Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Bother With Interactive Content?

The number of online content creation and content sharing tools available for students and teachers seems to be growing by the day. Wonderful tools like Prezi, Animoto, WallWisher, and Voki fill the pages of some of my favorite ed-tech blogs where educators discuss authentic ways students can use each application to create and share original content.

On the other end of the spectrum is educator or publisher created content in the form of instructional animations, virtual manipulatives, practice activities and games that can be integrated into classroom instruction. (For a discussion of each of these four types of content, please visit this post at our sister blog, The Interactive Content Corner.)

So, why use this type of content in your classroom? Why not just stick with content creation and sharing tools? And what is wrong with just using books, paper, and pencils to teach basic concepts like we always have?

There are many reasons to use interactive content in the classroom, but I’m going to focus on four specific reasons that motivated me to use interactive content with my students:

1. Research Based
2. Increases Instructional Capabilities
3. Time Saving
4. Engaging and Motivating

1. My research based reason for integrating interactive content into direct classroom instruction is based on a study by Mann, Shakeshaft, Becker and Kottkamp published in the Milken Exchange on Education Technology. Through their research, they found that the manner in which technology is utilized in the classroom is a major determining factor in its ability to influence student achievement. Technology, specifically instructional software, has been proven most effective when integrated into classroom instruction.

Students who experienced teacher-led standards-based instruction with technology showed higher overall gains than students who experienced the same curricula and technology in an isolated lab setting. Teachers have the ability to match computer instruction with the children’s development, the curriculum sequence, and the needs of particular groups of students. Teachers must be involved, “orchestrators” of technology, rather than quiet observers of students in learning isolation.

I particularly liked the researchers’ term “orchestrator” in reference to the teacher’s role in using technology in the classroom. Rather than being the “sage on the stage,” with interactive content, teachers need to act as guides for students to discover, practice and apply new concepts.

2. Interactive content allowed me to present concepts in ways that simply aren’t possible without technology. With interactive content, I can show my students an instructional animation in which each piece of US currency comes to life to tell the story behind its creation. I can use a virtual manipulative to instantly draw 100 colored balls and then 1000 colored balls from a bag so we can compare the results of the two experiments to discuss the relationship between theoretical and experimental probabilities. We can measure thousands of objects with an online ruler—more than I could ever gather for my classroom. I can use a multiplication game that allows my students to practice their facts with students around the globe in a fun environment. Integrating interactive content helped me to take my students beyond what is possible with paper and pencil based tools.

3. Using interactive content in my classroom saved me time. Tons of it! Every year that I taught, something new was added to my growing list of daily responsibilities, and it got to a point where it was impossible to accomplish everything I needed to in a day even though I showed up early and left late.

When feeling overwhelmed by all of the daily work that needed to be accomplished in my classroom, fellow teachers always reminded me, “You don’t need to re-invent the wheel” for everything you do. This is especially true for teachers using interactive technologies. I see many teachers become overwhelmed at the thought of trying to create original digital lessons for every class they teach every day. There simply isn’t time.

The good news is you don’t have to! There are many educator created lessons already available online in specific IWB software formats, but beyond the power point nature of some of these lessons, there is a whole world of online interactive content that can be accessed with an internet browser. Tech-savvy teachers and tech-reluctant teachers can choose from thousands of interactive content pieces online so they can spend less time creating and more time integrating. (Yes, I realize that finding online interactive content can also be difficult and time consuming, which is why a group of teachers created StarrMatica.com)

4. Interactive content engages students. There are many different ways to define engage. In this instance, I mean it gets the student’s attention and holds it. True, I can provide my students with the same opportunities to practice basic math skills via worksheets as I can via an animated game, but the latter is more enjoyable and motivational. Technology is the language of many of today’s students, and with interactive content we as teachers have the ability grab the attentions of our students and to motivate them by wrapping learning in enjoyable interactive content that holds their interests.

Please share your personal reasons for using interactive content or not using interactive content by commenting below!


  1. I am one of those teachers that is working 24-7. I was recently awarded a grant for an interactive white board. Colleagues told me it would mean more work, but after reading your article I am very excited that there are interactive lessons to utilize with Starr.Matica.com My students are 21st Century Learners and I am convinced that they will be better served as I grow as proficient educator by utilizing this technology. Thank you for your input.

  2. Thank you for your comment! I can definitely relate to working 24/7 in my fourth grade classroom. It was hard to imagine finding time to do/learn "one more thing". Learning new technology in particular can seem intimidating and very time consuming. I commend you for not being discouraged, and your students are going to benefit tremendously as you learn and grow with technology. I hope you find many ways StarrMatica can be of assistance in your journey, and please feel free to contact me anytime.

  3. I’m a big advocate of gaming for several reasons. One of my reasons is because it’s BIOLOGICAL- especially for BOYS to ‘WIN’. Thus, creating ‘BIOLOGICAL ENGAGEMENT’. (Of course, this being a ‘gaming generation’, I think that girls are just as engaged- TO WIN!)
    So, IWB, groups or working alone- games are great for kids.
    I have 3 sons- 10, 8 and 2 1/2, and I can see that it's naturally harder for boys to sit still & not be engaged. We didn't let our oldest 2 have toy guns or watch that type of show when they were little; however, they still 'conquered'. They used to watch The Magic School Bus- my boys played white blood cell versus the bacteria! They truly have a 'biological drive' to conquer!
    Now I agree, not all boys are that way- but, I do believe that gender & biology plays a big part.
    Besides that, who cares HOW they remember, as long as they do. I still do silly mnemonic devices to remember things & am showing them- but it's better if you can make the connection yourself (I memorized the Latin American countries to 'Kokomo' in high school). We all do it- so why shouldn't they use what they know?!
    Also, what does it do to a teacher to see that 'spark' in the eyes of her students? The class & the teacher are hungry & eager for more...

    Thangs that make you go hmmmm.......


  4. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I hadn't considered the biological component of the need for interactivity before. Great point! I also agree that anything that makes the teachers and students excited to learn together is positive.


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