The pandemic has had a significant impact on students' learning.
In fact, according to some research, students finished the 2020-2021 school year with lower achievement scores in both math and reading, with minority and high-poverty groups seeing the largest decline. As educators and administrators across the country work to fill the education gap, they're relying more and more on educational technology or EdTech.
Technology's role in education has transitioned to a fundamental component of instruction, engagement, and collaboration, says Elio DiStaola, Strategic Communications Lead at EdTech company RedShelf.
“The pandemic accelerated what many have labeled ‘the digital transformation of education. New tech tools are being introduced by the bucketful as schools at all levels scurry to identify solutions that secure educational continuity,” DiStaola says.
Here's how EdTech is transforming teacher-led instruction in and out of the classroom.
Academic Assessment Tools
Technology has secured access to new, much-needed academic assessment data that can improve learning and inform teaching, says DiStaola. “That data is now providing a great value in measuring student success both individually and at the classroom level,” he says.
According to Matthew Mugo Fields, an EdTech expert and General Manager of Supplemental and Intervention Solutions at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), traditional academic assessments have lapsed, and educators aren't able to prescribe the appropriate instructional and curricular responses to the varying needs of their students.
That's where computer-adaptive assessments come in, increasing the visibility of learning gaps among the student population, says Mugo Fields. For example, HMH leverages AI and speech recognition technologies to conduct oral fluency assessments that provide educators with a precise understanding of a learner's individual literacy skills.
“Once you have that visibility, you can make sure sure that students are being exposed to the curriculum materials, or instructional solutions, that are responsive to their needs,” they explained.
According to FutureEd, 40 percent of schools plan to spend some of their federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) funds on academic tutoring, says Nadine Levitt, an EdTech expert & Founder of WURRLYedu.
“This has increased the value of platforms with formative assessment tools, such as those that provide data on where kids are now with projections for where they need to be. School districts seem to be planning to spend their ESSER funds on online tutors and credit recovery programs to give students the best opportunity to thrive,” Levitt says.
EdTech Increases Personalization of Curricula
Pre-pandemic, the average classroom consisted of 25-30 students with various learning needs, and that diversity has only been amplified due to Covid-19, says Mugo Fields. Though some students stayed on track, many experienced varying levels of academic loss. Now, a teacher's students could be on five completely different grade levels.
“That kind of variation begs for solutions that allow for a level of personalization, and HMH is focused on providing adaptive, supplemental curricula and intervention solutions that work for teachers in the classroom,” says Mugo Fields.
Instructors can collect data with digital course materials and then course-correct in real-time, says DiStaola. For example, data can highlight students who have tuned out, allowing an instructor to reach out individually to students and help them re-engage with the class.
In addition, broader class trends can help the instructor identify where confusion may have arisen, addressing learning gaps in real-time or in the following class lecture, according to DiStaola.
Virtual reality can also be used in learning, says Levitt. “When students feel something as they learn, they are much more likely to retain that information. For example, instead of simply reading about Egyptian pyramids, why not give students the opportunity to actually explore them?” Levitt says.
EdTech's Role in Teacher Professional Learning
More attention needs to be placed on teachers, says Levitt. “Issues relating to teacher wellbeing and retention could be one of the greatest threats to our public education system and were a big driver for us when we created our free teacher wellbeing program. We leveraged technology in order to provide the much-needed flexibility for teachers to be able to access these tools as they found the time,” Levitt says. That flexibility allows WURRLYedu to serve as many teachers as possible.
Teachers' professional learning is another primary concern among schools across the country, says Mugo Fields. “Professional development, or teacher training, is one of the key areas that we've seen an explosion of. Teachers and leaders are really liking the idea of on-demand access to professional learning when they want it – it's a lot better for many of them than sitting in a public auditorium or a cafeteria for hours on end,” Mugo Fields says.
HMH also coaches teachers by observing them in the classroom and giving them feedback. “Thanks to the magic of smartphones and Chromebooks, it can be done virtually,” says Mugo Fields.
The pandemic has been a great challenge on many different levels for educators — that can't be overstated, says Mugo Fields. “But even as we acknowledge all the pain and the challenges, it's also an inflection point in the shift in how education is taking place. People are beginning to use powerful new technologies in ways that they didn't in the past,” he says.
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