The COVID-19 pandemic thrust educational technology into the spotlight as schools scrambled to offer distance-learning options. The pandemic perhaps accelerated a trend that was already on the horizon, and that’s the movement toward making schools “smart.” Smart schools use technology not just as a solution for short-term distance-learning needs, but as a holistic, long-term strategy to improve school community and teaching practices.
The Smart School Defined
So what exactly is a smart school? More than a school that uses tablets or an online learning management system, smart schools integrate technology into every aspect of pedagogy, communication, and school management to prepare students for a technology-driven workforce and future.
Perhaps just as important as the technology itself, smart schools ensure everyone in the school community is bought in and knowledgeable about how to use the technology. As the Deccan Herald puts it, “For a school to become a smart school it is not about what technology or tools they use but how effectively they use it to make their classrooms a more engaging, inclusive, participative space and thus improving student learning.”
According to An Examination of the Concept of Smart School: An Innovation to Address Sustainability, to become “smart,” schools must consider:
- People: New technology will (and should) involve school leaders, teachers, support staff, parents, and students.
- Technology: Schools might integrate technology into every part of their operations, including: how teachers deliver and grade content, how students complete assessments, how schools track data, how schools communicate across all stakeholders, and more.
- Education materials: This might include hardware such as tablets, and software such as learning management systems, digital textbooks, and subscriptions to online learning content.
- Processes: Technology might impact processes such as how schools offer year-end examinations, how educators and parents communicate, how the building operates (e.g., security, climate control), and much more.
Smart School Benefits at a Glance
Integrating technology throughout your school is no easy task. School leaders must know how to choose the right technology and offer appropriate training. Teachers need to know how to use the technology and teach it to students and parents. Families and students need to be on board and willing to learn. It’s a tall order—but well worth it when done correctly. Here are some of the benefits of making your school smart, from Foradian Technologies.
Easier Access to Information
When the Internet is a regular part of school operations, that means information is a mere click away. This can have innumerable benefits for the school community, such as:
- Districts can easily send out messages to parents, teachers, and staff about weather and security issues, changes to curriculum, community events, and more.
- School leaders can deliver professional development more quickly and flexibly.
- Teachers and parents can communicate more easily and have central spots for announcements and updates.
- Students have access to a greater variety of learning materials (see next section).
Education being “in the cloud” also opens up more possibilities for where students can learn. As we all learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, having technology in place helps schools stay nimble in the event of a disaster and minimize disruptions to student learning. Even as students come back to in-person classes, having tech-friendly learning options is useful for when students have to miss class. Instead of having to bring an absent student up to speed during or after class, teachers can send messages, recorded lectures, and assignments through their virtual classroom system.
Digital tools offer a number of opportunities to enhance learning experiences. With the right tech, teachers can easily add videos and visual representations to their lessons, and assign highly interactive and engaging assessments to promote student learning. Having easy access to a variety of learning options makes it easier for teachers to scaffold and differentiate lessons, allowing them to reach students with a variety of learning styles.
In addition, technology can facilitate better interaction between teachers and students. Teachers can create and personalize feedback much more efficiently in a digital learning management system, and students can communicate over video and chat even if they’re not in the same room. Online learning also opens the door for students to learn from people all over the world, such as through virtual field trips.
Technology requires an upfront investment (sometimes a significant one), but in the long run, it often pays for itself. Here are some examples of how schools can save money as they become smarter:
- Paper: Traditionally, education has been very paper-centric: printed textbooks, spiral notebooks, and a seemingly endless number of copies for quizzes, notes, and assignments. Smart technology allows educators to move many of these activities onto reusable digital technology, saving schools and teachers money (and not to mention saving a lot of trees!).
- Energy: Some schools have also used technology to save money on energy, to great effect. By tracking individual buildings’ systems and monthly expenditures, districts have been able to intervene and upgrade more efficiently, leading to literally millions of dollars in savings.
- Curriculum: Every few years, it seems there’s a new state or federal educational standard for schools to implement. These standards often require additions or adjustments to curriculum, which can represent additional time and expense for schools. However, when curriculum is hosted primarily online, schools can add or change content faster and more cost effectively than the printing press would allow.
5 EdTech Tools to Create a Smart Classroom
As we’ve discussed, becoming a smart school is about more than just beefing up on tech tools. However, finding the right tools is a great place to start. Here are some of our favorite apps to help your school or classroom work “smarter,” not harder.
iorad: Do you ever get sick of giving the same directions over and over again? This app allows teachers to create digital tutorials in minutes, saving you time in the long run and empowering your students to use tech tools without having to wait for directions. You can create an unlimited number of public tutorials, or schools and individual teachers can get quotes on premium memberships, which offer more features.
Parlay: This app facilitates dynamic classroom discussions. It helps teachers create multimedia prompts and helps students respond to the content and build on one another’s ideas. You can also host structured live discussions, view data on students’ contributions, and offer personalized feedback. Pricing starts at $160 per teacher per year, with discounts for groups and districts.
Remind: Communication is key for a successful school, and Remind seeks to make that communication seamless. The app allows teachers, administrators, parents, and students to send messages to each other from their phones, with translation options for ESL families. Basic features are free for classrooms, with paid plans available for schools and districts.
GoBoard: Are you worried about student interaction suffering in a virtual space? GoBoard combines videoconferencing with an interactive canvas to allow students to collaborate effortlessly on any topic. This app is great for math, science, and other subjects that involve graphs and images. And the best part? It’s free!
Gimkit: You know how cell phone games can be so addicting that you can’t stop playing them? Gimkit gives your online lessons the same effect. Created by a high school student, Gimkit helps teachers gamify learning in minutes, with features like in-game currency that students earn by answering questions correctly. Pricing is a flat $4.99 a month.