E.P.I.C. Students – 7 Tips for Implementing Classroom Technology

It was 20 years ago that I first stepped foot onto a college campus. As I spend more time on college campuses, it’s amazing how much students and classrooms have changed over the last 2 decades. We had little access to technology, and if we wanted to call home, we had to wait in line at the one pay phone in the dorm.Technology Blog Pic

Contrast this experience with what students see today.  Almost all students step on campus with at least one connected device, and most have access to two or more. Classrooms and buildings have been updated with WiFi to keep students connected. Instructors plan and design lectures to be interactive as technology has allowed us to communicate and engage students.

Since becoming a teacher in 2004, I have seen various technologies come and go. Sometimes technology changes the way we do things for the better, and sometimes technology just changes how we do things. Our students today come with a different perspective and background even compared to those from just 10 years ago.

Dr. Tim Elmore has done a vast amount of research on today’s students (http://growingleaders.com/tim-elmore/). He describes today’s students as E.P.I.C.

Experiential – students prefer a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage.

Participatory – these students grew up with American Idol and are accustomed to having a “vote”.

Image Rich – “Screenagers” – this is the language of the 21st century.

Connected – they view technology as vital – comparable to air and water.

As we think about this EPIC generation, we can begin to plan new ways of instruction and engagement in our classes. One of the most powerful ways that I’ve used technology to impact students is by incorporating a student response system. In my time at i>clicker / REEF Polling, I have seen how students can participate and stay connected, while using technology in an intentional and purposeful way.

The rest of this blog will look at 7 ways to get the most out of your student response system.

Explain Why

Author Simon Sinek, discusses the importance of “Why” in his book Start with Why. When we explain the why, we plant the seeds for success and students begin to buy in to what we are trying to accomplish. As you share your goals with students, your “why” may include the following:

  • Promote participation and attendance
  • Provide and receive instant feedback
  • Foster community
  • Increase engagement
  • Assess comprehension
  • Generate discussions
  • Enhance conceptual understanding
  • Provide students with additional resources.

These are just a few ideas of why we would want to use a student response system with our EPIC students.


Set Expectations Early

To be clear is to be kind. By letting know students what to expect, we remove surprises and set ourselves up for success. Let students know what they need to bring – i>clicker, phone, or laptop – and let them know early on how to access. Use your syllabus and Blackboard to share useful tips and information as well as resources and support.

You might also consider dropping the lowest 5-10 scores. This encourages participation and allows for challenges that arise over the course of a semester (i.e. forgot their i>clicker or phone). This is also a great time to discuss academic integrity and cheating.

By setting expectations early on, we help set students up for success and lay a solid foundation for a successful semester.


Use for more than attendance

Use for more than just a replacement of a sign-in sheet. The SAMR model is a great illustration of the hierarchy and goal of technology. If we simply use technology as a substitute for an older way of doing things, then we fail to get the most out of technology.

As we move along the spectrum, from Augmentation, to Modification, and the ultimate goal of Redefinition, we have a chance to do things with technology that were not possible prior to that technology being available.

For example, in a class of 200 students, if we only use a clicker to take attendance, we’ve simply substituted what we used to do with pencil and paper. However, if we ask questions, allow time for discussion, and provide instant feedback for students, then we begin to redefine teaching and learning with technology.

If we leverage the technology available, we can help students learn and succeed, and we ultimately create more engaging classrooms.


Allow time for discussions

One of the best examples of discussions comes from an instructor using REEF Polling at the University of North Texas. She gives students a question about the best choices of breakfast foods. She then presents new information and allows students time for discussions. Finally she asks the same question again to students. She is able to see the shift in students’ thinking, and students are able to see their progress.

Breakfast pic question

Use for more than just multiple choice

While mobile technology sometimes allows for more types of questions (target and open-ended), physical clickers can also allow students to answer numeric and short answer questions. While may not ask students to type “War and Peace” with their a clicker, if we can have them answer different types of questions, we’re more likely for them to be engaged and participate.

Short answer question


Review/Recap or Exit Poll

As class ends, ask students a final question to assess whether or not they got the main point. You can also allow students to ask their own questions or provide feedback on what they’d like to see next class.

  • Did students get it?
  • Are we ready to move on?
  • Did the activity work?
  • How did I do?


Extend use beyond the classroom

Encourage students to access information and review after class. If you sync your scores to Blackboard, remind students to check to see how many points they received. If students are using REEF Polling, have them review sessions to see questions that were asked.

Student Review


Looking ahead to a new semester

Technology, when used effectively, increases the chances of making a difference with our students. As we look to a new semester, we have a new opportunity to reach students and impact future generations. Technology opens doors and allows us to do new things with our students.

Our students today are Experiential, Participatory, Image rich, and Connected. Knowing this will allow us to plan, prepare, and implement technology in a powerful way to engage our students and transform the landscape of education.


Note: The above article was modified from a webinar I recently hosted entitled 7 Strategies for a Successful Student Response Experience.

Webinar pic


Instructional Technology

3 Things Technology Can Do (and 3 things it never should)

When I took my first teaching job in 2004, technology was starting to emerge in the classroom. Very few students had their own devices, and teachers were learning new ways to teach and engage students. Technology Blog Pic

Over the last 10 years, technology in the classroom has created some incredible learning opportunities, and we’ve seen a number of changes – from the way we teach to the way we manage our classrooms. From a teachers perspective, sometimes the challenge becomes leveraging technology in a way that takes something off an educator’s plate, instead of adding something else onto it.

Whether in a middle school math class or an intro chemistry class at a university, there are at least 3 things that technology can (and should) do.

  1. Engage – Technology allows instructors and students to engage at a level that was impossible to do just 20 years ago. Through technology, we have the ability to understand difficult concepts that in the past were abstract. If we can utilize the devices that students already use and are comfortable with, we have removed a barrier and engagement increases.
  2. Connect – Today’s student is connected. Very few of us are every more than an arms length away from our phones. Technology allows us to connect to a community, both inside and outside of the classroom. If we as educators can use technology to connect with our students in the classroom, we can start to understand the gaps and reach those students who need us most.
  3. Maximize efficiency – Technology provides a way to streamline many of the processes and housekeeping items that take away valuable instruction time. As educators, we should leverage technology to automate and empower students. Taking attendance, sharing presentations, and providing feedback are ways that educators can use technology to reclaim valuable classroom time. If we simply use technology to help us make the best use of the time we have, then we are beginning to leverage technology, and not just implementing it.

As valuable a tool as technology can be, there are also 3 things that technology cannot do.

  1. Technology cannot replace educators who care. Teachers have an incredible ability and responsibility to create relationships with their students. No App or social network can take the place educators who invest in the lives of their students.
  2. Technology cannot replace dynamic presenters and effective communicators.  It can allow us different ways to communicate, but Siri and Alexa are poor substitutes for the passion and knowledge that educators can bring to the table.
  3. And finally, if educators are to fully leverage technology into classrooms, it should not create additional work. While there may be a learning curve, and sometimes we may have to spend time on the front end to design or create, in the long run, technology should be used to optimize the most valuable commodity we have – TIME. When technology fails to work or creates more problems than solutions, then we have only substituted one medium for another.

Many things have changed since my first year in that 9th grade Algebra classroom. We’ve seen initiatives come and go. We’ve seen technology change the way we do many things. In some ways the role of an educator has changed, but the one thing that remains is the impact teachers have on students.

Now that I’m on the outside of the classroom looking in, I am grateful for the educators who have invested in me. I’m also thankful to be able to work with a group of people that influences future generations, and I hope that in some small way, I can help leverage technology to make a difference with teachers and students.