How to communicate with students through technology

Written by Michael Hoon

Your students are on devices all day long, constantly texting, scrolling through social media, and checking email between classes (and sometimes during class). While many schools have technology policies and some teachers ban devices in their classroom, some are embracing tech to reach this generation in key ways: as teaching tools within the classroom, through multimodal assignments, and through communication beyond the classroom.

Tech is increasingly being used in the classroom as a learning tool—even as the assignment itself. Your students are learning how to build personal websites and sophisticated presentations using software like Google Slides, Prezi, or Canva; students today are increasingly more likely to upload a file rather than print an assignment on paper.

Consequently, teachers writing notes on the margins of an assignment in red ink is becoming a thing of the past. Whether it’s a way to reach the eyes that are overly invested in their screens or simply to find the most functional way to give feedback on various types of media, there are several ways to use tech as a communication tool in and beyond the classroom.

But first let’s be clear about what not to do: no texting students or communicating via social media apps. Although you want to reach students, communicating with tech they primarily use with friends or family muddies the effectiveness of your messaging, and potentially communicates a lack of seriousness to some students. It also interferes with your own ability to set proper boundaries between you and your students, as well as between your work life and your home life. It’s not about being the cool techy teacher. It’s about finding tools that suit your needs and meeting your students where they are.

Go Paperless

The paperless classroom can be a way to not only stop the spread of germs, but also make turning in an assignment as easy as clicking a button. Wouldn’t it also be great to give students feedback just as easily? Using the comments features on Microsoft Word or platforms like Google Docs can be great for providing feedback to students who can reexamine the assignment in the same way they created it: on screen.

This isn’t just about convenience; electronic feedback lets you make changes directly to their document, allowing them to get a sense of what the finished revision would look like without the need to decode your handwriting. Google Docs can also be a great way to communicate to students engaged in group work and allow easy communication among multiple users.

Going paperless can be more easily facilitated when your school uses LMS (Learning Management Systems) like Canvas or D2L, but there are a number of Google products like Google Sites that can allow teachers seeking out a user-friendly platform to provide online syllabi, updates, and assignments that students can access quickly.

Voice & Video

We so often gear the classroom towards reaching auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners to reinforce the multiple ways students receive messages, but some teachers rarely mix it up in their feedback—which is often written. Providing feedback on documents using voice annotations features that exist in programs like Microsoft Word or creating voiceovers on video-recorded presentations with programs like Screenflow can be a great way to reach students who are auditory learners. It’s also a way to engage students who get to hear the real voice of the teacher and read impressions and detect enthusiasm that can get lost in written feedback.

The great thing about tech is that it allows more types of communication and creative ways to engage students—but it also is a two-way street. Various apps that allow you or your students to develop video with some flair like Filmora or Animoto can be a dynamic way to engage class material for everyone.

Interactive Tech

In the classroom, communicating course content can be made more interactive by creating lessons where technology use is required through platforms like Blendspace (which can incorporate a YouTube video, Power Points, images and documents). You can engage students with interactive games like Kahoot—a quick multiple-choice quiz game the entire class plays on their phones or computer. Or you can engage student feedback through interactive polls like Poll Everywhere or Micropoll.

By inviting students specifically to use the devices they are so familiar with, you can help facilitate the learning process and get your students excited to learn.

About the author

Michael Hoon