By Abdihakim Mao, Masters student (Information Technology)
Nowadays, it goes without saying that technology plays an integral part in the everyday lives of students, teaching assistants, and instructors. According to a recent statistic published by EduCause, at least 91% of students own a laptop and a smartphone . Technologies such as smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, and tablets have improved information processing in schools. For instance, students often make use of their laptops to take down notes, access course material online, and work on in-class projects. With the use of technology, students have access to vast amounts of information that goes beyond what’s found in textbooks.
Additionally, technology has transformed the roles of educators in the classroom. For example, educators make use of technologies to enrich their teaching ability ranging from using projectors displaying visual presentations on a screen and using visual or audio-based lecture recordings. As a result, utilizing technology in the classroom enables educators to give a more tailored learning experience to students.
As technology is always advancing, students and educators will have to keep up with the changes in technology. With thousands of digital learning tools such as online courses and tutorial videos readily available, accessing the right information can be time-consuming and challenging. Thus, the objective of this article is to provide best practices to fellow teaching assistants on how to improve the accessibility of technology in order to connect better both students and educators varying all types of learning levels.
Moreover, providing an accessible teaching and learning environment in the classroom is vital. Carleton University, among many organizations in Ontario, has committed to being fully accessible by 2025 . According to the Carleton University Coordinated Accessibility Strategy Draft, the term accessibility is described as the provision of flexibility to accommodate each [individual’s] needs and preferences . Moreover, utilizing digital tools and mobile applications in the classroom can be useful to both students and educators. By way of integrating more accessible technologies in schools, students will have the ability to access information both physically and virtually. According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), technology can provide accessibility in areas including communication supports and pre-recorded audio descriptions . Thus, extending these technologies to cover all students, with or without disabilities, in the classroom can help students learn at their own ability .
Carleton University (CarletonU) classrooms can benefit from a digital transformation. Technologies that I would consider introducing in at CarletonU include assistive devices, virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence. These technologies can allow information taught in the classroom to be more accommodating to students who learn and think differently.
Firstly, assistive technologies (AT) represent any device, software or equipment that helps an individual learn, communicate and function better . Assistive applications such as word prediction software, text-to-speech, and audiobooks can aid students with learning and attention setbacks . The result of using AT in the classroom, in turn, makes it possible for students with a learning disability to participate in classroom activities by accommodating their writing, reading, and verbal communication . Alternatively, AT can increase the performance and productivity levels of students without disabilities by providing a supplemental learning service.
Secondly, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) has nowadays become widely available given the use of smartphones, computers and tablets . Introducing these interactive computer-generated environments in the classroom can add new methods for learning and teaching by allowing students to visualize concepts in a three-dimensional (3D) space. A study has shown  that using digital elements in combination with human computing interaction can boost students learning capacity.
Thirdly, artificial intelligence (AI) or in other terms, machine learning, can have a significant effect on education and training in the classroom. AI can assist educators with tasks, including the teaching of concepts, grading of exams, and improving accessibility of course material to students . Examples of AI applications in the classroom include a one-on-one tutoring application between a teacher and a student and a social media site to facilitate classroom discussions, comments, and activities. Likewise, with the use of AI in the classroom, students that need extra help can receive additional assistance through online learning.
Based on my experience as a teaching assistant, there are three tips I want to share with teaching assistants regarding the use of technology in the classroom. The first tip involves having a hands-on approach and understanding of how the technology works. For instance, teaching assistants should be able to know the differences between using a personal computer (PC) that runs a Windows operating system and a Macintosh (Mac) that runs an Apple operating system. Additionally, having practical knowledge of how to troubleshoot error messages is an asset. The second tip includes encouraging information sharing in the classroom by reaching out to students by discussing the current and best practices of technology. Hence, engaging students allows a teaching assistant to be up-to-date, approachable, and confident. The third and last tip includes planning for technical failures and machine downtimes such as loss of Wi-Fi, software updates, and worst of all computer and system crashes. Thus, to reduce technical failures, the physical conditions of technologies should be monitored and properly maintained. As a result, the likelihood of technical shortcomings can be reduced.
In conclusion, the are many benefits of technology with learning and teaching inside a classroom. Based on the examples shown above, it is apparent that technology can help augment learning taught at CarletonU. Notably, in a university classroom setting, technology is changing how students and educators learn and conceptualize information. Furthermore, technology can provide a form of accessibility for persons with or without learning disabilities. Overall, accessing and using technical devices requires various types of skill levels ranging from motor skills, memory skills, and computer skills. Therefore, students and educators are encouraged to begin by learning about their needs and wants before implementing the use of technology in the classroom.
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