Back To School Classroom Tech

12 ways that technology is enhancing education and the classroom.
  • Summer vacation is over and it’s time for your kids to go back to school. The technology that awaits them when the bell rings has taken a giant leap forward from when we were taught the three Rs. The use of laptop computers and interactive tablets makes learning a lot more entertaining, while the ability to interact with students in other states or even other continents is making our world smaller. Some classrooms have been flipped on their heads to help kids learn.

    Here are a dozen new technologies that teachers and students are using together to help enhance education. Not all of them are in every school yet. But if they aren’t in your child’s school, maybe you should ask when they will be.

    Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

    (Image source: US Office of Personnel Management)

  • Interactive Whiteboard

    The interactive whiteboard was first invented around 1990 by PARC, an R&D division of Xerox, which was later (2002) spun off into its own company. The modern interactive whiteboard can either work as a standalone device or as a large functioning touchpad in conjunction with a computer.

    In the simplest cases, a whiteboard can be used with a pointing device, or a finger, in the same way that a traditional chalkboard is used. The advantage is that the information placed on the board can then be stored, copied, or sent to other electronic digital devices. More complexity is possible, up to and including acting as a mouse, touchscreen, or other types of graphical user interfaces.

    Arguments against the use of interactive whiteboards are that the teacher remains at the front of the classroom, as with a traditional lecture, and the device doesn’t necessarily foster better teacher and student interaction.

    (Image source: Beyond the Office Door)

  • TV, Video, DVD

    The use of television for education goes back to Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, Sesame Street, and a variety of children-focused programs from the late 1960s onward. Although differentiating between entertainment and education is sometimes difficult, the use of instructional and informational videos and DVDs can provide a vista to a world beyond the classroom walls.

    (Image source: The Fred Rogers Center)

  • Laptop/Desktop Computers

    When Apple donated its Apple 1 model computers to schools in 1975, it started something. Before then, expensive mainframe computers meant that classroom usage was often limited to punch cards and paper tape. In the 1980s, computer-aided instruction gained widespread acceptance. In the 1990s, the availability of CD-ROMS with specialized programming and the widespread use of Microsoft Office products—particularly Word—made the computer commonplace in American classrooms.

    By 2010, many American school districts instituted a “1:1 learning policy,” by which every student in grade school had access to a personal laptop computer. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also put significant effort into providing laptop computers to schools in third-world countries. Some studies have shown, however, that a balance of computer use and human interactions with a teacher are more effective than a totally digital education experience.

    (Image source: Ed Uthman, originally posted to Flickr as Apple I Computer, CC BY-SA 2.0,

  • Tablets

    Just as desktop and laptop computers have given way to tablets for business and personal use, the growth of tablets in the classroom has been dramatic over the past five years. Even young children come to school having experienced touch-based interfaces from gaming and cellphones. As a result, tablets provide an easily understandable way to access technology. A tablet is also a relatively intuitive way to read a book.

    Interactive programming and the ability to construct multimedia presentations using videos and large numbers of images also make the tablet a good tool for learning. Tablets have become one of the primary methods for digitized learning in African nations, bypassing the laptop computer completely.

    (Image source: Mobile World Capital Barcelona)

  • Word Processing

    Although there are alternatives to Microsoft Office, that company’s suite of word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet software is almost ubiquitous in home, business, and educational use. Microsoft Word was developed in 1981 and released in 1983. The word processing program is available to students and educators through special pricing and packages and is frequently also available at no cost to students at universities.

    Beyond providing an easy to learn and use platform for students to write reports and express themselves creatively, basic skills in Word transfer directly into job skills—no matter what type of career a student chooses.

    (Image source: Microsoft)

  • Video Projectors

    A long time ago, film, overhead, and filmstrip projectors were part of every school’s audio visual (AV) department. Today, projectors that connect to laptop computers or other personal digital devices—either through a cable or, more frequently, through WiFi—have become the standard in the classroom. Such video projectors take an electronic video signal and convert it into an image that can be projected onto a screen. Either still or moving video images can be projected. Video projectors also are popular for student presentations that are developed on the student’s laptop computers.

    (Image source: Optoma)

  • Internet

    It is difficult to remember a time when we didn’t have the Internet to pay bills, find information, verify identities, and educate and entertain us. As a commercial entity, the Internet—which was developed from US government projects in the 1960s—has really only been around since the mid-1990s.

    The Internet acts like the glue that holds all of the other digital devices and technologies together. With ever-faster Internet speeds, there is almost nothing that can’t be accomplished in the classroom—from virtually visiting foreign lands to interacting with astronauts in the orbiting International Space Station.

    (Image source: @Tokyo)

  • Virtual Fieldtrips and Fieldtrip Previews

    With budget cuts and the high costs of transportation, school field trips have become a rare occurrence. But there are alternatives. A range of companies offer to take students on an adventure without ever leaving the classroom. Virtual trips to museums, zoos, historical places, and hard-to-reach locations are available online.

    Usually, the trip has an expert guide—an explorer, marine biologist, zoologist, scientist, or historian—who can make the trip educational as well as fun. If a real trip is planned, a preview can also be called up to help students understand the context of what they are about to see.

    (Image source: Microsoft)

  • Podcasts and Distance Learning

    Online courses and podcasts can give students a different perspective or provide access to a lecture or presentation by a distinguished educator. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), for example, provide unlimited participation and open access and can also provide a support community. In many ways, distance learning had its start with correspondent courses via the postal system. The Internet has made such courses more accessible and affordable.

    (Image source: Hofstra University)

  • Flipped Classrooms

    In the traditional classroom teaching model, the teacher stands before a class and provides a lecture. Then the students study by themselves, typically doing homework problems. These problems are submitted to the teacher and graded.

    In the mid-1990s, a new type of teaching was proposed. In the Flipped Classroom, the teacher’s lecture is recorded on video and watched by the student at home. The “homework” is done in the classroom, usually in small groups and with the direct assistance of the teacher. This allows students to explore topics in greater depth.

    One of the first proponents of Flipped Classrooms was Salman Khan, whose Kahn Academy began producing online materials in 2004.

    (Image source:

  • 3D Printing and Fab Labs

    Building things with your hands is an important part of education. Unfortunately, in many schools, shop classes have been eliminated—a victim of budget cuts. The good news is that new technologies, including computer aided design (CAD) programs and 3D printers, are finding their way into the classroom. In addition to learning valuable technical skills like coding, the ability to dream up and make something that never previously existed is providing students with a new way of looking at the world.

    In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set up its first “Fab Lab” with the goal to “make almost anything.” The concept has spread worldwide. A typical Fab Lab is equipped with a variety of computer controlled tools and machines that can be used to turn dreams into reality. Fab Labs can be found at college campuses, high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. Community Maker Spaces serve the same purpose for adults looking for a way to build things.

    (Image source: Fablab Brussels)

  • Electric School Buses

    Cleaning the air and saving money: those are the reasons given for switching from diesel powered school buses to those powered by electricity. There are about 480,000 school buses in the US, and more than 95% run on diesel. Although electric buses are considerably more expensive than diesel versions, their lower operating and maintenance costs quickly make up the difference. There is also a health consideration. Diesel engines produce fine particulates that have been shown to worsen respiratory diseases and conditions like asthma. Powering school buses with electricity reduces the exposure to harmful pollutants for the students who ride them.

    (Image source:

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