Abstract

The Digital Age is revolutionizing education. Often, the daily lives of students are rich in technology, while teachers lack the knowledge or skills to integrate technology into the curriculum.  Educators need to be well-informed about the variety of technology tools available. If used appropriately, digital tools can promote critical thinking, collaboration, and high levels of engagement. Through the use of free innovative technology tools profiled, teachers can enhance instruction and students’ motivation levels in the classroom while connecting to international standards for technology education and 21st-century skills.

Today, technology pervades almost every aspect of life, from home to work to recreational pursuits.  This results in profound implications for educators. Students can connect and create with their peers and with the wider world in ways that were unfathomable just a few years ago. Learning tools such as media, telecommunications, and network technologies are rapidly evolving into a robust support system for acquiring knowledge and skills needed for modern life.

Prensky (2010) termed this generation as digital natives due to their constant use of technology.  From playing multi-media games to shopping online to research, students use technology as avenues for entertainment, communication, and information.  Schools have increased expenditures on technology by more than a hundredfold in the last two decades. This investment is predicated on the belief that technology-infused learning environments offer plentiful opportunities for students to evaluate information, collaborate, and create solutions.  These skills arm students with competencies critical in the current global economy (Lim, Zhao, Tondeur, Chiar, & Tsai, 2013).

Technology Standards for Students

Technology expectations have been identified by the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE), one of the largest teacher-based organization in the field of educational technology.  ISTE advocates for improving the teaching and learning process by advancing the effective use of technology in K-12 schools.  The organization introduced technology standards for students in 1998, revised them in 2007 and again in 2016.  The student technology standards promote the use of technology by K-12 students to design products and increase their problem-solving skills.  As shown in Table 1, the ISTE Standards for Students emphasize seven areas:  Empowered Learner, Digital Citizen, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer, Computation Thinker, Creative Communicator, and Global Collaborator.

Table 1.  ISTE Standards for Students

Empowered Learner Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
Digital Citizen Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
Knowledge Constructor Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce original artefacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
Innovative Designer Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
Computation Thinker Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.
Creative Communicator Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals
Global Collaborator Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.

(ISTE, 2016)

Teachers can masterfully integrate student use of technology by teaching content in a way that promotes creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and collaboration while building life and career skills.  Technology tools allow students to investigate real-world problems, collect and examine data to identify the best ideas, and consider various perspectives to select the best solution. Technologies can also support global and cultural understandings through communication with diverse audiences.  All of these attributes can be integrated into a classroom provided that teachers embrace technological changes and are willing to become 21st-century learners with their students.

Digital Tools

There are many free technology resources available to teachers as they infuse technology resources to spur higher-order thinking, communication, and collaboration.  This article will profile six technology tools: Blabberize, Voki, Animoto, Kidblog, Instagram, Google Docs, and Glogster.  After describing each tool, classroom examples are profiled on ways to effectively utilize the tools to engage students in learning in meaningful, authentic contexts.

Animation Tools

Students can use technology tools to create animated presentations encouraging critical and creative thinking. Students can visually represent abstract ideas, zoom in or out on a character, control the pace of the presentation, add music or sound effects, and produce highly engaging visual content.

Blabberize (http://blabberize.com) and Voki (https://www.voki.com/) are animation tools that allow the user to upload a picture and then record voices to make that image speak.  With Blabberize, students choose a picture to be used as an image, such as a historical figure, then select the points on the mouth that will open and close to say the words recorded from their own voices. With Voki, students create cartoon avatars and either record their voice or type the text for the avatar to say. There are websites with videos demonstrating how to create a “Blabber” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEtUu1r8Pe4) or Voki (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FunBew6S4Bk).   While the use of avatars can be an effective way to hook the students’ attention, review critical components of a lesson, or introduce classmates to each other, students can use the tools to demonstrate critical thinking and real-world learning.  Classroom examples include:

  • Students select a historical figure and have them react to a current issue. Students review other’s products and evaluate whether the audio recording of the perspective accurately aligns with their figure’s historical lens.
  • Students use persuasive techniques and design compelling advertisements for local businesses to post to social media. Students evaluate the effectiveness of their products by analyzing the volume of sharing on social media and business owner feedback.

Animoto (http://animoto.com/education), is a site that allows users to create a moving slide show with music, pictures, and text.  Students select images that appropriately match their content and upload them to the site, write the text that would be included, and select the music that would play in the background.  The Animoto website provides instructions to design these animated videos (https://www.instructables.com/id/Making-a-Video-With-Animoto/).   Animated technology can encourage students to be creative and innovative as they design presentations for their research. Classroom examples include:

  • Students design digital videos highlighting how the scale is used in the real world.
  • Students capture pictures of their plants grow and create a documentary showcasing the impact of one variable (e.g., lack of sunlight, poor water quality, overcrowding) and noting conclusions from their experiment.

Blogs

            Blogging takes the pressure off of writing and gives students a voice in a safe environment. Students learn not only useful writing techniques, but also online publishing, proper Internet etiquette, and how to research for various perspectives.  For those new to writing blogs, The Blog Starter website (https://www.theblogstarter.com/#bloggingsteps) has succinct directions to assist in developing blogs.  Teachers should provide criteria on how to write an excellent blog, as well as how to reply to a blog post. Digital citizenship can be applied as students learn to participate safely and responsibly in the digital world.

