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Six Ideas for Utilizing Technology to Teach

When I recently spoke to a group of eight students ages 17 to 22, I asked them what the biggest surprise was that they received since returning home to finish the semester online. I got my own surprise from most of them. Their top answer?

How little their teacher knew about online learning. 

Apparently, many faculty members struggled to get up to speed using a laptop or desktop to deliver their curriculum. Many had never taught anything using a screen unless it was a screen in a live classroom. Several students in my virtual discussion said they waited hours for their instructors to get up to speed. One student told me his teacher never managed to do it and ended up texting the assignments to his students. 

Obviously, the computer and smartphone were second nature to these Generation Z students. In fact, for many of them, school will never be the same. While they get bored faster in their current environments, they love the autonomy they are experiencing, and many are declaring they plan to learn online going forward. When my son, Jonathan, was a college student, he told me he preferred online learning, not because it was fun but because it was fast and in his control.

How will this COVID-19 pandemic change the way teachers teach and students learn?

What the Numbers Tell Us

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, one in six high school seniors who planned to attend a fouryear college full time no longer do. Why do they say this? The most prevalent reason is cost. Twenty-one percent of those students said it may “no longer be affordable for my family” because of the coronavirus. The second reason is, they’re now seeing how comfortable learning online can be. It’s as though the coronavirus has opened their eyes to new possibilities. 

The American Council on Education predicts college enrollment could drop by 15 percent this next school year, which could lead to a $23 billion revenue loss for universities. And if the global pandemic forces schools to hold classes virtually this fall, is college really worth the cost? 

Six Ideas to Utilize Technology to Teach

I believe the handwriting is on the wall.  While I prefer engaging students face to face, both educators and parents must get comfortable leveraging technology. This has been coming for years; the pandemic just sped up the inevitable. So, let me offer a simple list of to-dos to as you engage learners through technology:

1. Mix up your platforms.

If you’re delivering an academic curriculum, you obviously must use a consistent platform. However, to keep students engaged, leverage as many formats as you can. For example, Zoom allows you to host a larger number of students but then break into “rooms” for smaller group discussions. You may want to also use Instagram and Marco Polo to post videos and other content for students to see and comment on.

2. Begin with personal interests.

A big mistake some educators make is jumping immediately into the curriculum. I suggest you first engage students on a personal level. Find ways to check on how they’re doing; ask them to respond privately if they prefer. Launching into personal issues first earns you the right to engage them afterward. In short, look out for their interests or needs and they’ll be more apt to lean into your desires for the learning experience.

3. Gamify your experience early.

The educators I know who are crushing their online classrooms use games and even gamify the learning experience. I know an elementary school teacher who is not tech savvy but who learned to play her students’ favorite game with them. Google Hangouts allows you to use video calls, photos, and emojis. Transforming the experience on a screen to a friendly competition increases student engagement.

4. Create constant content.

Check out your students’ favorite social media apps. I bet you’ll discover they are platforms that push out content all the time. Many are only about entertainment but, all the same, they’re keeping their young “customers” engaged. Push out daily content to your students that accents your lessons. Get them looking forward to your posts. Leverage videos as much as possible, even if it is a bonus to classroom time.

5. Make big feel small.

Teaching online may mean you must change your style. Late-night comedians are struggling with this, as they broadcast from their homes. You should be more laid back, more conversational, and utilize small “rooms” for conversation, like Zoom offers. Digital learning works best when students feel like it’s personal and tailored for them.

6. Get them online to get them offline.

Digital learning requires us to shift our focus from memorization to application. Our goal should be to get them engaged online so we can get them engaged offline, actually applying what they’ve learned and discussed digitally. Assignments should be more than writing papers or circling letters on a multiple-choice test. For example, if you teach empathy in your social and emotional learning lesson, assign students the task of showing empathy creatively to a family member. This is what makes online learning work.

David Geurin said, “Classrooms don’t need tech geeks who can teach; we need teaching geeks who can use tech.”  Let’s engage these “screenagers” so they become better people.


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  2. Lori Vandeventer on May 26, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    After several years of reading and purchasing his content, I know that I respect and value Mr. Elmore’s work, but this article hit me wrong. I waited to see if my reaction was based on my stress level from being a senior class sponsor and dealing with dual-credit English classes and graduation issues during a pandemic, but I still feel the same even with passing days and a few more times of reading the article. Basically, one part of the piece, the list of how to do online school well, bothered me.

    I don’t mean to bury my head in the sand with the new demands because I like using technology, and I’m fairly decent with it. (My entire second semester curriculum was already online from day 1 because part of my objective is to teach seniors how to be college kids.) Still, we need to be careful with online instruction. I am concerned for the students who don’t have proper support. I didn’t have to face it, but many of my colleagues (from many different districts) had huge percentages of their students just never log on. Never connect. No shows. So, I know there is evidence on both sides that virtual learning is positive and negative. I know this new reality has to be met with creative and serious reform.

    Next, I completely agree with Mr. Elmore that kids will choose community college or won’t go at all to save money and to explore other options if school is online in the fall. Students in my life are also exploring new options they didn’t even consider before March 13. School, like all of life, will look different as we all open again.

    The ideas that offended me come from the list of suggestions for teachers. Even in the virtual classroom, I don’t see the value of my being an entertainer and turning every lesson into something resembling a TED talk or a media influencer. Mixing platforms, gamifying, creating constant content, and tailoring every part of my curriculum is impossible. Self-contained teachers have to prepare every subject. Content teachers have to prepare 3-4 courses. Even as a person with a fair amount of experience and my courses already online, there’s no way I could keep up with these suggestions. I found the ideas a bit out of touch, which also made me sad because Mr. Elmore is usually relevant and helpful. The attention gaining strategy that Mr. Elmore employs to open his article explains how some teachers do not have the expertise to perform basic tasks with an online classroom. How does it make sense to move from the introduction exposing the teachers who can’t use technology to saying teachers need to constantly create and post videos, develop competitions and games, and personalize or tailor all of this content to make students feel engaged? This is quite a jump in expected skill sets.

    I think about new teachers who don’t yet have a handle on the rigor of curriculum and who might simply develop games or various platform videos. I think about veteran teachers who struggle like the ones Elmore discusses in the beginning of his article. I think of how students will react to these suggestions. How will the deep thinking happen if the words of teachers are no more valuable than the quick scroll past any other advertisement or joke video? I wonder how Mr. Elmore’s words will sway parental expectations for teachers as we move into the next school year. No one places our own bar higher for us than effective teachers who are putting curriculum online for virtual classes, but I’m afraid this message will influence the uninformed to think teachers suddenly need to be Jimmy Fallon. I know Mr. Elmore probably meant for each idea to be used occasionally to spice up the lessons, but that’s not how it reads.

    I am hopeful that Mr. Elmore will encourage decisions and professional development opportunities that will lead all teachers to create precision content, focusing on the skills we need our students to know. I depend on Mr. Elmore to share his valued opinions and suggestions concerning the young adults in our world with those of us who sit on the other side of the Zoom meeting as well as the other side of the classroom with these bright and talented minds. I felt challenged thinking through this idea as I plan how to approach my classroom for next August, and I appreciate Mr. Elmore’s intent. I hope that the suggestions are taken in the right spirit.

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  5. Emily Grace on June 25, 2020 at 5:26 am

    Great insights. Thanks for sharing.

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Six Ideas for Utilizing Technology to Teach