The use of technology in the classroom allows for deeper levels of engagement, understanding, and thinking (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Hughes, 2009; Shaffer, 2016; Zawilinski et al., 2015). The following sections provide an overview of the types of educational technologies currently being used in ELAR classrooms to strengthen student learning.
Educational technology allows ELAR teachers to take the compositions already being taught and add levels of depth with the addition of moving and still images, sounds, colors, and animations (Curwood & Cowell, 2011; Hughes, 2009). Doing so in their own creations “requires a different kind of authorship and offers insights into how context shapes meaning” (Hughes, 2009, p. 264), which is a higher-order thinking skill. Students can use multimodalities in: poetry creation (Curwood & Cowell, 2011; Hughes, 2009), wikis (Tarasiuk, 2010), sketchpads (Zawilinski, 2015), digital or video book talks (Furman, 2017; Tarasiuk, 2010), comic strips, or presentations (Furman, 2017).
On the other hand, Curwood & Cowell (2011) noted that when using digital tools, students did not meet their expectations of deepening meaning. Students creating an iPoetry project did not choose visual and audio elements with thoughts toward appealing to their audience, but rather based on the allure of the digital tools. Grisham & Wolsey (2006), however, noted that students’ depth of responses to online discussions increased over time as the novelty of responding with emoticons, fun fonts, and colors wore off. Perhaps it is possible that a second or third repetition of the iPoetry assignment would yield better results as students learn the tools and become ready to use them seriously. Further specific research could reveal the efficacy of allowing students time to play with the technology tools first to learn how they work and get the urge to play out of their system before using them instructionally.
Teachers can also use multimodalities to present information to students. TED-Ed lessons (Zawilinski, 2015) include a short video, sometimes animated, paired with multiple choice and discussion questions that allow students to view and listen to information presented and interact with questions. Teachers can also create instructional videos or vodcasts (Shaffer, 2015) to present initial information in a manner different from the traditional lecture format. Additionally, technology allows for better formative assessment and differentiation, which can increase students’ depth of understanding. Teachers can use these multimodalities to differentiate material for different types of learners, allowing students to engage more deeply with the material (Shaffer, 2015; Zawilinski, 2015).
One of the most common uses of technology in the English classroom is to flip, or invert, instruction. The biggest benefit of flipped instruction is time, as passive learning activities are completed at home so that active learning can occur in the classroom with the teacher present (Shaffer, 2015). Generally, in a flipped classroom, students watch videos or read material at home and come to class ready to engage with what they’ve learned. Assignments that would be homework in a regular classroom become classwork, so that students are working with the difficult material while in class with the teacher there to provide support and answer questions (Zawilinski et al., 2015). This model of instruction also allows for more collaborative activities as students are not spending their class time reading or listening, but rather interacting. This method can also give teachers the ability to see gaps in knowledge as students are working and correct misconceptions before they become detrimental to students (Shaffer, 2015; Zawilinski et al., 2015).
There are a couple of concepts that teachers must keep in mind when considering a flipped classroom model. The first is that an important step towards flipping instruction is training the students on how to not only use the technology, but, more importantly, how to use it effectively (Shaffer, 2015). Students cannot and will not complete the flipped portions of the work if they do not know how to use the technology effectively. A second concept that is not addressed in this research is student access to technology. A flipped classroom requires students to engage with technology from home; therefore, all students must have access to the required technology in order for it to be successful. Finally, motivation should be addressed again. Educators must have careful classroom management to foster the kind of motivation that will ensure all students complete all aspects of the flipped assignments so that they are prepared to discuss and collaborate when they come to class.
The benefits of students collaborating online have already been discussed earlier in this literature review. There are numerous methods of achieving that collaboration. The use of threaded, asynchronous discussions gives students the time to truly reflect upon their peers’ responses to discussion questions and reply with deeper, more meaningful responses than a faster paced, face-to-face discussion allows (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006). This is especially important in ELAR classrooms as the overall quality of reading discussions benefits from students having the time to refer back to the reading and pull relevant passages to reference. Grisham & Wolsey (2006) further note that this depth of communication that combines interactivity of discussions with the thoughtfulness of written communication would be impossible without the Internet. Online threaded discussions also give all students equal opportunity to respond as opposed to a classroom face-to-face discussion where only more vocal and outspoken students’ voices tend to be heard.
Additionally, online collaboration can come in the form of sharing of work and conducting peer reviews. Students can use the Internet to share their work with each other and provide feedback for improvement (Hughes, 2009). Hughes (2009) also discussed students helping each other in class to take pictures or use each other as participants in their digital poems. In this case, collaboration even extended beyond the classroom and students often included their family in their projects. This directly answers the ISTE Standards for Students (2016), which state that students should “use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members” (standard 7). Online collaboration can even be used for activities such as online book clubs that encourage struggling readers to get excited about books (Furman, 2017). As already mentioned, the students need to understand the technology before they can utilize it instructionally. Students working collaboratively within the classroom often end up learning about the technology from each other (Hughes, 2009). Moreover, the collaboration leads to in-depth discussions of the assignment so that students are often learning the content from each other as well as how to use the technology (Tarasiuk, 2010). The product that students create together is likely going to be different, if not better, than any product they create alone (Hutchison & Colwell, 2014).
Finally, a commonality across most of the research is the idea that offering students the opportunity to publish their creations is not only empowering, but ensures that they are engaging with the material authentically in order to create the best possible product to share digitally (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Hughes, 2009; Hutchison & Colwell, 2014; Tarasiuk, 2010; Zawilinski et al., 2016). Kolb (2017) argues that authenticity is a key factor in utilizing technology effectively, and lessons should create a bridge between students’ real life and classroom experiences. Publishing their work online puts a real-world aspect into the work they are already doing in class.