April 5, 2023

Imagine a Technology Integrated Classroom

Christina Shailas, CEO of Gear Education

Imagine a classroom defined by connection and collaboration. In this classroom, students are learning. Really learning. Not copying down teacher notes word for word and memorizing flashcards, but asking critical questions and seeking out answers. Using technology to connect them to each other, to their teacher and to the world. 

Imagine a classroom where teachers feel empowered to create and convey individual lessons, and follow individuals’ progress. No longer confined to a blackboard at the front of the classroom, teachers can wander with their iPads, checking in on and connecting with students. No longer limited by textbooks, teachers have access to a wealth of resources and customizable lessons for their students’ needs via the internet. 

In technology-fueled classroom, the learning never needs to stop, easily continuing after the bell rings and students return home. 

You don’t have to imagine: Technology integrated classrooms exist. Digital transformation is happening in almost every industry and education is no exception.

For over 10 years, I’ve been working with educational institutions in the United States and Cyprus to enhance teaching and learning through technology, and I have created tailored education technology — or “EdTech” — programs for over 4,000 educators and students. 

My entire career as a technology integrationist is proof that, when implemented with educational purpose, technology can transform how teachers teach and learners learn.

But before I was an EdTech enthusiast, I was simply a kid in the early ‘90s amazed by the technology my dad brought home. 

My dad went from a village in Cyprus to New York City, working for a major accounting firm on a confidential project building business software for Apple, what was then a small computer company with a lot of potential. 

He brought home a Mac computer before most households had them. Switching between digital artwork creations and CD-roms and the early internet, I found a world to explore. From the very beginning, my idea of learning was intertwined with technology, and I was always drawn to the possibilities of this more connected world. 

But my dad helped guide my journey in a more significant way. I remember what my dad would say when I attempted to impress him with some new technology gadget : “Nice, but I can do that easier and faster without it.” 

Tech, my dad said, should always be simple to use, and should make life easier. Technology needs a clear intention — a purpose — to be effective.

When I started my journey as a technology integrationist in 2012, my dad’s ethos defined my approach. The trickiest thing about EdTech comes in the beginning stages. When not implemented with guidance or vision, technology in the classroom can easily become clunky and confusing. Teachers aren’t supported. Students are distracted.  

With results like this, can you blame schools for giving up on EdTech? When you lose sight of the “why,” you can’t convince people to buy into the “what” and the “how.”

I see my role as showing schools how to make technology work for them: The why, the what and the how.

When implemented correctly, EdTech brings a sense of collaborative magic and ease to the classroom. Technology in the classroom is about transforming teaching and learning. The benefits of technology-integrated classrooms are numerous, and they go way beyond swapping out heavy textbooks for Chromebooks (thought that’s definitely a perk).

From every angle, EdTech maximizes efficiency and allows schools to pay attention to what really matters: Students’ progress. 

  • Personalized learning plans: No two students are alike. Teachers can tailor their lessons for each student’s needs, without calling attention to those differences. Students can be special, but not singled out. Depending on their learning style, students can seek out different resources to tackle the curriculum. Some students might absorb the information in a Youtube video; others, by quizzing themselves on digital flashcards. Showbie, a hybrid learning platform, allows teachers to upload different versions of lessons plans, catering to what each student needs.
  • Comprehensive insights: Starting from Day One, schools can keep track of students’ holistic progress using numeric and qualitative data. Take Alma, an EdTech software, as an example: It provides school and management insights on students progress, helping inform data-driven decisions that build both student and school success. 
  • Parent participation: Parents can have a window into the classroom,  communicate with students’ parents and other teachers, creating a web of support. At home, even parents can benefit from EdTech. There are programs that help parents review math basics so they can, in turn, help with homework (and don’t worry, no one will know if you need them).
  • Speaks their language: Students come to EdTech software already fluent in technology and ready to learn fast-paced. EdTech inspires experimentation and creativity – especially through programs that turn learning into a game. The more exciting and dynamic a classroom, the more motivated a student will be to learn. 
  • Information at their fingertips: Students are a click away from entire libraries. In the classroom, they’ll learn how to use these resources effectively, and decode what makes a source accurate. While this can be overwhelming, the proper approach can guide students through these resources, finding age and level-appropriate options. 
  • Enhanced teaching: EdTech, simply put, has the power to revolutionize the way teachers teach and connect with their students. Showbie is a platform that allows teachers to give diversified feedback for each student — voice notes for auditory learners, screenrecordings for visual learners. Teachers are more mobile (literally!), now able to walk around the class, and agile, able to change lessons just like that
  • Borderless classrooms: Through the power of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), learning can continue seamlessly, no matter the location. From visualizing the anatomy of a cell to taking (virtual) school trips, such software can supplement learning experiences far beyond what a textbook could have provided.
  • Safe zone: EdTech brings the internet into the classroom — safely. Jamf School, a mobile device management platform, has safeguards to ensure the internet is accessed in the classroom with guardrails.
  • Increased Collaboration: Gone are the days of nightmare group projects. Collaboration is made seamless by Google for Education’s tools, which allow students and teachers to collaborate on projects and assignments in real-time.
  • Future of work: Long after graduation, most students will be using technology in their day-to-day work lives. Simply put, it’s a life skill. By bringing computers into the classroom and encouraging independent work, students also acquire the discipline and responsibility they’ll rely on in the professional world. 

My goal is to support teachers to reach the stage where they can enjoy that suite of benefits. I’ve seen it happen.

During my work at an independent school in New York, I worked with veteran teachers to see where technology could enhance what they had already been doing expertly for years. Together, we decided what additions would make their lives easier, and shut out what might make it harder. With patience and communication, we found ways for even the most reluctant teacher to integrate technology into their routines.

We’re reaching a point where it’s impossible to “opt out” of a future with technology in the classroom — because technology is already part of the present. The COVID-19 pandemic underlined the importance of having schools with digital capabilities. 

Mandatory lockdowns meant that all schools, digitally prepared or not, were trying to get on board with education technology. Luckily, the school I worked with was prepared when lockdowns began.

In 2018, I moved to Cyprus, energized by an opportunity to help kick start the EdTech revolution already taking place in classrooms around the world. Less than two years later, I watched the school seamlessly transition to online learning during the pandemic.

We got through a major crisis because we were prepared. EdTech is the art of building a modern education, ready for anything.

To me, schools’ successes during the pandemic was a sign that technology in the classroom was crucial — and not only single set pieces, but connected platforms, each there for a clear reason. 

More and more, schools are trying to keep up with a changing educational landscape. Holon IQ reports a jump in digital spending pre and post COVID, estimating that it will almost double by 2025. Why now? Because there’s a clear purpose: Technologically integrated classrooms help continue education.

It’s my goal to help more schools in Cyprus reach that stage.

Four years after moving to Cyprus, in September 2022, I launched Gear Education with the intention of reshaping what education looks like, starting in Cyprus. 

Today, Gear Education is the island’s first of its kind education technology firm and first Google for Education Partner. We are partnered with industry leaders changing education through sophisticated products.

When it comes to EdTech, it is not a “one size fits all” solution. Just like each student is different, so is each school. We understand the players: The students, the stakeholders, the software available.  From there, we create tailored technology solutions and the training to make it possible. Maybe that means dreaming up an innovation lab with 3D printers and laser cutters to inspire students to think big. Maybe it means training educators to shake up their approach, and get through to students more deeply. 

The end result? Classes transformed – and improved — through EdTech. Students are already fluent in technology, using these tools in every part of their daily lives. Let’s meet them in the classroom, using the language they already speak — and help prepare them for the future we know is coming.

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