How to Become a More Effective Teacher in the Digital Age

Clay Scarborugh
Clay Scarborugh
High school principal; M.A. in Education, principal certification
Young boys using a tablet together while in a library.

A few years ago I was at a STEM conference when I was an assistant principal, and the session was about the impact of technology and the way we teach and learn in the classroom. The most eye opening piece of information I took from that was when the presenter overlayed two charts that looked like the x-squared parabola.

One chart was the rate of how technology changes/improves over time. The other chart was the rate at which we and our students take in and process information. They were almost exactly the same. Thus we process and take in information at the rate that technology advances. This gives rise to the reason why it is vitally important, wherever one may be in their educational career, to become a more effective teacher in the digital age; this is the world our students live in.

This also gives rise to these ‘former technology apps teacher (10 years) turned administrator (in my 9th year)’ primary talking points about technology. It is fantastic…as long as one knows how to use the tool properly. A hammer is a great tool for many things, but it also can destroy many things if used incorrectly. The tool is only as great as the user, thus is the same as in the classroom with technology. So how does one become a more effective teacher in the digital age?

Stay Current

Albeit obvious, it is vital. Technology improves, becomes more convenient, and more accessible and cheaper at a very quick rate. Thus, you also have to be nimble and current on the technology you have in the classroom or can get your hands on.

For the more experienced teacher, this may be a little more difficult as for the last five, seven, or 10 years you have the ‘newest’ technology and are just now getting comfortable with how it integrates into your classroom. Over that time there may be updates to that piece of technology or maybe even another piece of technology that is better and easier to integrate.

For the newbie teachers, this will be easier for you. Generationally and technologically speaking, you are closer to the age of your students and the technology they grew up with. Now, just watch for new trends as the different classes roll through your room.


Seems like every place I have been has had ‘that guy’…that guy who knows the technology, that guy who knows the gradebook, that guy who can fix whatever…talk to that guy!

Before I go out and find someone to come in and do professional development with my staff, I see if we can find the answer internally first. The main reason for this is with all the years of experience and different teaching experiences on the campus, the odds are that someone is very good at ‘it’ or they have tried ‘it’. Much like ‘that guy’, we have the teachers on our campus that are great at classroom management or asking questions or group projects, etc.

Studies have shown that teachers and students learn best from their peers. Why not do more of that? Yes, time gets in the way and there are other obstacles, but in your professional learning communities find out who uses technology for different things and see how you can integrate that into your classroom.

You also might be in a district that is large enough to have an Instructional Technology Coach. Much like an instructional coach, they could come to your room, watch how you teach, and find different technological ways to enhance what you are doing.

Technology could be looked at like any other instructional strategy: be willing to steal good ideas from others you work with.

Don’t be Afraid to Fail

Too many people in their life stop short of possibilities because they are afraid of failure. Short rant here…we are in education, one of the best ways to learn is to fail or try; what a great way to model for students what we do when something does not work or work as well as hoped. Yes, it is one the top three most annoying things in the classroom when technology does not work or does not work like we expected. It could throw the momentum of the class off, we could lose control of our class, and we might get a little embarrassed.

No gains were ever made by not trying. Our students change so much more quickly, and if we go stagnant in how we teach, this means we are teaching to students that we taught many years ago, and the the ones in the room we have now have different experience, backgrounds, and knowledge bases. You could be missing out on something in your class that could enhance engagement, streamline your workload, and help students succeed—sounds like something worth trying for.

What are Students Saying?

Want to know what will reach students the best? Just ask them. Not necessarily what the latest ‘Snapchat’ or ‘Facebook’ or ‘Tik Tok’ craze might be, but more or less what technology could better reach them.

Cell phones are issues in schools, but I have seen some teachers through different messaging systems turn phones into how students respond to questions in the room.

So students, if you want text and not work, how about text me the answers to the math problems and we can see what everyone answers on the board. Then the board displays all the answers from the students – instant accountability, instant assessment, and a foe becomes a friend.

Go to a Conference

Lastly, attend a conference. Yes, the sessions will help you also, but the key here in the digital age is the walk around the arena where everyone is showing their latest and greatest tech gadget or tool. Most of these have the same goal: to make your life easier to teach and streamline what you do in the classroom. But each year you can see the developments, changes, improvements, and innovation that is occurring. And there are usually many free items you can take home for yourself!

Some Specifics

What about some specific technology to use in your classroom that will help you be a better teacher in the digital age?

1) Chromebooks or ipads – they are relatively cheap and very user friendly. They allow your students to get to websites or apps that will help you teach your content.

2) Smartboards – not only do they help you visually explain what you are teaching, but students can come to the board and play games, write problems, match items, etc…very interactive.

3) Clickers – These allow you to ask your whole class questions and have the answer displayed on the screen instantly.

Through a COVID Lens

The digital age has helped make education more mobile and in some ways actually possible. We have had the most success with online learners through taking items digitally to our students. Links to websites for information, presentations posted on Google Classroom or Canvas, videos to watch, and videos of lessons for students to rewatch have been what we found to be the best for online learners digitally speaking.

Being a more effective teacher in the digital age is about getting out there and trying and talking and experimenting. Sounds like the root of education to me.

*Updated February, 2021
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