Many teachers and students are heading back into the physical classroom after a year of virtual learning, but that doesn’t mean technology is gone from the equation. A variety of digital tools are transforming education today, and whether your school is moving to a hybrid model or fully onsite, technology is now an essential instructional tool.

As a teacher, you might feel like your ‘digital native’ students are ahead of you when it comes to ease of picking up new technology. But many students are not so experienced with using technology for the purpose of learning. The educator has a unique role and responsibility to guide the proper use of the tools in an academic context, ensuring all students can leverage them without becoming overwhelmed or distracted by them.

This year especially, students will have plenty to adjust to as they return to school – whether in a fully in-person, hybrid, or remote learning model. Here are a few steps you can take to determine which technology is best suited to your learners’ needs and to ensure everyone is comfortable with the tools and set up for success.

1. Prioritize Learning First, Technology Second

The proliferation of ed tech tools, particularly after the shift to virtual learning in the 2020 school year, shows just how entwined technology and education have become. There are new apps and tools for digitizing and managing everything from the instructional experience to assignments and grading to student projects and collaboration. That doesn’t mean, however, that more is necessarily better.

Every tool or app you deploy comes with a learning curve. Students will need time to practice and get experience with the tool before they can use it effectively. There are also connectivity and access issues that have to be addressed, depending on where the tech is meant to be used. For example, if the tool needs to be used at home as well as in the classroom, you’ll have to make sure all of your students have access to robust and reliable connectivity solutions. That may include providing WiFi hotspots, home WiFi solutions, LTE-embedded devices, or school bus WiFi.

Ultimately, the most important reason to use technology is to facilitate and enhance learning. Before you select a tool or app, consider who it’s intended for, how it will be used, how you’ll ensure equitable access to the technology, what benefits it will provide over other methods, and how it does or does not add to the educational experience. Adding too many technological ‘bells and whistles’ can become confusing and distracting for students, and that only undermines what you’re trying to accomplish.

Set Expectations Up-Front to Keep Students On-Task

When you’re selective about the technology you use, you can be more confident that the learning experiences will be meaningful, practical and engaging. That goes a long way towards keeping students on-task. But the reality is, students will still be tempted by the pull of social media, entertainment apps and other online distractions.

As technology becomes more integral to the culture of the classroom, it’s critical to have policies and expectations laid out up-front, so students have guardrails and clarity about how technology and devices are to be used. These policies might address things like device sharing, when devices are allowed in the classroom and when they need to be put away, the amount of time students can spend on their devices, acceptable websites and apps, and more.

An easy way to automate some of this and remove some of the burden on students, teachers and administrators alike is to use an education-ready WiFi hotspot like Kajeet SmartSpot, which provides customizable filters that block certain sites and allows administrators to manage devices, filters, access controls and data allocations.

Create a Digital Learning Community

The effective use of technology isn’t just about technical skills. While your students may be quick to pick up the features and functionalities of any given tool, the “soft” skills around technology use often need more practice and guidance. This includes conversations around respectful communication, organizational skills, time and attention management, and other areas. The good news is, these are skills that will serve them well no matter what new technology comes along in the future.

By setting up a digital learning community that’s grounded in your specific policies, expectations and procedures, you can help students not only build these skills but make better choices about how they use technology. A digital learning community will also bring students into the process, making them part of the conversation and “owners” of the standards and behaviors of good digital citizenship.

Many schools discovered just how valuable digital learning communities could be when everyone went virtual in 2020. If you now have a mix of remote and in-person learners, that strong sense of community will continue to help your remote students stay engaged and connected with their onsite peers. There are a number of tools that can be used to make real-time sharing and collaboration easier and more seamless across the community. Just make sure you’re being strategic about what you choose so that you don’t overwhelm students with too many options or tools that don’t add practical value.

Be Proactive About Keeping Students Safe

Whether you’re providing students with mobile devices or have a BYOD policy, there are myriad considerations that come into play when you’re introducing devices into education.

In addition to the distractions and bandwidth issues that arise when students use educational devices for entertainment and personal use, there are serious safety concerns as well. Education is by far the largest industry affected by malware incidents and other cyberattacks. Safeguarding internet access is essential for securing the network and keeping students safe from hackers and other malicious actors.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert on cybersecurity and privacy laws to protect your students, but there are some key steps that need to be addressed. First, make sure your WiFi hotspots and device management platform are designed to fend off threats and protect data security, regardless of whether students are using the devices from home, school property, the bus or anywhere else.

Next, equip your students with the information they need to protect themselves as well. There are a number of resources and lesson plans available for teaching students about online privacy and security. You should also incorporate these concepts into your digital learning community.

And finally, it’s important to communicate with students’ parents and caregivers about what apps and devices are being used in class and what they need to know about online safety. Transparency builds trust, and parental buy-in can play a major role in ensuring students embrace the tools and use them appropriately.

For many students, making the adjustment back to school this year will be challenging enough as it is. These are just a few strategies you can implement to create a more positive experience for everyone and ensure that all of your students are prepared to use the technology and will get the most benefit out of it.

For more ideas on getting students and parents comfortable with technology, check out these tips for setting up a hybrid learning environment for success.

And if you’re interested in learning more about how Kajeet education connectivity solutions can make a difference for your students, contact us today and our Solution Engineers will be happy to reach out to you.