The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the education status quo in countless ways, and the reverberations still affect students, teachers and teacher leaders alike. Educators and administrators became dependent on technology to communicate, largely out of necessity. While many educational technologies used then and now are not considered new, the abrupt, unexpected, full-scale adoption the world saw during the pandemic exposed educators and students to their unique benefits and uses.
When the world shifted to emergency remote learning, teacher leaders learned technology integration and differentiation could be powerful tools to improve the classroom. Graduates of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Educational Administration with a Specialization in Teacher Leader program are equipped to apply technologies that support differentiated learning approaches, benefiting teachers and their students.
Effective teacher leaders know that students have distinct learning needs and work to help their teachers and schools tailor instruction with personalized learning experiences. Online adaptive learning platforms are a good example of technology that can adjust the difficulty of tasks based on student performances, ensuring students are challenged at the appropriate level.
Tailoring lessons to individual needs, interests and strengths gives students flexibility and choice. A blog post from Learning A-Z claims personalized learning requires instructional accuracy and must include clearly defined goals and ways students can meet them.
Differentiated instruction in the classroom, which includes technology integration, allows teachers to connect with multiple students simultaneously who might all be learning at different levels.
Varied and Differentiated Instructional Approaches
Technology offers teachers multiple ways to deliver instruction, including videos, interactive simulations and virtual reality experiences. In addition, technology allows teachers to present information in various ways, making it more accessible to students with different learning styles and preferences.
Technology can support differentiated assessment by providing a range of assessment tools such as quizzes, self-assessments and peer feedback. These resources allow teachers to evaluate student learning in various ways and tailor feedback to individual needs. However, there is some confusion surrounding the definition of differentiated instruction.
A new article posted online about what is and is not differentiated instruction suggests that it is not about creating an individual plan for every student, as some might assume. Instead, differentiated instruction should be more about students working in appropriate groups based on readiness, choice, skill level and interests. Teacher leaders must work with teachers to establish effective differentiated instruction practices and technologies to expand their ability to meet students’ individual needs.
One of the main lessons learned from the pandemic was that technology is critical in facilitating collaborative learning. A new Brookings essay, the first in a series to help improve education worldwide, focuses on how education technology can improve learning for everyone. It suggests educators, learners and parents collaborate specifically around instructional materials. As teacher leaders often work as department heads, program coordinators and even in community outreach roles, they can establish lines of communication between educators and parents. This can involve coaching teachers to explain learning technology trends or taking more direct action, such as speaking directly to parents or through administrative channels.
Educators agree that technology facilitates collaborative learning by enabling students to cooperate on projects, share ideas and give feedback. This cooperation can help students learn from one another and develop social skills.
Still, technology can feel alien to parents and foreign to others who may not understand it. Without effective collaboration and communication among all parties, new technology programs can and do fail — not because the technology was faulty but because communications were ineffective and the technology was misused.
Access to Resources
Managing technology integration in the classroom is as important as making sure students have access to the necessary resources. Technology can provide students access to several learning aids, including online libraries, digital textbooks and multimedia content. This enables students to learn at their own pace and explore topics that interest them.
There is much noise surrounding educational technology. Differentiating between what is top quality and what is junk can be challenging. An Edutopia post offers advice on managing technology integration, including three things to consider:
- Will it expand communications between students and collaborators?
- How does it expand the possibility of student choice?
- Will it enhance assessments, and if so, how?
Educators agree these digital tools enhance teaching and can offer a check on digital activity. However, they caution that technology does not tell the whole picture of a student. To effectively integrate technology for differentiation, teachers need to receive appropriate training and support from teacher leaders to understand how to use technology effectively and to select suitable tools and resources that meet the needs of their students from different cultural and social backgrounds.
Teacher leaders interested in exploring how to more intentionally integrate educational technologies and help their teachers to differentiate and improve instruction and learning opportunities in the modern, in-person classroom might consider SIUE’s online MSEd in Educational Administration with a Specialization in Teacher Leader program. Program students will further explore the integration and function of learning technologies in courses such as Computers in Education: Theory and Practice and Emerging Technologies in Education.