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Using Technology to Empower (not Replace) Teachers

While technology serves a noble purpose in the pursuit of improving education, it does this most effectively in a supportive role. Thus, the aim of technology in the classroom should be to aid teachers rather than replace them, focusing on methods that improve upon teacher practices and lift some of the pressure off their backs while also improving student learning.

A report by Education Week goes into detail on what these methods look like and how they hold up in the classroom. In their write-up, they repeatedly emphasize one key finding, teachers are the most important part of children’s learning experience, and no tool can replace the interpersonal guidance and interaction they provide.

The value in teacher to student relationships comes in part from their “unique knowledge of kids—the specific kids, the environment—and a lot of skill in responding to immediate student needs that the programs still don’t have.” Meaning that even as technology and research advance, there are critical components in teacher-led learning.

Knowing the numerous benefits teachers provide also outlines a clear solution to education problems we’ve long faced. While we’ve made plenty of progress in other areas of education, student learning outcomes have remained pretty much the same. This is in part because EdTech has been used most commonly as a learning replacement, cutting out areas of genuine interaction and filling that space with screen time.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. In order to truly maximize the potential of educational technology and research, efforts must be used to maximize the potential of teachers. As the report outlines, many of the child-facing programs “haven’t been designed to be used as core instruction.” Instead, EdTech must be created with teachers in mind, as a source of support and more importantly, a tool to free-up teacher time. This value of teacher time has also been quantified in research, demonstrating that content delivered by a teacher, especially in small group instruction, is 4-10 times more effective compared to instruction provided in other formats (whether it is whole group instruction or led by technology).

This moves us to the most important point about effectively using the resources provided by EdTech to improve outcomes and ease up the already daunting list of responsibilities teachers have. Technology's greatest capability in education comes from its possibilities to empower the teacher, with the aims being to increase the efficiency and quality of instruction. In turn, this frees up more teacher time, allowing them allotted space to focus targeted instruction on struggling students and catch a much needed breath.

As it stands, a large chunk of teacher time is spent fulfilling requirements that shouldn’t need to be asked of them, such as choosing instructional materials and deciding its delivery. According to Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow with Thomas B. Fordham Institute, teachers spend an average of 12 hours a week developing their own materials or curricula. If technology and research innovations are used to support teachers and lift the burden of these extra duties, instructional potential will increase significantly.

Far from being merely hypothetical, this idea is backed by research from some of the top education scholars. A study conducted by Robert Slavin and Alan C.K. Cheung found that “The strongest effect sizes came from studies in which teachers worked with students in small group settings, using technology that was closely aligned to their curriculum.” Proving that this method isn’t just the best use of technology, it's the best way to teach.

Teachers are artists. That’s what we think at Learning Ovations, and that’s why every aspect of our work is focused on supporting the teacher. It’s how we get the best reading results for every student, because even the best artists can’t make a masterpiece without the right tools. There are none that work as well as A2i does in every situation, thanks to our teacher-centered and highly customizable solution.

Ultimately, we believe that teachers are the biggest influence on student achievement. In turn, this means the most critical single resource to support and empower in a classroom is the teacher’s time with students. While EdTech has not always put the role of the teachers first, now is the time to recognize that this needs to be the norm going forward. This shift in priorities is not only critical to ensure teachers are given better opportunities to effectively teach, but also ensures that they are actually supported and freed by technology, not burdened by it. Once EdTech is consistently designed with the teacher in mind, the value of technology in the classroom can truly be realized, to the benefit of teachers and students alike.

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