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The official blog of the International Society for Technology in Education, ISTE Connects offers a forum for discussion of ed-tech trends and the ways in which new tools are being leveraged in K–12 classrooms, and provides links to other social media resources for educators and technology leaders. Assistive technology tools are among the least ‘celebrated’ but most crucial tools in K-12 education today. According to the National Education Association (NEA), the number of U.S. Students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent over the past 10 years.

University students are coming to class with more than just a college-ruled notebook. Modern classes look nothing like what they did just 10 years ago, thanks to an increase of technology in higher education classrooms.

As digital tools have reshaped the world around us, Susan Smith Nash, a blogger, educator and early ed tech adopter, isn’t surprised that technology has become a major part of the higher ed classroom.

“The classroom should be a laboratory for life,” she says.

For professors who aren’t sure how best to integrate tech into the classroom, Nash recommends they start with the tools they use every day, like email or social media.

Also, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are the primary technology tool for many students and professors.

In fact, many students like the flexibility of cloud apps because they are able to work and collaborate on the devices that fit in their pockets.

“It’s really no different than bringing in a laptop, except smartphones are where students are able to record, take photos and share things quickly,” says Nash.

Here are five technologies making a major impact in the higher education classroom:

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1. Google Docs and Slack Grant Flexibility in the Higher Ed Classroom

Cloud tools like Google Docs are a perfect fit for students because of their flexibility, but also because they allow for real-time collaboration with students and teachers located anywhere.

New Google workflows also make it even easier for educators to build out templates in the cloud so formatting is not lost. Add-on tools supported by Google Docs make citations a breeze for students and their professors.

Thanks to a new version-history module, collaboration and productivity are also eased. With notifications on progress, students will be more effective in group projects.

In addition to cloud technology in higher education classwork, Nash also says communication apps like Slack can be a useful addition. In an EdTech blog, student Lauren Polito praises Slack as a great tool for group projects and fostering easy communication with educators.

2. Virtual Reality Facilitates Hands-On Learning

Virtual reality in the higher education classroom provides a lot of potential for immersive learning. For medical students, Anatomage Table creates virtual cadavers that allow skills to be practiced repeatedly in a safe environment. Educators in these programs can enhance teaching of certain techniques by bringing in VR to assist with visualization.

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VR can also aid in hands-on experiences outside of the sciences. At the University at Buffalo, student teachers partake in VR training to practice classroom challenges they might face when they get into the workforce.

VR also has huge potential in getting students to think outside of the classroom.

VR is “absolutely invaluable for doing things like virtual field trips,” says Nash. “Claudia Ruiz-Graham at ImagedReality.com has developed virtual field trips to various geological sites. VR and augmented reality can also be used in art museums to visit them virtually or on site to play explanatory videos and audio.”

3. Adaptive Learning Boosts Student Success

While many universities have used IBM Watson and Microsoft Power BI to analyze data for student success initiatives, adaptive learning programs are still an emerging technology in higher education.

Experts say adaptive learning, which blends data with elements of artificial intelligence to tailor classwork to the abilities of students, will help drive academic transformation in the future.

“Adaptive learning products are already very important in assessment,” says Nash. “They help map a student’s knowledge and track it with outcomes and competencies. Students can build on the knowledge they have and make real strides in their ability to demonstrate their skills.”

Largely, chief academic officers believe that adaptive learning technology will be integral to improving student learning outcomes, but they need more IT support to implement the tools.

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4. Mondopad and Microsoft Surface Hubs Boost Collaboration

To Nash, displays are a mainstay of technology tools in the classroom, whether in the form of one large screen or several small ones. Interactive displays, in particular, foster collaboration.

Using Microsoft Surface Hubs, students and educators in the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, are able to view and annotate resources either on the board at the field site or remotely on connected devices.

The Mondopad from InFocuscombines an interactive whiteboard with a videoconferencing solution, so educators can bring in experts and content from literally anywhere.

5. Videoconferencing Technology Expands Higher Education’s Reach

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Videoconferencing technology itself has had a major impact on the college classroom. By equipping classrooms with cameras and high-definition displays, rural colleges have been able to bring in remote professors and offer diverse learning opportunities.

Telepresence tools have also given a voice to distance students and increased their access to classroom resources. At Michigan State University, for example, telepresence robots that use videoconferencing technology have enabled remote learners to contribute to the physical space of the classroom and take part in important interactions.

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Education Dive’s 2015 State of Education Technology survey polled more than 150 education leaders and teachers to learn how technology is being used in school districts across the country and what challenges to access they face. What they learned was that schools are underfunded and teachers are undertrained, facing environments where the technologies they use aren’t always reliable.

The survey’s results paint a picture of education in flux. As schools continue to transition toward more digital learning efforts, many educators are playing catch-up, learning how to incorporate these new tools within their curriculum.

Respondents were asked to name the three greatest challenges they face in providing access to education technology in their district. The following are the eight top issues they cited:

  • 75.9% — Budget limits
  • 53.9% — Inadequate professional training
  • 41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
  • 38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
  • 30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
  • 29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
  • 17.8% — Other
  • 13.2% — District doesn't see immediate need for more technology

On the brighter side of things, the survey narrowed down the top three technologies that have impacted learning: notebooks (62.1 percent), interactive white boards (54.8 percent) and tablets (50 percent).

Other survey results showed that education leaders are beginning to grapple with the gap between available technology and educators' mastery of it. Slightly over 86 percent of respondents said they agreed that teachers in their district need more training in education technology. And nearly three-quarters of respondents (74.3 percent) selected professional development as the top priority for educators as they prepare for 2016.

The notion of professional development being in greater need was reinforced by a recent ConnectIT blog from CDW•G’s Eric Patnoudes.

“If there is one thing in this world I know to be true, it is that all of those technologies will have little to no impact on learning if teachers are not also provided with training and professional development to help them evolve from the conventional teaching practices of the 20th century,” writes Patnoudes.

The complete survey can be downloaded from Education Dive’s website.

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