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Technology As an Instructional Tool

Bruce Oliver

Bruce facilitating a Leading the Learning® workshop


The use of technology continues to take a front row seat in schools and districts across the country. This issue, the second in a series of Just for the ASKing! issues focused on navigating the digital teaching and learning world, features descriptions of the work of educators who are seeing the impact of technology on student achievement… through those educators own voices.

A number of technology enthusiasts graciously agreed to provide insights into their work. These practitioners come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and are intimately involved with the use of technology in schools on an everyday basis. To learn more about their work, we posed a question designed to get at the heart of their practice in the use of technology as an instructional tool. The question and snippets from their responses follow.

What technological tools and applications
have you used or seen used that have made the greatest impact
on student learning in rigorous and relevant ways?

Karen Finter, Science Supervisor and Certified Local Trainer (CLT) for Just ASK’s Instruction for All Students workshop series, West Irondequoit Central School District, Rochester, New York, feels that there are numerous resources that can impact student learning but says that it is dependent on how these tools are used. She recommends “something as simple as GoogleDocs as a way to provide the digital workspace to foster collaboration, communication, the strategic placement of teacher feedback, and the tracking of the application of that feedback by students.” She further advocates “communication outward to students and families” and has found a vast repository of resources including videos, classroom lectures, photos, and digital prints that support student learning outside the classroom. She cautions that teachers “have to be sure that the resources are high quality and are at the appropriate level.” A final recommendation that improves student achievement is the use of formative assessment tools such as clickers, Poll Everywhere, and Castle Learning as ways to formatively assess student progress.

RM Pellant, Principal of the International School of Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, writes that “Without a doubt, web 2.0 apps and cloud storage have had the greatest impact on me as an educator, integrator, and administrator.” RM continues, “Our students live and breathe technology today. If the use of technology is supposed to be as ubiquitous as air, the proper workflow using GoogleApps is a paramount step in the right direction.” He further espouses the use of GoogleDocs to “keep students organized and allow them to access their materials no matter what computer they are on. They can use online spreadsheets to keep track of surveys and use the presentation tool to deliver the information they’ve collected.”

Laura Jones, Technology Specialist and Nationally Board Certified Teacher, McNair Elementary School, Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia, feels that the use of interactive response systems has resulted in a sea of change in the learning of the students in her very diverse school. To promote learning as well as improve achievement tests scores, Laura shares that her school “built questions that reflect the standards and benchmarks of the state,” and then linked these questions to an electronic data wall that was built by a teacher in the school. She notes, “…teachers can use both formative and summative assessments… while collecting valuable and accurate data that is stored and available for later analysis.” Even more exciting, Laura has found that the use of the response system has led to “deep discussions by the students.” She explains, “Because the system creates an immediate visual response, the students can see the spread of responses to the question and can discuss why certain answers were chosen, look at misconceptions, and analyze why the correct answer is correct.”

Stu Smith, Math Teacher, Barker Road Middle School, Pittsford Central School District, New York, takes the time to seek out and evaluate resources that can make a difference in student learning. He says, “In my opinion, the greatest impact on student learning continues to come via the Internet. Educators, parents, and students now have instant access to information through their computers, smart phones, tablets, iPods, and smart TVs.” Among the many options that exist on the Internet, Stu feels that tutorials provide real benefits. He notes, “If students are struggling with a concept, pretty much all they need to do is conduct a quick search and watch a tutorial. Khan Academy has exploded and, as a result, you are seeing many more tutorial sites. TeacherTube has a variety of tutorials, many created by teachers.” Stu adds that the use of tutorials has also led to flipped classrooms where students watch teacher-created lessons at home and do their homework at school under the teacher’s guidance and supervision. In addition to tutorials, Stu has seen the benefits of online gradebooks since students have instant access to their grades. As he explains, “A student could take an exam first period, and via their phone, see the results later that morning or afternoon. Talk about immediate feedback! This helps parents feel connected and informed as well.” And finally, Stu feels that there are many advantages to the use of Edmodo, a free social media site that has the look and feel of Facebook but is customized for classroom use. The site can help educators make their classroom a community by providing teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate with one another. There are numerous educational applications including access to homework and grades as well as notifications and class discussions.

Nathaniel Moses, Technology Specialist, Nash-Rocky Mount School District, North Carolina, espouses the use of tablets to support student learning. “Tablets will explode throughout our schools and classrooms. Their flexibility, versatility, and mobility make them a phenomenal learning tool.” He further states, “In order to help educators integrate the use of tablets effectively, we have compiled a list of apps focused on learning goals and targets consistent with the Common Core framework. This list is driven by specific learning goals that promote critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and the creation of student centric learning environments.” Nathaniel wisely concludes, “It has never really been about the technological tool but rather effectively choosing the right classroom technology to meet the new learning standards.”

Connie Tan, Professional Development Specialist, Educare, Singapore Teachers’ Union and Certified Local Trainer (CLT) for Active Learning and Instruction for All Students, observes that shared media tools are popular with teachers because they serve as platforms for students to apply what they have learned. She explains, “When students are given the opportunity to create media related to the lesson, it encourages them to consolidate their learning and allows teachers to determine if the learning outcomes have been achieved.” She also has found that when students share their work with their peers, they become more accountable for their work and also benefit from the feedback they give and receive from one another.

