality allows us to leverage engagement and immersive experiences in favor of real academic gains. We can now use the same technology that makes video games and mobile apps so appealing to our students in order to engage them in authentic learning.

3. Augmented Reality

Augmented reality may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but this technology already exists, as any student who has ever used a Snapchat filter or played “Pokemon Go” can tell you (and it can help transform the learning environment in your classroom).  Unless you’re completely up-to-date on trends in educational technology, it can be easy to confuse augmented reality and virtual reality. The difference is simple: virtual reality is a completely immersive digital experience, whereas augmented reality—or AR—layers digital elements into the real world. A great example is this video of a whale magically appearing in the school gymnasium. In blending the digital world with the real world, AR allows students to interact with objects, concepts, and processes that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. For example, students could hold a virtual atom in their hands for inspection or dissect a virtual frog. These applications of AR through mobile devices are not only incredibly engaging, but they take advantage of the technology that is already widely available in schools (like chromebooks and iPads).

Is augmented reality feasible for the average classroom, though? Thanks to free AR tools like Aurasma and Layar, the answer is a resounding yes. These applications allow teachers to create augmented reality experiences and share them with their students with minimal effort and no expense. All it takes is a little creativity and a desire to transform your classroom with cutting-edge technology!

The thought of adapting curriculum to include new technologies can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing which advancements and innovations are here to stay and which are just passing trends is half the battle. After that, it’s a matter of choosing which devices and approaches are best for (1) the objectives and goals your students need to achieve, and (2) your budget. Technology should never be used in the classroom simply for the sake of its existence. Instead, the end goal should always be learning gains. Makerspaces, VR, and AR are three trends that are here to stay because they are relatively inexpensive to adopt, and they have the potential to make a big impact on student engagement and learning.

Melissa Maypole is a content writer for Wisewire, a digital education marketplace and learning experience design company. She has a Master’s degree of Science in Education, integrating technology in the curriculum and five years of experience teaching grammar and advanced composition in the U.S. Melissa is an active educator and parent blogger. She is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Qustodio, a parental control software that helps parents monitor children’s activities from connected devices.

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