How the Pandemic Previewed the Future of the Smart Classroom

The pandemic accelerated key trends in educational technology

From remote learning, online instructional platforms, and video conferencing to student devices, Google Classroom, and virtual attendance-taking, the pandemic accelerated a number of trends in educational technology that are likely to continue defining classrooms across the country for decades to come.

Rather than resuming business as usual when students return in the fall, schools are likely to confront a dramatically different educational technology landscape, one defined by many of the central features of remote learning. Schools will likely feel pressure to purchase additional student devices, invest in more online instructional platform licenses, and make better use of their data and assessment platforms.

To meet the moment, schools will also have to build teacher and staff technology literacy. Without educating their school teams on the latest trends in educational technology, schools will miss out on the benefits these changes can yield for students. Of course, the shift to the smart classroom is likely to place additional demands on school technology teams, who will become more and more central to daily school programming as the smart classroom scales across schools, districts, and, ultimately, the country.

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Remote learning may continue in a limited fashion in some schools.

Even as most students return to school in the fall, some families may choose to keep their students at home where districts allow them to do so. This not only means that teachers will have to provide instruction to their returning in-person students but will also have to find a way to transmit instructional content to families whose students attend remotely. Of course, some districts are likely to designate “remote teachers” who focus solely on virtual instruction, but such a policy will require additional resource commitments that some schools simply aren’t able to make.

Regardless, the rise of the smart classroom will likely expand the definition of “remote learning” itself. For instance, rather than completing an entire module within a single class period, a teacher might get his students started on the content during the school day but have students work asynchronously to review it in full. “Homework,” too, is likely to consist less and less often of worksheets, pages in a textbook, and other “analogue” platforms and more and more of online instructional modules and Google Classroom assignments that can be submitted virtually, often with instantaneous feedback.

To build a smart classroom, more schools are likely to invest in student devices.

To facilitate these changes, schools will feel pressure to invest in student devices on a scale they haven’t previously. Rather than having a single Chromebook cart for an entire grade level, or even school, principals will likely search for ways to get as close as possible to a 1:1 student-Chromebook ratio (i.e., a model in which each student receives their own device).

For many schools, however, the numbers won’t always add up, and that’s where E-rate comes into play. By leveraging federal E-rate funding to offset at least some of the costs associated with scaling an educational technology program, administrators can not only reduce their overall costs but also use any “extra” funds for other instructional priorities, like classroom libraries, science kits, or other curricular materials. Partnering with an E-rate consultant to manage the annual E-rate bidding process can help schools navigate an otherwise arcane grant program and ultimately allow them to make the kind of investments in technology that appear out of reach.

Differentiated, online instructional platforms are likely to become the norm.

Similarly, school leaders will likely seek to invest more heavily in online instructional platforms. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, these platforms can differentiate instruction in real-time based on student understanding. For example, if a student answers multiple sequential math questions correctly, the platform will automatically adjust the difficulty level of its content to increase the program’s rigor. By contrast, a student who struggles to answer questions on a particular topic will likely encounter remedial materials, content refreshers, or more targeted questions that zero in on the precise issue with which the student is struggling.

These platforms not only allow for a more personalized learning experience but also increase the effectiveness of teacher interventions. By monitoring her students’ performance on the online instructional platform, teachers can create small groups of students who are all struggling with the same content, craft enrichment lessons that challenge higher-performing students, and “float” among kids in her classroom to only assist those who truly need the help. Further integrating these platforms into regular instruction can therefore maximize teacher impact while also providing students with a customized learning experience that meets their unique needs.

Widely used during remote learning, these platforms are likely to become hallmarks of classrooms across the country, but like individual student devices, they’ll also require significant investment (and technical know-how) on the part of school leaders, teachers, staff, and even students’ family members.

The smart classroom will likely include frequent use of data and assessment platforms.

Data and assessment platforms that track and analyze student performance will also likely need to scale to meet the demands of the smart classroom. Platforms like Illuminate, for example, can produce school-, class-, teacher-, and student-level data analyses broken out by instructional standard, identifying the specific content areas with which students are struggling.

Many of these systems also include an online assessment component that allows teachers to assign quizzes and longer tests that students then take asynchronously. As students submit their work, teachers can see in real-time which concepts students have mastered and which may require remedial interventions. As with online instructional platforms, data and assessment systems allow teachers to maximize their one-on-one interventions with students who most need their help while also giving them the information they need to create enrichment materials for kids who clearly outpace their peers on a particular topic.

Perhaps most importantly, these platforms often integrate with the school’s student information system, allowing teachers to place academic, behavioral, and attendance data into conversation with one another.

Schools will need to build teacher capacity to meet the needs of the smart classroom.

Sure, all of these tools are great, but what happens when teachers don’t know how to use them or lack even a basic understanding of educational technology such that the tools become useless? The answer is that school and district leaders will likely have to make still more investments in teacher technology training if they’re to scale the latest educational technology products across their school or even district.

For many teachers, even programs like Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, and Google Classroom can seem daunting, so teacher technology training will necessarily have to address a range of competencies. As schools invest in teacher technology training, however, they’ll also save valuable instructional time: if a teacher spends even five minutes each day troubleshooting a common technology issue, they’ll potentially waste hours of instructional time over the course of the academic year. By getting ahead of these issues by training teachers on how best to use their classroom’s educational technology products, schools can not only increase teacher efficiency but also reduce the amount of time teachers spend acting as technicians.

Administrators, too, will have to become more technology literate.

School leaders, in turn, will have to learn to use the latest educational technology tools to both monitor teacher and student achievement, as well as support their team members who are likely to encounter technology issues. More than troubleshooting, however, school leaders will need to learn how to glean data from online instructional platforms, data and assessment systems, and student information systems and then turnkey that data into coaching conversations with teachers.

For instance, a school leader would likely benefit from knowing how to pull a custom report from a data and assessment system that tracks teacher performance across a number of instructional content standards. By learning how to extract highly specific insights from these and other educational technology platforms, school leaders can not only ensure they get their money’s worth after purchasing such systems but also that they use these tools to drive teacher performance and, in turn, student achievement.

At CTS, we help schools use technology to accomplish their unique missions.

Of course, the rise of the smart classroom will also increase the demand for educational technology professionals who can both train school leaders, teachers, and staff members, while also oversee troubleshooting issues that inevitably arise with widespread educational technology use. And this is where CTS can help.

Comprised of former school operations leaders and educational technology veterans, our team has the track record and expertise to guide you and your school through the expansion of the smart classroom. From purchasing decisions, long-term strategic planning, and device set-up to teacher technology trainings, data analysis, and new school launch, our suite of capabilities provides schools with all of the tools they need to successfully take advantage of the smart classroom, all with transparent and affordable pricing models. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help your school accomplish its unique mission.