The Big, Fat Reason Why Edtech Enhances Learning. (And How to Really Make Technology in Learning Pop.)

There are probably a dozen or more reasons people give for integrating technology into education. Among them:

  • Facilitating personalization and differentiation of instruction and assessment.
  • Content creation is prioritized over content consumption. (And hence, student agency in their own learning enhanced.)
  • Democratizing access to information. (Once students have been shown how to evaluate this information.)
  • A greater focus on the application and amplification of skills through methodologies such as flipped teaching.
  • Edtech fosters greater engagement as students enjoy using technology.
  • By learning to use key tools, students are better prepared for the world of work.
  • Teachers can make more effective use of diagnostic and formative assessments in order to monitor learning.
  • E-learning, vodcasts, MOOCs and blended methodologies extend the reach of education by allowing students to work online.
  • Because learning is now more multi-modal and interactive (and thus more brain-friendly), learning becomes more effective.
  • Students present their findings more often and thus become better communicators.

And so on.

There’s truth to all of these. But like fable of the blind men describing an elephant, all of these reasons are not really the big, fat reason why technology is important. They are merely facets of the primary reason.

So what is it that makes technology integration truly pop? It’s this:

Edtech encourages and enhances structured and collaborative learning methodologies.


Or, put another way:

Edtech makes it possible to transition from teacher-led instruction to structured student-led and peer-based learning.

These structured cooperative peer-learning routines are not ‘group work’. Nor are they stifling scaffolds for thinking. They are structured and intentional, but they are also malleable.

The learning routines and structures as promulgated by the likes of ‘Visible Thinking Routines’ (by Harvard’s Project Zero) and Kagans’ ‘Cooperative Learning Structures’ work absolute wonders in class.

And technology has the potential to take these pedagogies to an entirely new level.

Properly structured learning, when paired with the appropriate educational technologies, has the potential to include all of the items on the list above… and then some. Edtech enhances the process by providing tools to record thoughts and discussions, to enhance evidence-based reasoning, to differentiate learning, to stimulate reflection, to create content, and to enhance feedback.


Some Examples:


This routine asks students to begin by thinking their way through a problem, idea or issue. Next, they pair up and discuss their thoughts with a partner. Finally, they can discuss and share these thoughts either with a bigger group or with the class.

Now imagine this process infused with technology.

  • Using Google Docs and/ or Google Slides, students can record their conversations collaboratively and modify them at every step.
  • Using an app like Explain Everything, students can record the entire process of their thinking and how it develops as they move through it.
  • Students can engage with other ‘squares’ in other classrooms around the world.
  • Using backchannels, students can tweet their individual or group ideas.



This routine is pretty easy to understand. Now add a layer of technology:

  • Students can use a device camera to record things they see, teachers can use anAR app like Aurasma to make a quest of finding the stimuli. Or how about student using ThingLink to create hotspots on an image?
  • Kids’ thinking can be enhanced by allowing them to research supporting evidence for their own or other perspectives.
  • Wondering can be refined by allowing students to draw or mindmap their ideas digitally, or indeed to present them in creative ways.


A Few More Examples:

One Stray (Can also be 2 Stray or 3 Stray)

Students work on a task as a group of four. At different times throughout the task, the teacher calls out “one stray” (or “two stray” or “three stray”). When this happens, one or more students stray to other groups to collect other ideas and bring them back to their group.

  • Use Google Slides / Docs (HyperDocs) and Book Creator



Students record the following: Three things that are clearer to them regarding the day’s topic or concept; two connections they have made to the new concept and their prior knowledge or experience; and one question/ concept/ problem that needs further clarification. The teacher collects the slips as students leave the room and uses the information to inform the next day’s lesson.

  • Use Google Forms to collate and analyze these reflections and to inform the next lesson.



The teacher places students into groups of 4. Each one is assigned a different task or section. Students doing the same section from different groups then move together and work cooperatively to become experts in that specific field. Experts then return to their base groups & share what they have learned.

  • Apps to support a Jigsaws: Google Docs, Google Slides, movie-making apps, podcasting apps, Book Creator, slow motion / stop motion apps.


Claim-Support- Question

Identifying generalizations & theories, reasoning with evidence, making counter-arguments

  • Try Popplet and / or Notability


Question Starts

Use these question prompts to start or conclude a section:

Why / Why is ____ ? How would it be different if ____ ?

Suppose that ____ ? What if ____ ?

What if we knew ___ ? What is the purpose of ___ ?

What would change if ____?

  • Enhance Question Starts with any audio, video or text-based app!
  • sometimes it’s nice to allow students to scribble and doodle. Use Notability or Paper53 for this.


CSI: Colour, Symbol, Image

Capturing the ‘heart’ of an idea or concept through metaphors and visual connections.

  • Use any of the awesome Adobe Apps / Canva / Grafio 3 Lite / Padlet


3-2-1 Bridge

Students document their initial responses to the topic: 3 Thoughts/Ideas – 2 Questions – 1 Analogy

After the learning activity, students document their new responses to the topics: 3 Thoughts/Ideas – 2 Questions – 1 Analogy

  • Google Docs & Forms


And this is honestly the tip of the tusk of a very big elephant. There are so many really effective structures, and pairing them with technology turns an already amazing learning experience into something majestic. The trick is, firstly, to pair the structure carefully with the lesson objectives, and then find the appropriate technology. Fair warning though: Some structures, like the silent collaborative mind-map are actually better without the technology.

Some templates you are welcome to use:



See Think Wonder TEMPLATE





I Used to Think TEMPLATE

Connect-Extend-Challenge TEMPLATE

Compass Points TEMPLATE



  1. It is so affirming to read this. My school’s leaders @Oakhill Knysna have steered us in the direction of Kagan pedagogy I have really seen the value in me talking less. One of my favourite quotes at the moment “The one who is doing the talking is doing the learning”. We are also now beginning to use GSuite. It is all very transformative but also obviously teacher driven. I think, planning, more than ever may be critical to this pedagogy using EdTech.


  2. Awesome post! I knew I needed to provide more practice opportunities for students who are just now learning to write and support claims, but I haven’t had any brilliant ideas of my own. I will begin using Popplet next year to allow students to practice that skill again and again before I ask them to use the skill to write essays. Thanks!


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