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Important tech trends in education you should know about

Not that long ago, educators, parents and policymakers were debating the value of technology in the classroom. Those days are gone, and the conversation has moved from whether to use technology in the classroom to how to use it most effectively.

Some of these edtech tools–such as document cameras and interactive whiteboards–seemed to have been designed specifically for the classroom (even if they weren’t.) Others, such as 3D printers and virtual reality technology, are clearly adapted from other sectors. But whatever the starting point, it’s apparent, even to critics, that these tools are here to stay.

The challenge becomes selecting the best ones for a particular school or classroom setup. Here’s a look at several that educators–and students–have embraced.

Document camera: a new take on an old tool

Document cameras are the 21st century version of the overhead projector, except they are far more versatile and–admit it–much cooler. They capture 3D objects or 2D images, magnify them, then project them on a screen.

The best document cameras available in 2017.

You can display real-time video, text, math problems, science experiments, maps, pop quizzes–pretty much anything. Prices and features vary tremendously: It all depends on your budget and your classroom setup. According to Scholastic, which has a primer on document cameras, there’s no learning curve. A teacher can start using one right out of the box.

Virtual & augmented reality: not just for gamers

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) aren’t just about gaming anymore. From virtual field trips to vocabulary building exercises, more classroom content for VR/AR technologies is being developed.

AR for iPhone 8 and X.

VR is popular because it can simulate environments, which enhances teaching. VR virtually transports you someplace else. You are at–and in–the Parthenon, for instance. AR adds a computer-generated layer to your reality–like Pokemon Go.

3D printers allow for hands-on engagement

Almost every industry, from consumer goods to aerospace to healthcare, has embraced 3D printing. It’s now emerging as a way to engage students across disciplines.

Best 3D printers in 2017.

Perhaps its most obvious application is in computer-assisted design (CAD) classes: Turning those designs into something they can hold lets students apply engineering skills in a real and tangible way. Educators say 3D printers create the kind of engagement that lets students see the value of their education in a real-world, hands-on way–a far cry from simply prepping for the next test. The key, experts say, is to use them to do things you couldn’t do otherwise.

That’s also the case with interactive whiteboards.

Whiteboards 2.0

Interactive whiteboards–“smartboards”–aren’t new, but there’s still some debate about their value. But the problem isn’t the boards themselves. Rather–as is the case with so much technology in the classroom–it’s the way they are (and aren’t) being used. It’s essential, advocates and critics seem to agree, to treat them as something more than digital chalkboards or expensive overhead projectors. There is a plethora of resources on how to do this, including this one from the NEA and this from Emerging Edtech.

A different kind of handheld reader

Reader pens are pocket-sized devices that read text out aloud. They’re a boon for dyslexics and others with reading challenges, as well as those learning English. Some vendors offer pens in other languages, making them ideal for students of foreign languages. Small, simple, portable and relatively inexpensive, they show that technology in the classroom doesn't have to take up much space.

Wireless screencasts: turning distractions into tools

Wireless display technology allows teachers and students to present–screencast–from anywhere in the classroom, and show videos, presentation, etc. They simply project content from their mobile devices to the display at the front of the room. Screen cast software abounds: Chromecast and Google Cast for Education, Apple AirPlay and Classroom, Miracast and EZCast Pro.

Screencasting–sometimes called screen mirroring–gives children the ability to create a video showing, for instance, how they work through a word problem. They can add images to the screen, make annotations–even add their own voice. Teachers can use it to record lessons that a substitute can show.

EZCast Pro not only screen mirrors, it also works well as an interactive whiteboard.

Perhaps most importantly, it allows students to use their mobile devices in constructive, educational ways. Instead of banning and confiscating the devices, educators can turn them into tools for learning.

A tool for every toolbox

Teachers–really, anyone interested in education–want to find better and easier ways to engage students in the classroom and keep them engaged when they return home. These technologies in the classroom help them do that. With a range of prices, there's something available for every classroom set up.

Can you think of other technological trends in education? Please let us know in the comments below.

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