Everyone likes choices.
Teachers especially appreciate having options to accommodate the needs of their students. Today, the choices for instruction include an endless selection of apps for every purpose imaginable. Movement toward personalized learning that allows for student preference and keeps students engaged has led to a proliferation of apps that boast of specialized, customized, and interactive features, and teachers must be familiar with a large array of these tools and their purposes in order to select the most appropriate for the task.
But we often don’t have a choice about what type of hardware is deployed in the classroom, from the devices that students and teachers are using, to the type of projection displays in the classroom.
But even as the hardware choices for teachers may be narrow, one piece of instructional technology that has become more universal in nature despite that fact is the interactive flat panel displays now being utilized within many classrooms. Teachers can connect a range of devices by way of a choice of connection methods depending on the needs of the lesson, the needs of the students, or the preference of the teacher.
In addition, these universal interactive panels allow teachers to take advantage of the growing number of web-based presentation apps that can work on a variety of student and teacher devices, opening up the ability to collaborate with a wider audience and providing students with content delivered in an individualized setting.
Two popular apps for creating and delivering interactive presentations are ClassFlow and Nearpod. These apps are accessible on any device, for teacher and student. Students in the same room participating in the same lesson need not be on the same network or even the same type of device in order for all to collaborate. But the primary function of these apps that differentiates them from a traditional slidedeck-style presentation is the ability for the teacher to cast live content directly to the individual student device.
This can be useful for the teacher to control the flow of the lesson, allowing students to have direct access to the interactive materials embedded, while hindering distraction by directing their attention to a slide. Teachers can annotate or add content that can be automatically sent to the whole class or to individual students. Both apps also include the ability to embed standard document and slidedeck files that teachers frequently create, with Classflow also allowing teachers to import some proprietary file types for conversion. Both tools also offer a variety of quick, easy-to-create, and engaging app-specific activities that students can interact with during the delivery of the lesson.
With the support of these direct-to-device presentation casting tools, a teacher can create a classroom environment with a variety of seating options. Classrooms with seats arranged in straight, front-facing rows in order to passively observe the teacher are no longer necessary or ideal. Learning environments have evolved to include flexible seating options of desks arranged in pairs and small groups, and even some true “flexible,” non-traditional seating such as bean bag chairs or yoga balls. These seating arrangements need not directly face the “sage on the stage” in the front of the room, since these apps will deliver the content directly to the student’s device, wherever they are sitting and whatever direction they are facing.
Even with all the advanced features that these interactive apps have to offer, there will always be a situation where the simplest tool is best fit for the task. In cases where a substitute teacher may not have access to the class materials, or when just a quick sketch is needed to explain a concept, a board’s built-in whiteboard feature will do the job. Move this concept of a quick jot to the cloud, and Google Jamboard will easily upgrade the annotation by making it shareable.
These quick, primarily handwritten notes and explanations, automatically saved in the Google Drive, can easily be exported for use in other student resource tools such as a learning management system, where an absent student could still be a part of the moment captured in the classroom that they missed. Other apps used for this purpose may save to a proprietary file type or may require a few more steps and a USB drive to save and share annotations. Using the right web-based tool can take content from static to dynamic with the flick of a soft-tipped flat-panel pen.
Teachers must carefully consider the platform in which they invest their time into developing materials, as technology changes quickly and proprietary file types can unexpectedly become obsolete, leaving teachers in a lurch and looking for ways to salvage instructional materials no longer compatible with the hardware they have available. Taking advantage of the constantly updated and intuitive interfaces of web-based apps and moving toward a mindset of open-source materials will go a long way for teachers trying to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of instructional technology tools, giving teachers the freedom to make choices about their instruction that is in the best interests of the learners they serve.
Written by Amber Nordwall. Amber is an Instructional Technology Specialist at Plaza Middle, an IB World School, in Virginia Beach, VA.