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5 Ways Technology Can Accelerate Student Learning

A new report from What Works Clearinghouse digs into how technology can support postsecondary education practices.

The U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse has released a set of recommendations for how higher education institutions can use technology to boost student success. The guide is designed to help instructors, instructional designers and administrators with retaining students by providing them with five evidence-based recommendations for supporting learning through the effective use of technology. Each of the recommendations is explained below in detail.

1) Increasing Interaction Between Students and Instructors

When it comes to engaging students, the WWC report recommends that instructors use communication and collaboration tools to help build a sense of community and foster social learning. For example, the Schools App from TargetX allows students to share questions or ideas, form a study group and connect with their peers or staff privately or through group messages.

Schools App from TargetX

When adopting new technology, learning objectives, student preferences and level of access should be considered. At the beginning of the semester, instructors can survey students on their use of technologies and then incorporate tools that students are already using.

Instructors also need to make their expectations clear for when and how students should use collaboration tools. The report recommends that instructors should check with other instructors and staff to determine what collaboration technologies are already available.

Finally, instructors should monitor student participation and provide feedback as needed. They should also assess what is working and not working for students.

2) Creating Personalized Digital Resources for Instruction

In order for higher education institutions to leverage technology to help students learn productively, the WWC report recommends varying, blending or accelerating course formats and packing course content to minimize costs, maximize accessibility and accommodate different learning preferences.

When it comes to applying different types of technology in the classroom, instructors should ensure that course content is carefully packaged and sequenced and use technology to support student learning. Instructors also need to clearly communicate expectations for what students should do during the course, especially when it comes to delivering lessons through different types of learning models, such as blended learning or flipped classrooms. Instructors and department heads also need to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of course formats and multimedia to deliver content.

The report offers one solution to help guide the selection of technology tools: Pedagogy First. The tool was created by Grand Canyon University's Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching and it provides a decision tree to help instructors select a specific technology that meets their pedagogical needs.

Grand Canyon University Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching Pedagogy First tool

3) Fostering Self-Regulated Learning Strategies

To help students take control of their own learning environments and self-direct their engagement with course content, the WWC report recommends using self-regulated technology learning tools. For instance, technology can be used for goal setting, self-monitoring, self-evaluating and self-correcting, and time planning and management.

The report suggests selecting tools and technologies that serve as scaffolds to help students apply self-regulated learning strategies. Instructors should also model how to use self-regulated learning strategies and provide students opportunities to practice self-regulated learning strategies using technology.

When it comes to maximizing the potential of self-regulated learning strategies, the report recommends selecting technologies that feature tutoring or mentoring components. Instructors should also determine whether the selected technologies are being used effectively to support students in their use of self-regulated learning strategies.

As an example, in order to monitor student progress, the University of Maryland Baltimore County has developed a Check My Activity tool that allows learners to compare their level of activity in Blackboard Learn against an anonymous summary of their course peers. The goal is to encourage students to spend more time engaging with course materials and developing effective study habits.

University of Maryland Baltimore County Check My Activity tool

4) Providing Targeted Feedback

Technology can also provide instructors with the ability to give timely and targeted feedback to students on their performance. Automated student response systems, for example, give students the ability to respond to questions and check their answers to see how they compare to their peers.

When it comes determining what types of technology can provide the most feedback, the report recommends determining which course segments or content would benefit the most. Once the evaluation of different technologies is complete, instructors can strategically incorporate feedback technologies into the course.

To help provide the most targeted learning opportunities, instructors should design questions that align with the desired learning objectives and use feedback data to inform instruction and help students to guide their learning. In addition, the report suggests that instructors, instructional designers and software developers should collaborate to adopt and integrate new technologies.

5) Engaging Students Through Simulated Technology

As learning technologies continue to evolve, instructors should engage with emerging technologies such as computer simulations, game-based learning and virtual reality environments, according to the WWC report. First, instructors need to assess whether a course offers the appropriate context for using technologies that simulate complex problems to promote higher-order thinking and problem skills. Then learning objectives should be established and activities should be selected with the right level of complexity.

Students should be provided with expectations for each simulated learning activity and get support to ensure that they feel comfortable in the new learning environment. Lastly, instructors should lead students in a reflective discussion to help them evaluate their own learning.

All of these recommendations are designed to help students and teachers get the most out of using technology in the classroom. The full report can be found here.

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