Do you already know Teacher Tapp Flanders (in Dutch)? Arteveldehogeschool launched this app for teaching staff to question them daily on what they think about education. We from i-Learn also sent in some questions about – of course – the use of digital tools in the classroom. About 1800 people working in education gave their opinion. We would like to explain the most striking findings.
Flanders has been catching up since the pandemic
Teachers say they use more digital tools than before the pandemic. This is good news, because research shows that digital tools are beneficial for pupils because of their interactivity, immediate feedback, quick access to various media and tailor-made exercises. Not only is it better for the learners, teachers can also monitor their learners better using teacher dashboards. A dashboard is an overview screen where the teacher can monitor how many exercises students have done, how well students are performing, how much time they spend, and so on. This way, the teacher can see at a glance which students are still struggling, and which students have understood the learning content.
Motivating, evaluating, acquiring knowledge and personalising
Currently, teachers mainly use digital tools to motivate, evaluate, acquire knowledge or personalise pupils. Innovation can be achieved through ICT integration, but the use of digital tools is obviously not the end in itself. You use digital tools as a means to teach well. That is why it is important to always start from the teacher’s objective of facilitating learning. Educational games, for example, are very motivating for pupils, while online quizzes can be used to formally assess pupils, and with the aid of authoring tools such as Moodle you can create your own digital learning paths with your own learning content and self-chosen teaching methods.
Investing in personalised learning
Most teachers focus in one way or another on personalised learning, whether or not via digital tools. Personalised learning is a broad concept that starts from the idea that students are different, and therefore not every student will benefit from the same approach at the same time. The aim of personalised learning is to adapt the learning process to the diverse needs of pupils. The results show that most teachers personalise in the form of differentiation. Differentiation means that the teacher makes adjustments to the learning process, content or method based on the individual interests, prior knowledge and needs of the pupils.
Adaptive digital tools as an aid to personalised learning
Adaptive digital tools use algorithms to determine the nature and difficulty of a task for each individual learner. The advantage of adaptive tools is that they automatically offer exercises or tasks at the level and pace of the student. This allows the teacher more time to monitor pupils and provide extra support where possible. The ability of computers to store and analyse more and more data using machine learning and artificial intelligence means that the algorithms underlying digital tools can be made more responsive to the needs of individual pupils. Currently, teachers make relatively little use of adaptive digital tools. This is not surprising because the supply of truly adaptive tools is still rather limited.
Use of digital tools mainly for practising and repeating learning content
Most teachers use digital tools for practising and repeating the learning content. This is not illogical, as most digital tools currently on the market are online practice environments intended for practising and automating learning content, sometimes linked to instruction. Often this involves exact content such as spelling exercises, learning vocabulary in a foreign language or math exercises. Studies that examine the effectiveness of these digital tools by comparing groups of pupils practising with a digital tool versus pen-and-paper exercises show that training with digital tools leads to at least equally good learning results. In contrast, for learning complex learning content such as problem-solving, learning to speak in a foreign language or research skills, few digital tools are currently available because these skills are much more difficult to measure and interpret by an algorithm.
Limited use of digital tools for student monitoring
A small group of teachers use digital tools to monitor pupils’ progress. Both in research and in practice, we see that digital tools are often used in isolation. For example, teachers use digital tools during corner work, but sometimes they do not really know what the pupil is doing. More and more studies emphasise the importance of follow-up by the teacher when using digital tools by means of teacher dashboards. This is what i-Learn aims to achieve with its online portal MyWay. A thorough integration of digital tools can thus lead to more personalised learning in the classroom.