Teachers with dispositions of empathy and inclusion can still struggle to merge technology into already-effective lessons. Advocates of blended learning embrace technology as the key to critical thinking (Pulham & Graham, 2018). While student growth is the primary objective to learning, technology is secondary. Online and blended education promote exploration and decision-making, enrich learning opportunities, and encourage collaboration among students (Pulham & Graham, 2018; Thomas, 2022). This blog explores why effective teachers may hesitate to flip their classrooms and offers three low-prep strategies to boost critical thinking with digital tools that even a technophobe can handle.
As seasoned teachers, we view technology as a tool. The web makes communication quick and simple, gives us access to the information we need, and helps us stay organized and efficient. To our students, the internet is a place. Our students are so immersed in their digital world that it seems to give credence to the multiverse theory. Students today befriend robots (https://youtu.be/1HplF1SeqSI), visit virtual destinations, socialize through gaming, and carry more powerful technology in their pockets than the astronauts saw on the Saturn V (National Air and Space Administration [NASA], 2013).
Students have discovered how to solve math problems (https://photomath.com/) and correct their grammar (https://app.grammarly.com/) online, much to the chagrin of their teachers, who work hard to help students tackle those challenges on their own. What’s more, students need human interaction and hands-on experiential learning. Our tried-and-true “unplugged” lessons have yielded positive results and academic growth for ages. And, the technology we introduced years ago still works. So, why should we change what has worked in our classrooms for decades? Aren’t the students getting enough screen time on their own?
Our students spend plenty of time in the digital universe outside of school. Still, as educators who aim to prepare our students for the real world, it serves our students better to help them develop the skills and critical thinking they need to explore their digital world. Educational technology aims to foster learning through inquiry, empower students as decision-makers, and encourage meaningful collaboration (Richardson, 2019; Thomas, 2022). Here are three simple ways to integrate these essential tech skills into your teaching right away, even if you are not tech-savvy:
Ask three before me
Most of us have seen some version of this concept before. The idea is to encourage students to develop self-management and relationship skills by asking them to turn to another student who may have the answer before coming to the teacher for help. Instead of asking your students to find three classmates who might know how to assist, consider flipping the mantra. Provide your students an opportunity to become empowered learners who develop safe web-searching skills and understand when and how to use the plethora of information available to them online (see Figure 1).
Note. Image by Heather Dowd for the Noun Project. Retrieved from Twitter.com [@heza] (2018).
Choose your medium
Allow your students to select how they wish to respond to the next journal prompt, do-now, math challenge, current event project, essay assignment, etc. (see Figure 2). For example, instead of the traditional written response on a word processing document, why not allow your students to create an infographic using Google Drawings or a slide deck highlighting the main points? Perhaps you have students who would enjoy the challenge of integrating formulas or graphs using a spreadsheet. Or, students may best represent their understanding of the material by making a video screencast or drawing a concept map on paper after watching the video prompt online. To boost critical thinking, you can add the constraint of allowing students to choose each medium a maximum number of times. Giving your students choices in how they wish to express what they learned through the medium that works for them affords students a sense of ownership and agency in their learning (Richardson, 2019; Tomlinson, 2019). It helps students become creative communicators and build self-awareness as they learn how to use different media to express their ideas.
Google Workspace Applications
Note. From Google Guides [Image], by EdTechTeacher (n.d.). All rights reserved.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many teachers continue welcoming the convenience and structure of a learning management system (LMS) like Google Classroom. Consider using the LMS as a safe space where students learn how to engage in social media with a “Tell-it Tuesday (Keeler, 2020).” Students are vulnerable to cyberbullying, security threats, and regretful choices in cyberspace. Students need to learn how to behave in their digital domain. It is difficult for students to do this when they cannot access traditional social media accounts before age 13 when they suddenly have a global audience.
We can help students learn responsible decision-making, social awareness, and digital citizenship—essential skills for their future success as global collaborators—through regular engagement in the LMS. Consider adding “Tell-it Tuesday” to your routine. One day per week, allow your students to use the stream in your LMS as a social media platform (Keeler, 2020). Students can post photos, jokes, stories, you name it! Teachers monitor the stream, and students have a safe space where they learn to engage with peers in a virtual setting.
Technology is everywhere. It is here to stay. Let us launch our creativity and boost critical thinking while teaching students to be informed citizens in the digital realm. Technology is the vehicle to facilitate learning through inquiry, decision-making, and collaboration.
NCU doctoral student
School of Education, Curriculum & Teaching Specialization
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National Air and Space Administration (NASA). (2013). Your Device has More Computing Power. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/multimedia/vgrmemory.html#.Yk...
Pulham, E., & Graham, C. R. (2018). Comparing K-12 online and blended teaching competencies: a literature review. Distance Education, 39(3), 411–432.
Richardson, W. (2019). Sparking Student Agency with Technology: Why should kids have to wait until after school to do amazing things with technology? Educational Leadership, 76(5), 12–18.
Thomas, M. (2022). Amplifying Student Inquiry: CS and Robotics. In Rhodes, M. & Lim, B. (Eds.), Amplify Learning: A Global Collaborative. [manuscript in preparation] Edumatch Publishing.
Tomlinson, C. (2019). Diving beneath the surface: Using ed tech effectively requires a second-order change. Educational Leadership, 76(5), 88–89.
Dowd, H. [@heza]. (2018, November 7). A2: #Ask3B4Me! Ask 3 before me helps students solve their own problems without relying solely on the teacher. It teaches perseverance and grit! Download a copy here: https://t.co/1XKxj1WnV0 #EduSlam #CMDigitalAge [Thumbnail with link attached] [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/heza/status/1060331567476826113/photo/1
EdTechTeacher. (n.d.). Google & Chrome Apps. Retrieved from https://edtechteacher.org/google-guides/