Kidblog (https://kidblog.org/home/) provides teachers with the tools to help students safely navigate the digital, social online landscape. Kidblog allows students to exercise digital citizenship within a secure, private classroom blogging space. This space is safe to publish student writing, as teachers can monitor all activity. Nothing goes live until the teacher approves it. Students can connect within the class, with other classes down the hall, across a district or around the world. This tool is a creative way to boost writing skills of students.  Classroom ideas include:

  • Students are assigned to groups and select a topic for their blog (e.g., school football team, school-wide dance, favourite books). Students regularly write blog posts and invite comments from other students, parents, and community members.  Students evaluate each other’s blog based on a rubric (e.g., appropriate for the audience, added value, original, interesting) and examining blog traffic.
  • Students conduct an online debate about the topic: Is college education worth it?  Students post arguments and evidence while also evaluating the credibility of others’ ideas.

Instagram is a mobile app that allows users to post photos through filters that change the colour and look of the photos. HubSpot (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-use-instagram) has a step-by-step guide for beginners to learn how to use the app.  Instagram is not only a social network but also a search engine. This tool allows students to practice amateur photography and write about it. By posting hashtags with the narrative, other students can search for content that might interest them. For example, if a student is interested in national parks, he/she could search for #MammothCave and find photos that relate to the topic.  Some ideas for utilizing this technology include:

  • Students use picture and text to recommend reading selections to classmates.
  • Students evaluate artwork based on a rubric and select the best example to showcase to parents and describe reasons for its selection.

Collaboration Tools

            Technology has provided teachers with a way to encourage competent teamwork. Students can participate in discussions, presentations, peer review, and competitions in small or large groups. Teachers can engage each student in interdependent learning activities to build the collaboration skills essential in the workforce.

Google Documents (http://www.google.com/google-d-s/documents/) is a technology tool that allows students to collaborate on documents online, across classroom or schools on a project, or even from home. This technology can enable classes to have collaborative projects across classrooms and even across disciplines.  Google has tutorials for all of its applications, including Google Docs on its website (https://www.google.com/docs/about/).  To use this technology, students would need to sign up for a free Gmail account.  Once within the program, the user can create a document and then select to “share” the document with others. Some classroom ideas include:

  • Students create a science lab report documenting their findings. Groups peer review the assignment utilizing the rubric.  Students use the highlighting tools to colour code the report showing how the authors addressed each rubric component.  Also, they leave comments noting areas of strength and opportunities for revision.
  • Students brainstorm options to demonstrate their understanding of probability and statistics in an authentic setting. Students use shapes, arrows, text, and images to build a visual map of their ideas.

Glogster (http://edu.glogster.com/) is a web version of a poster with some interactivity.  Users can create online collages or posters on this website with embedded photos, videos, graphics, sounds, and drawings.  The Glogster website provides a tutorial on how to create an online poster (https://edu.glogster.com/glog/how-to-use-glogster/26s5rgkailc).  Glogster provides opportunities for students to use their creativity to collaborate on book reports, presentations, or class projects.  Students can work across school borders by partnering with another school to create projects.  Some ideas for this tool include:

  • fter being given a problem-solving task requiring students to construct a carrier for the egg and protect it from breaking when dropped from a ledge, students document the process with pictures and reflect on the experience and learnings on their Glogster digital poster.
  • Students design an infographic explaining to parents a new division mathematical process. Parents review digital posters and completing an evaluation based on criteria including clarity of information, appropriate format, and visually appealing.
  • Students design a flow chart showing adaptations of the colonists while coordinating with a science teacher about adaptations of animals. Extending this theme, students work jointly with English students examining a novel and ways the characters adapt.

Conclusion

Technology is ever present in the daily life of students. For teachers to meet the needs of students and engage them in active learning, traditional instructional strategies must evolve to embrace the use of technology.  All of the resources listed above are free online resources that can enhance instruction, assess understanding, and promote students’ technology skills.  Some of the sites include paid versions which provide more advanced features including individual student accounts.  However, students can still create assignments using free versions of these technologies.

Through embracing technology in the way conceptualized in the ISTE Standards for Students (2016), students will be able to learn in their “native language,” as coined by Prensky (2010), with technology naturally embedded into the daily operation of classes.  In this way, the millions of dollars spent each year on technology will not stand idle but change classrooms into 21st-century learning centres, and positively impact student learning.

About the Author: 

Dr. Rebecca Stobaugh

Dr. Rebecca Stobaugh

  1. Rebecca Stobaugh has been a principal and middle and high school teacher. She is the author of five books:  Assessing Critical Thinking in Elementary Schools, Assessing Critical Thinking in Middle and High Schools, Real-World Learning in Secondary Schools, Real-World Learning in Elementary Schools, andCritical Thinking in the Classroom.  She received a PhD from the University of Louisville. Currently, she serves as an associate professor at Western Kentucky University, teaching assessment and unit-planning courses in the teacher education program.
    Dr. S. Kay Gandy

    Dr. S. Kay Gandy

  2. S. Kay Gandy is a professor in the School of Teacher Education at Western Kentucky University. She teaches undergraduate work related to social studies methods and graduate work related to action research and geographic concepts and skills for teachers. Dr. Gandy leads the initiative at WKU to internationalize the School of Teacher Education.

References:

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for students. International Society for Technology in Education: Eugene, OR.  Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
  2. Lim, C.P., Zhao, Y., Tondeur, J., Chai, C.S., & Tsai, C.C. (2013). Bridging the gap: Technology trends and use of technology in schools. Educational Technology & Society, 16 (2), 59–68.
  3. Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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