Over the past two decades, education institutions have spent millions of dollars on technology hardware and software without a clear purpose. Most vision statements describe how students will use technology tools to enhance and increase learning. But very few speak to the issue of how kids learn, what motivates them and how technology advances their understanding of the world. For technology to affect student learning, schools must ensure that appropriate resources are in place.

A common denominator for any classroom today is a network-connected computer system. This provides only a bare minimum toward increasing student engagement, but it is the essential building block, and all plans for classroom technology must start there. There are multiple choices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, netbooks and handhelds. The consensus: Laptops offer more bang for the buck, but the hottest and best choice is the netbook, a subcompact notebook.

A must is the interactive whiteboard. This device instantly captures everything written or drawn on its surface, transforming the classroom into a more productive environment by enabling participants to listen and participate instead of taking notes. With an interactive whiteboard, a person touches the board to control the mouse cursor, and as he or she moves a finger across the whiteboard displaying a computer image, the mouse cursor follows. Don't forget wireless slates, which enable teachers to move about the room and engage students easier.

Another hot item for 2010 is a tiny, handheld video camera. It is cheap, versatile, durable and easy to use. Teachers can record science experiments, combine video and text for impact, interview an expert and encourage collaboration.

To engage students, keep them alert and improve their performance, schools are using student response systems. An interactive student response system can actively engage every student in the classroom. Students can answer multiple choice, true-false, yes-no and survey-style questions that the teacher presents. Once the students have responded, the results can be displayed, providing feedback to both the teacher and the class. This wireless response device looks and operates just like a TV remote control, and instantly communicates with the teacher's computer. The teacher can develop a class survey, give a pop-quiz or verify that students understand the new material, with minimal effort.

Effective learning takes place when students receive immediate and specific feedback on their performance. Students learn best when they're challenged with novelty, a variety of materials and a range of instructional strategies. And finally, students learn best when they take an active part in the learning process.

C. William Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at bday@kbdplanning.com.

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