One big result of the pandemic is that it is spurring many schools to embrace technology in deeper and more sustained ways than ever before. What’s driving that momentum?
To begin with, digital learning devices have become way more common in classrooms and students’ homes, thanks in part to billions of dollars in federal relief funds. Nearly half of the educators—49 percent—identified improved access to laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets as a major boost to their expanded use of education technology in the classroom, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey of 888 teachers, principals, and district leaders, conducted Jan. 26 to Feb. 7.
Almost as many teachers, principals, and district leaders—46 percent—said teachers’ new facility with technology has been highly beneficial for teaching and learning. And nearly a third said the increased focus on digital teaching skills has prompted them to try new tools and strategies.
In the summer of 2020, when it became painfully clear that the pandemic and virtual learning would continue for a while, Mark Ryan, the superintendent of the North Valley Military Institute, a charter school in Southern California, gave his teachers the opportunity to earn certificates in online teaching from a local university. Nearly two-thirds took him up on the offer.
During the training, teachers discovered some tools they found particularly helpful and pushed for broader use of them at the school. One particularly popular tool among teachers was Nearpod, a digital student-engagement platform with features such as embedded quizzes, games, and polls.
Now, Ryan said, he regularly sees his teachers giving online quizzes, using virtual lab software, electronic textbooks, and a digital annotation tool. “In many ways, it’s just much easier” than traditional teaching methods, he said.
Virtual learning during the pandemic and its emphasis on the use of technology helped reinvigorate Douglas DiStefano, a kindergarten teacher in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., who has been in the classroom for more than two decades.
He grew more familiar with programs like Seesaw, a digital platform that helps teachers, students, and parents share classroom work. Now that school is back in person, he’s using the tool to differentiate instruction and as an independent workstation for kids who need enrichment. He creates lessons for students to take home if they are ready for higher-level 1st or 2nd grade work or need extra help recognizing letters and sounding them out. And he’s planning to ask his students to record videos for a classroom assignment, something he’s never tried before with kindergartners.
DiStefano credits his district, including an “excellent” tech-support coach, for his progress. For him, getting to learn more about tech “was absolutely wonderful. I dug in, and I loved it.”