Using Technology To Teach

Technology has always been a fascination of mine. Not so much the nuts and bolts of it, or how it works. What’s more interesting to me is how we use it. How we apply it to our everyday lives. How it can give us new and better ways of doing things. A single invention can change the course of history, sometimes yielding positive results – other times not. We often don’t know where that new invention is going to take us. We can’t always see into the future and accurately predict how a particular technology will ultimately affect our society.

Technology has certainly been affecting the way we teach. As a homeschooler, I’ve been integrating it more and more into my family’s day to day studies because it provides convenient access to tons of free or low-cost resources right in my home.

Sometimes I wonder what I ever did before the Internet. I think about how I learned in elementary school (in the 1970s), when we considered it a real treat when the teacher showed us a film strip (remember the “beeps” signaling to turn to the next frame?); or when , on rare occasions, the teacher would roll into the classroom an industrial looking TV on a clunky stand so we could watch something on channel 13 (my local PBS station).

Today, I can pull up information on anything my four children are studying or happen to be interested in that day: my five-year old is drawing a picture of a hot air balloon and wants to know how they fly, and in particular, “How do you steer it?” My eight-year old is reading about the Erie Canal and wants to know how the locks work. There are any number of things we’re looking up on any given day. We still love to go to the library, but we can’t always get there, so it’s great to be able to pull up the information right now, when I need it.

Video Streaming: DVDs and CDs

Viewing documentaries and educational videos has been made easier with instant streaming services like those available through Netflix or the Annenberg Video Site. And there are plenty of other sites that can be pulled up with a quick search. Full courses on DVD and CD help me to teach subjects that are more difficult, such as high school math, or foreign language.

Digital Textbooks

To present information to my children, I’ve also been making some use of online digital textbooks. My kids like the combination of text, visuals, audio and “interactive” features, like clickable maps and diagrams, or pop-up windows showing definitions of words. They tell me they’d like them even more if the textbooks were available to download to a Kindle or Nook, but we haven’t gotten one of those yet. (I suppose digital textbooks could work especially well for families on the road). Some of the digital textbooks have study aids incorporated into them, like chapter summaries, and games and flashcards to help remember things. An online text my daughter was using for western civilization had quizzes she could take that were graded by the site and then sent to me via e-mail.

Cyber-Schooling

Some people use online programs as their main curriculum. Time4Learning, for instance, is a multimedia web-based homeschool curriculum that uses interactive lessons in math, language arts, science, and social studies that are aligned with state and national standards. I, personally, have not gone this route because I prefer a more blended approach.

Virtual Field Trips

All kinds of sites have popped up to help incorporate virtual field trips into one’s studies. How cool would it be if they could take the technology even further so that we could step into some sort of holographic environment and take a tour of the pyramids of Egypt?

Distance Learning

My daughter took an on-line marketing class through the community college. She wasn’t old enough to physically attend, so she did it through distance learning. Nice option. I know some say it’s an inferior way to learn because of the lack of classroom interaction. But her professor did incorporate a communications component by requiring students to discuss questions and comment on each other’s work in an online forum. She also had to create a PowerPoint presentation.

Demonstration And Collaborate

Which leads to another way in which technology is being used to engage students. They are using it to demonstrate what they’ve learned, and to work collaboratively, including from a distance. For example, I live with a couple of opinionated young teens that like to spout off on all manner of things. I let them do this in blog posts. (Who’s to say the post can’t be a five-paragraph comparison/contrast essay, or a critical book review, or some other type of composition or article I assign)? In the process, they’re learning the writing craft and, at the same time, maybe something about web design. Squidoo’s a fun platform for this. Sites like LetterPop allow you to work with a number of students to create something online together, like a newsletter or work of fiction. For more of a digital storytelling approach, Glogster lets students show what they know using multimedia elements, like video, audio, sound and animation. This could be a great help to kids who are more visual learners. It sure is a long way from the old shoebox dioramas some of us parents made in school.

Is all of this technology really helping our children to learn more efficiently and effectively? I can’t answer that, but I do know that, like it or not, technology is transforming the way we teach and will impact the future of education.


Tracey Kmosko, a homeschooling mother of four children (ages 5 - 15), has worked as a feature writer and editor for technology and financial services publications. She and her family currently blog at their homeschool website, Unsocialized.net, where you'll find lots of homeschool information including news, views, tips and discussions.

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