The analog-to-digital shift that has seen e-readers booting out books, smartphones trumping landlines and tablets making desktops look fuddy-duddy is also bringing new tech tools to the classroom. Last month, I read this New York Times article about CourseSmart, an app that allows teachers to track whether students have done their reading in digital textbooks, with interest. In the article, the dean of Texas A&M’s business school, which is testing out the technology, admitted it was “Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent.” And while it did seem to undermine one of the main points of college — that reading and studying are self-motivated — it also seemed like a good way for students to be able to demonstrate to professors that, yes, they are paying attention, and for professors to get real data as to what material just isn’t clicking for their students.
The tech solutions available to teachers now go far beyond the overhead projector. Below, a look at some tools in this burgeoning category.
The Boston-based startup BetterLesson, founded in 2008, is a social media platform that educators can use to organize and share their curricula. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded BetterLesson $3.5 million. “Considering the startup allows teachers to browse a serious repository of documents, presentations, lessons and even complete units and courses, all through a simple search interface, and upload their own lessons onto a dashboard, you can see why teachers will love this kind of resource,” TechCrunch wrote in 2011. “Add the ability to share curricula directly with international educators and receive feedback, and you’ve got yourself a goddamn deal, as Dave Chappelle would say.”
Launched in August 2011, ClassDojo helps teachers with what many call their hardest task: classroom management. The platform, which teachers can use on a smartphone, laptop or tablet, allows them to give students points (or take them away) “in real-time, with just one click,” as the website has it. Students are notified (“Well done Josh! +1 for teamwork!”), and teachers can use the platform to generate analytics and reports to share with parents and administrators.
PowerSchool allows teachers to track attendance, grades, and a lot more for students and parents to view at home. According to Pearson, which sells the system, PowerSchool supports 10 million students in over 65 countries.
- SMART Board
An “interactive whiteboard,” SMART Board allows teachers to write class notes digitally, so they can be saved for students to access later. (Feel like building your own whiteboard? At TED in 2008, Johnny Lee showed how you can hack a Wii Remote to build a simple interactive whiteboard.)
Started by a team of two brothers, Remind101 enables students and parents to sign up to receive teachers’ text-message reminders about assignments. It’s private—these are mass texts, and teachers can’t see students’ phone numbers. It’s also one-way, meaning that teachers can send out texts, but students can’t respond to them.
Using Educreations, teachers can produce video lessons using a “recordable interactive whiteboard” via an iPad app or the website. There’s a public directory of lessons, available for browsing by students or other teachers (or you).
Share your own favorite teacher tech in the comments, and for a comprehensive list, check out the NewSchools Venture Fund’s interactive map. We’re curious—what tools here sound like a good idea and which could be problematic?