Dr. Viruru, Dean Palmer, Dr. Rackley and Kip Robins pose with VGo robot

Training Future Educators to Integrate Technology in the Classroom

Date: November 20, 2013

The future of technology in education can be revolutionary and endless. With access to new technologies and services, students no longer need to frantically write answers to pop quizzes with pen and paper. Instead, they can submit answers using instant classroom response polls and complete quizzes that display answers in real time, with online software like polleverywhere.com.

In 2004, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) adopted standards for educators supporting technology integration instruction to enhance student learning. Their standards highlighted the importance of empowering future educators with the right resources to appropriately teach tomorrow’s technology users.

Because technology is rapidly changing and affects student’s lives in and out of the classroom, it is important that the integration of technology be carefully implemented at a reasonable pace.

In the College of Education and Human Development, Drs. Robin Rackley and Radhika Viruru teach the required Technology Integration in the Elementary classroom course that introduces pre-service teachers to new technological advances and demonstrates creative methods of use.

The main objective of the course is to prepare pre-service teachers to become technology-proficient educators. Technology has the capability to enhance teacher instruction and contribute to student’s overall learning. The course outlines appropriate methods and applications of technology as it relates to K-12 instruction and education. Additionally, there is a focus on current and emerging applications of technology. Toward the end of the semester the course focuses on helping students develop lesson plans to effectively integrate technology into their own classrooms.

 “The class is very important because it focuses on safe and appropriate use of technology integration strategies. We have found that although education students may be comfortable using technology in their every day lives, they are hesitant to integrate it into their teaching practice,” said Viruru. “Overall, the course provides an environment where future educators can experiment, ask questions and measure outcomes for future practice.”

Just as internships help prepare college students across different disciplines, education students who are exposed to technology before entering the classroom as professionals are better prepared. This early exposure to technology can make a difference in the classroom experience for students and teachers.

“For example, apps like Educreation  in which teachers record lessons and allow students to play them back several times as necessary are great for learning,” said Rackley. “This feature also allows students to record themselves working through a problem enabling the teacher to play back the recording and observe students’ thought processes as they work through the lesson. For an educator, this is priceless because they may be able to alter the instruction to better support student learning,” she said. 

Rackley and Viruru often receive feedback from former students once they are actually working in the field. They share how using technology enabled them to vary their instruction so students were less likely to become disengaged from the curriculum.

One of Rackley’s former students shared her student teaching experience with a classroom of fourth-graders with eight mobile tablets assigned to clusters of desks. Students in groups were instructed to use an app like Popplet to produce webgraphs from reading assignments covering the American Revolution. Later, they used the tablets for a science lesson on weather and terrain to collect and organize photos. In this example, the technology was easily adapted for use in varying formats across disciplines.

 While traditional forms of technology, such as projectors and interactive whiteboards are often standard classroom equipment, students who are unable to attend a traditional classroom can take advantage of new technologies from home. 

Outside the classroom, assistive technologies can increase the number of weekly instruction hours that a student receives from their teacher. For some homebound students, the limited hours of in home education services may not be enough. For these students, access to technology and instruction can make a difference in their ability to keep up with assignments or withdrawing from school. 

Schools can also benefit from the use of new technologies during a major illness or outbreak, or to keep students on track during a suspension or long-term illness. 

“Last year we heard from a graduate student in the college. She shared how making podcasts of her lessons impressed parents during a flu epidemic at the school,” said Rackley. “Parents were able to listen to the podcasts with their children to complete the homework assignments before returning to school. In this instance, the podcast turned into a very valuable tool for the teacher, student and parent.”

In 2013 Rackley and Viruru introduced students to an advanced piece of technology for classroom use. Students were treated to a VGo robot demonstration.

The VGo is a computer-operated robot with a camera display that can be physically placed in the classroom for students that are homebound. With a Wi-Fi connection from home students can use computer keyboard arrows and webcam to manipulate the robot around the classroom. By having their face displayed on the VGo camera monitor students are able to have social interactions with classmates and virtually raise their hands to answer questions in class by signaling to the teacher with the VGo light. 

Technologies like the VGo offer a wide range of possibilities and benefits for all students. Elementary-age students, who are still developing cognitive skills, need classroom instruction, and need to participate in the interactions necessary for social development. By having the actual robot in the classroom, it becomes an extension of the student and classmates are still able to interact with them. High school students may benefit from homebound technology by being able to still meet time driven deadlines for college admittance by being able to virtually attend class on a regular basis and not fall behind in instruction.

Another unique aspect of digital learning is that it can create a more inclusive learning environment. Just as there are diverse types of technology, there is diversity in users as well. For students with special needs, technology can enable them to be more independent and fit in with classroom learning and routines. Students with visual or hearing impairments can utilize voice-over for accessibility on Apple devices. Similarly, the VGo robot has assistive technology like text-to-talk, which may be helpful for homebound students who are verbally impaired.

With all the new technology possibilities, there is still some debate among educators on the appropriate use of technology in the classroom and whether or not it creates an environment for inappropriate use. However, teachers who do integrate technology in the classroom point out that most inappropriate actions, like cheating, are usually banned or otherwise covered by school rules. And keeping parents informed and engaged by using permission forms for classroom activities should eliminate concerns about technology abuse (Kolb, Technology in School: A Better Perspective, 2011 ).

As technology advances, many educators are beginning to see mobile devices as valuable resources and not just a distraction. This presents an opportunity to ensure that students’ learning is digitally enhanced inside and outside the classroom for years to come.

For more information contact Robin Rackley at 979.845.8384, rrackley [at] tamu [dot] edu or Radhika Viruru, viruru [at] tamu [dot] edu or Chauncey Cox, Communications Specialist at 979.845.1823, coxch [at] education [dot] tamu [dot] edu