Bobby Spencer, Social Studies Teacher, Henry County Public Schools, Virginia, is pleased that his district has placed an emphasis on putting technology in all their schools. He has been a school-wide leader in his quest to discover and utilize technology in truly meaningful ways. He currently uses tablets and laptops extensively in his classes. Bobby writes, “With the iPads and laptops, most of our graded assignments and quizzes are done on Quia I created an account for each student. In addition, each student’s webpage has graded assignments, practice activities such as online flashcards and review games, and study guides. I have posted virtual museum tours such as a tour of an early 20th century tenement building in New York City and a tour of the Spanish-American War museum.” Bobby also notes that students have an assigned amount of time to complete their work and that students can do their assignments in any order. He notes, “Creating all of the online content was laborious but, now that it is done, I don’t have to grade many papers and we also don’t have to rely on the textbook as much. In fact, I don’t even issue textbooks although we do use them in class from time to time.” Other technology applications Bobby uses to support his students’ learning include BrainPOP and Wikipanion (the iPad version of Wikipedia), and various podcasts from iTunes such as Backstory and the American History Guys. He concludes saying, “I am always scouring the Internet to find something useful and age appropriate.”

Although the responses to the technology focus question are varied, each proponent makes a convincing argument for the use of technology as an instructional tool. These responses should cause you to be excited and optimistic about the possibilities that exist for our students. Some of the ideas expressed may be new while many are familiar. Wherever you are on the technological continuum in your own use or promotion of the use of technology with students, it behooves you to find some idea, some tool, or some application to explore in more detail. Technology will only continue to move forward. Observing and interacting with those who are actively advancing the use of instructional technology may well cause you to discover that this is not all that complicated and enable you to expand your repertoire of ways to enhance the learning environment.


Technology Resources Recommended in This Issue

Google Docs
You can use this tool from Google to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online. Documents are accessible from any computer, tablet, or smart phone with an Internet connection and can be used collaboratively my multiple users. It is free.

  • docs.google.com/demo
    This demo page allows you to try out the tool before signing up for an account.
  • docs.google.com
    This link requires an easy sign-up for a free Google account.


Poll Everywhere
This instant voting tool allows audiences or classes to submit answers to questions by using their computers, tablets, smart phones, or even regular mobile phones. It is free for groups of 40 or less. Check the site for subscription rates.

On this home page you can try Poll Everywhere for free and view a short, humorous demo video about the product.

Castle Learning
This instruction-supporting tool provides homework assignments, student practice, and assessments to student users, and instant instructional feedback to teachers, parents, and administrators. It is aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Free trials are available for schools or districts, but not for individual teachers.


Google Apps
These online tools from Google include word processing, presentation making, and simple tools for website creation. All are free.

The home page of Google Apps for Education provides information about how Google Apps are used in schools worldwide, as well as recorded webinars; those labeled “general” and those presented by Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers are best for those investigating instructional implications.

Khan Academy
This non-profit educational organization provides online materials for lessons in a variety of subjects, including math, history, art, and English. All are free.

  • www.khanacademy.org
    The Khan Academy home page provides access to over 3,800 educational videos, as well as practice exercises and other online lessons.
  • www.khanacademy.org/coach/resources
    The Teacher Resources page provides information on how to include Khan tutorials in instructional programs; it includes video examples of how other educators have used these tools.


This online tool, used by more than 15 million teachers, students, and parents, allows them to come together to create a secure social networking community that focuses on learning. It is free.

  • about.edmodo.com
    This page includes a short video in which the creators explain why they created Edmodo.
  • www.edmodo.com
    This homepage requires a free log in; access is restricted to teachers and students.


This video editing software allows users to easily create video presentations and slideshows from ready-made themes and photos they have taken themselves. This software comes standard on most Apple computers, and can be downloaded as an app on mobile devices. The app is $4.99.

The iMovie app can be downloaded on this page. The video examples will convince you to use and have your students use this software right away!

Movie Maker
Much like iMovie, Movie Maker is video editing software for Microsoft computers and tablets that allows users to create video slideshows and presentations. This software comes standard on most Windows computers. Contact Mike DiSalvo, ASK Group Associate, at mike.disalvo@justaskpublications.com for assistance and examples of how he has used it with students at the middle school and high school level.

On the program home page, users can download the most compatible version of the program for their computer.

Videos from any digital camera or video-creation software can be uploaded to YouTube where they can be instantly shared to anyone with internet access. Although an account is required to upload videos, no login is needed to view them.

On this home page, users can view videos, create an account, or begin uploading and sharing their own videos.

Similar to YouTube, TeacherTube is a video sharing website that allows teachers and other educators to share educational resources of many media types, such as videos, documents, and photos. Students may also upload videos they have created as part of their classroom lessons. Accounts are required to upload videos, but no login is needed to view them.

The home page displays featured content in each media category, as well as allowing users to search for specific subjects.

A series of websites, BrainPOP features over 1,000 educational, animated videos as well as quizzes and supplemental materials for students in grades K-12. Subjects include science, social studies, English, mathematics, engineering and technology, health, and arts and music. BrainPOP, used in over 25% of U.S. schools, has materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards. There is a subscription fee.


This set of online tools allows educators to create and share their curriculum and textbooks online. Quia Web gives teachers and students online access to curriculum components and provides instant grading and feedback, while Quia Books puts workbooks and textbooks online for access from any computer. Free trial and subscription services are offered.

  • www.quia.com/web
    On Quia Web, teachers can create instructional materials from available templates such as a class web page, class assignments, calendars, and surveys, as well as view results from students. After creating these components, teachers may decide to share them, contributing to the Quia library of shared activities for anyone to use. Students also use this resource to respond to teacher-created activities and view their results.
  • books.quia.com/books
    On Quia Books, instructors can preview textbooks or request a trial, and students may purchase online books, complete assignments, and view their progress.


Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:

Oliver, Bruce. “Technology As an Instructional tool.” Just for the ASKing! January 2013. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2013 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.

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