As an educator, developing an inclusive learning environment where every student feels empowered to contribute their ideas is crucial. So how can we leverage technology to create more equitable conversations and classrooms?
Two essential questions I consistently ask myself are:
1. How can we leverage simple web apps to create a safe learning environment where all students feel empowered to contribute their ideas in a style and format that feels most comfortable to them?
2. How can we embrace edtech tools to help us move away from a "first is best" culture to one that sends the message that everyone's voice matters, and ensures that a diversity of thought is represented in discussion?
By intentionally incorporating easy-to-use web apps into lessons, we can focus our technology use on compassionate, connected learning and a more inclusive learning environment for all. We can incorporate simple ideas like:
Providing multiple platforms so that every student has a chance to make their ideas seen and heard.
Projecting responses anonymously in order to open up a safe space for every student to contribute.
These strategies help ensure that all students have a voice and encourage participation by helping everyone feel more comfortable sharing their ideas.
Creating a more inclusive learning environment starts with good lesson design. By using edtech tools to redesign lessons, we can encourage active participation from all students. Seeing students work in real time provides an additional layer of insight and helps us address the needs of both the class as a whole and individual students. What’s more, when we take the conversation to the whiteboard for class discussion, we can focus on the solution process rather than a final answer alone. This enables us to recognize and highlight innovative approaches, (anonymously) share work in progress and showcase various ways of answering questions.
Drive participation by creating space for quiet contributors
When I was in school, the primary way to participate in class conversations was to raise my hand or be called on. This was never an optimal format for me and drove me to look for better methods of active engagement in my teaching. When we rely on hand-raising and cold-calling, those who regularly speak up earn more participation points and positive reinforcement for their contributions than their quieter peers. Too often, we give weight to the ideas of those who are most vocal and quick to have something to add. When we don’t give all individuals a chance to formulate a response first, we miss out on the opportunity to showcase the diversity of thought and perspective as well as hearing about various ways to approach a problem. Everyone loses when we don’t hear from all voices.
By creatively leveraging technology to shift away from a culture of praising the loudest voices in the room toward one where every person has a platform to make their ideas seen and heard, we can boost equity and inclusion.
Strategies and tools to support inclusion
Here are three strategies for using digital tools to be more inclusive.
1. Flipped learning with instructional videos.
By creating videos and assigning them as homework, educators can shift the focus from content delivery to addressing the questions that students are struggling with. Teachers can create screencasts using software like Camtasia, Explain Everything and Loom. They can then annotate the videos using tools such as a Wacom tablet (compatible with any Mac, PC and Chromebook), a Surface Pen (compatible with Microsoft Surface) or an Apple Pencil (compatible with the iPad).
Embedding learning checks into videos using tools such as Edpuzzle and PlayPosit can allow students to check their understanding immediately, helping them take ownership of their learning.
Short-answer questions can guide students to make big-picture connections, summarize concepts or take a reflective pause. The interactivity engages students, forces them to think more critically and helps them understand areas where they need to focus their questions. When students come to class the next day, they're prepared to discuss because they've already answered questions related to the video. You can use flipped and blended learning to maximize face-to-face instruction, giving students more control of their learning and teachers an opportunity to build deeper connections with each student.
2. Student-created videos
Allow students to asynchronously present and communicate their ideas verbally. One way to do this is by using Microsoft Flip, a free app that allows students to record themselves and respond to classmates in a threaded video discussion platform. Tools like Canva and WeVideo also allow students to easily record video. This not only provides the teacher with valuable insight into the students' thought processes, but it also allows students to practice verbalizing their ideas.
Having all ideas and voices represented on a grid of replies helps create a culture of peer-to-peer learning and fosters empathy and understanding among classmates. This strategy promotes a more collaborative learning environment, where students are not only learning from the teacher but also from their peers.
3. Interactive presentation tools
Encourage active contribution from all students and allow them to feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts and opinions. Tools such as Pear Deck and Nearpod give students a chance to engage with presentations from their own device. Teachers can design rich lessons incorporating a space for check-in, warm-up activities, teacher-led and collaborative discussions, and closing with a reflective pause — all with one tool.
During discussion portions of this activity, teachers present student responses on the board without names attached, thus helping students gain confidence in sharing their ideas. With simple web apps, teachers can ensure that all students have a voice in the conversation and call out a diversity of responses for further discussion.
It is also important to consider the way you provide feedback to students. Tools allow us to go beyond brief hand-written comments. Recording voice comments to communicate with tone and clarity allows you to offer more detailed and personal feedback that encourages students to improve their work.
Reusing comments for efficiency and creating an opportunity for an asynchronous feedback loop through written text and voice notes can also be useful strategies. Using a tool such as Mote and Kami allows this to happen directly in tools that teachers and students are most often using, such as Google Docs, Slides and Classroom. These tools also provide important accessibility features, such as options for playback speed and transcription to help students engage with the feedback in a way that feels most comfortable for them.
Teach students to own their learning
Technology, when it’s used wisely and with purpose, can create a more equitable and empowering classroom environment for all learners. With the intentional integration of simple web apps and thoughtful lesson design principles, educators can better engage and support every student. By creatively leveraging technology, educators can empower all voices, celebrate the unique contributions of each student, highlight the diversity of thought and perspective in the room, and foster a culture where students build the skills and confidence to take ownership of their learning.
Stacey Roshan is an educator, keynote speaker, TED-Ed talker, consultant, and author of Tech with Heart. She is passionate about discovering and sharing ways to leverage technology to cultivate deeper compassion in the classroom and provide each learner the optimal platform to express their ideas in a format that best fits their style.