Instructional software, or software designed to enhance the instruction of students, plays a major role in today’s classroom. Students have a desire to be engaged like never before through the use of technology, especially mobile technology, and it allows the teachers to differentiate instruction to more students in order to assure that all students learn. It also allows teachers to utilize different instructional models, such as hybrid learning or flipped instruction, thus allowing for greater learning experiences. When teachers utilize different types of instructional software, such as drill and practice, tutorials, games, simulations, and problem-solving software from their digital toolbox, the relative advantage of such tools is priceless.
I recently attended the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference, where one of the many things I learned was that Apple has recently passed the 1,000,000th app in the iTunes App store. About 10% of those apps are designed for an educational purpose, which means there is A LOT of learning opportunities for students and for teachers. How does a teacher determine which app works best for their students? Educators need guidance in determining which apps might work best for different content. By having a predetermined checklist to look at when selecting apps, teachers save time and money from the trial and error process. Some of the things to look at are appropriateness, customization ability, feedback, accessibility, and evaluation, among others. If districts are paying for apps, how do they know that teachers are looking at the right apps? What does the accountability look like? There needs to be an evaluation process on the app or instructional software prior to downloading and implementing in order to justify why something is being used. Some of the other things to consider can be found here. There is a lot out there, and having an evaluation process will allow teachers to choose the software that is right for them and for their curriculum.
An example of instructional software that I also learned more about at this conference was the educational version of Minecraft. MinecraftEDU is an instructional game that allows for collaboration, customization, and feedback. One example of how it can be used, particularly in our 5th grade social studies curriculum, is assigning students to build a settlement as if they just arrived in Jamestown for the very first time. Students would need to gather resources to build their settlement together. They would have the ability to reflect on what they are doing through writing journals to share their experiences. Minecraft combines ideas of a simulation designed to teach how a system works, as well as instructional games which allow for the governing of activities within the game and some added competition or collaboration if students are working in groups. The relative advantage of something like this is not only beneficial to students learning material for the curriculum, but it also fosters grit, or allowing students to overcome the struggle of learning. It’s ok for students to fail at building a structure as long as they learn from it and keep going. They can reflect on what they have done and learn how to do better the next time, which is a key cog to learning.