5 Keys to Teaching with Effective Tech Tools

The Fred Rogers Center and NAEYC offer recommendations in report titled Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.

It’s easy for educators to feel overwhelmed by the constant influx of new tech tools. Each day seems to bring with it new digital devices, new apps and new policies for technology integration. With so many voices adding their products and opinions to the dialog, it can be hard for teachers and parents to discern valuable materials and practices from those that are simply a waste of time. To help, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (or NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College have released a guide that they’ve titled Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.

The comprehensive report is packed with fifteen pages of research and insight, and we encourage you to read it in full. In addition to offering suggestions to policy makers, the report addresses what are probably some of the most important questions regarding technology integration in education — namely, how can parents and teachers make the most of tech tools, and what qualities should we look for when measuring the efficacy of these devices? To help answer those questions, here are some of the points made in the report that tell us what effective tech tools should do.

1. Balance. Mobile apps, computer programs, tablets, e-books — tech tools can take many shapes and each can play an effective role in learning, but only if their use is balanced against other educational and developmental needs. For example, tech tools should never be used to replace creative play, social interaction or parent-child relationships.

2. Connect. Used correctly, tech tools can build bridges. Social media and other digital materials can help educators connect and engage parents in the learning process. These instruments and teaching strategies can also create a more holistic learning experience by linking classroom activities to at-home or informal education. The most effective tech tools help students become more connected, not more isolated.

3. Adapt. Instead of relying on unverifiable claims from new apps, software programs or games, teachers should judge the value of new tech tools by how students interact with them. When it comes to digital learning devices, one size does not fit all, and educators should keep in mind that a single device or program may not be suitable for every child. Instead, they should adapt lesson plans and teaching strategies to utilize these materials in a way that works best for each student, including those with special needs and learning disorders.

4. Blend. Technology integration works best when new tools are incorporated seamlessly. The use of new devices should be so natural that these materials become transparent, putting the focus on the lessons learned instead of the mode of learning. It’s important for educators to challenge themselves to ensure they don’t adopt new teaching strategies and tools simply because of their novelty or buzz, but rather because, when weighed against traditional learning instruments, they’re more engaging and effective.

5. Illuminate. The tech tools we use must reach beyond the subjects they aim to teach. Teachers and parents should wield these tools in ways which help students grow in their knowledge of digital literacy and their understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen. The social and psychological aspects of social networking and related learning materials need to be addressed and understood, not just by educators but by students as well.

As teaching technology continues to evolve, so will our understanding of how to best put tech tools to use. It’s a conversation with a conclusion we may never fully reach, but the recent statement published by the NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center offers some key points to help guide the discussion. How do your experiences with technology integration align with the points set forth by this guide? Stop by our Facebook page to share your insights with the Spark Network.

Published June 28, 2012