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Teachers Do More Than Teach in Today’s Digital World

5 Oct 2015 by Teresa Meek

Oct. 5 was World Teachers’ Day, and we should be prouder than ever of today’s teachers, who have had to navigate a steep learning curve as technology has become an essential part of education.

Stepping into today’s classroom may not feel like a culture shock — there are tablets, smartphones and laptops, yes — but there are also whiteboards, desks, books and teachers, just as there always were.

But behind the scenes, digital technology has forever changed the ways students absorb and interact with new information.

Despite financial pressures, school administrations perceive great value in technology and are continuing to increase their investment. Funding for education technology jumped 55% in 2014, and education technology companies are now valued at nearly $1 billion. The global online learning market is headed toward $107 billion this year.

Flipping the classroom

One common digital technique is “flipping the classroom,” in which students watch prerecorded videos of lectures on their own instead of sitting through them in a classroom or lecture hall.

Today’s flipping goes beyond teachers posting videos that students watch passively. Instead, videos are set to pause while students answer questions or solve problems, making the learning interactive and providing instant feedback. Students can also go over parts of the video they don’t understand before arriving in the classroom, which is used as a live interactive forum for deeper questions and discussion.

Today’s advanced technology allows teachers to create more sophisticated videos using whiteboard apps or screencasting tools like Camtasia, Screencast-O-Matic, SnagIt, or Office Mix to combine their lectures with simultaneous online text, documents, diagrams and illustrations.

Flipped learning is more than a convenient teaching method — it takes students to deeper levels of learning and engagement, some educators believe.

The huge popularity of flipped classrooms led to the creation of the not-for-profit Khan Academy, which offers an online curriculum in math, computer science and other subjects. Many students use it as a supplement to classes they take in school.

Blended learning

Blended learning, in which classroom education is blended with Internet research or online courses, started back in the early Internet days of the 1990s and is widespread today.

Blended learning allows students to study subjects online that might not be available at their school — Chinese, for example. For regular classes, it extends students’ knowledge beyond the textbook and the lesson plan.

According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, blended learning is not about technology; it is about a shift in the instructional model to personalized, student-centered learning.

For teachers, it means not just adding computers to the menu, but changing their role from lecturer to “coach, concierge, guide and mentor,” the organization says. In addition to providing students with knowledge that they learn at their own pace, blended learning teaches them to be self-directed — an important skill for today’s workforce.

Research and remote learning

Online, students can not only receive an education, they can contribute to real scientific investigations on sites like Zooniverse, which allows volunteers to assist researchers examining topics from fossils to time warp.

Digital learning is not just for advanced countries. In the developing world, up to 52 million children are unable to attend elementary school because of a lack of teachers or other problems. In India, Africa and other places, nonprofits are setting up remote learning centers to open the doors of education to impoverished students.

Teachers who use digital formats must instruct students about safe online practices such as guarding against phishing and cyberattacks, and avoiding cyber bullying and copyright infringement.

None of these subjects were part of their teaching curriculum — but today’s teachers are catching on fast.