Many of us take technology for granted, whipping out a tablet to write a quick email or pulling out a smartphone to look up driving directions. Even in the classroom, technology is more and more common: many rooms have LED projectors and document cameras, and an increasing number of schools give teachers the option of a SMART Board or personal student devices.

With the push to get computers in the classroom, it’s wise to stop for a moment and assess the effects of this technology. There are certainly downsides, such as potentially shorter attention spans and a huge rise in cyber-bullying. On the other hand, if we look at the academic realm, students are making significant gains as a result of computers and mobile devices. The following are some of the key advantages technology imparts to 21st century learners.

Increased Motivation and Engagement 
The U.S. Department of Education reported that numerous teachers saw a jump in students’ classroom engagement when using technology. Some students who had previously been non-participatory members of the class were willing to participate when presented with a tablet or computer to express knowledge.

Other teachers talked about how students were motivated to learn computational skills because they saw they as applicable to life outside of school; regardless of the fact that they were still doing math or English, students wanted to use the computer. CompTIA, the non-profit association for the IT industry, also reported that 65 percent of educators saw a rise in student productivity. 

More Willingness to Participate 
Technology can often bring shy learners out of their shells. Instead of sharing out loud, a quiet student can post a thought in an online discussion or a shared document, which both allows other students to get that person’s input as well as slowly boosting the learner’s confidence in his or her own ideas.

Especially in middle school, computers can also make collaboration easier. Though it might seem silly, preteens’ social development means that communication between boys and girls can be difficult, and technology can ease that tension. When doing peer editing on an essay, for example, having a tool like Google Docs makes it easer for different genders, or peers from different social groups, to interact. 

Closing the Learning Gap 
Technology also has the power to close the learning gap. A good example of this was seen in an east Texas school district in which science classrooms were outfitted with high-tech document cameras. The cameras, which connected to the computer, could take time-lapse video and pictures, capabilities used in a biology unit on life cycles.

As reported by district teachers, students with limited English proficiency saw particularly large gains as a result of using the new technology. The visuals provided by the cameras, as well as the increased engagement as students operated the technology, meant that both LEP students and native English speakers achieved higher scores on the district science assessment. 

Individualized Learning 
Technology often gives educators the option of further differentiating their teaching, allowing students to work at their own pace. An app that helps students practice math skills in an elementary classroom, for instance, means that students to progress as they are able; they won’t have to sit through a lesson that they already understand. Alternatively, if students are conducting online research, they have a wealth of resources to use, from the simplistic to the complicated. Teachers can adjust requirements and recommendations based on students’ abilities.

Technology also gives teachers tools with which to track student growth, meaning they can further personalize education. By having students submit work online or take formative assessments that provide an instant spreadsheet of responses, teachers can quickly adjust lessons to student needs. 

Confidence Boosters: From Learner to Teacher 
Lastly, technology can benefit students by boosting their confidence. Many students come into school already well-versed in technology; sometimes, students are more knowledgeable than their teachers. Again looking to the report from the DOE, teachers stated that many students were aware of the “value placed upon technology within our culture,” leading them to increased levels of self-esteem when they showed mastery of that technology. That confidence with the tool often translates into more confidence with the academic task set, resulting in increased student learning.

Though not every school has the resources to provide students with personal tablets or computers yet, it’s worth knowing that technology can have a serious impact on your students’ achievements. Whatever the amount of technology in your classroom, make the best of it by empowering students and personalizing their learning as much as possible.

By Danielle Restuccia