Effectively integrating technology into science education is a complex and lengthy process. The utilization of iPhones, iPads, computers and screens necessitate the cooperation of both instructors and students. Nevertheless, there are countless queries that must be addressed: How can technology be fused into teaching as to benefit and not distract from student learning? What role can it play in science courses and in what ways can it be implemented to encourage student motivation?

Walk across any university campus and you will find students milling about texting, checking Facebook and even Skyping. A 2013 American study found that the average college student owns 6.9 devices with the laptop ranking number one (Nelson, 2013). With technology playing a prominent role in students’ lives, the debate rages as to whether technology in the classroom is an instructional barrier or a learning aid.

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How can technology benefit student learning?

In addition to optimizing learning, technology has the ability to positively reinforce student motivation, productivity and engagement (Roblyer & Doering, 2010). A mobile phone can be used as a calculator, microphone, speaker, notepad, camera or GPS. Within a few clicks, students can access the Internet, listen to a podcast or watch a video. The ease and simplicity of technology provides students with the opportunity to self-regulate their own learning (Sha, Looi, Chen, & Zhang, 2012). These functions can be used for classroom collaboration, data collection, research as well as collaborative problem solving (Thomas, 2014).

Technology is a useful tool that can be used to enhance the learning experience in the science classroom and laboratory. Instructors could post videos of experimental simulations of “what-if” scenarios. For instance, to learn about the reactivity of alkali metals, students could watch this video where people perform experiments too dangerous for the university laboratory, but useful for visualizing and understanding the properties of these elements. By embracing students’ fascination and appetite for technology, students exhibit greater interest, motivation and satisfaction with learning (Schroeder, 2014).

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Finally, incorporating technology into the classroom does not mean that students are free to text, talk or check Facebook in class. In order for students to be able to resist these temptations, the technology used must be engaging and attractive. Instructors must devise creative assignments, projects and experiences as to captivate and retain students’ attention.

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How can one integrate teaching and learning technology with science?

Tweet your way to success 

Twitter is truly a unique social media experience that can prove fun and engaging. Instructors could encourage students to ask and answer questions, post pictures, track a scientific conference, all by using a creative hashtag (Carpenter, 2014). For instance, let’s suppose an instructor asks students to watch a Munk Debate and live tweet their impressions using #MunkThoughts2016. The same idea can be applied to an in-class movie, book or an assignment.

Xbox as homework

Furthermore, game-based learning, in which students are encouraged to play a competitive game online or as an app, can positively affect motivation, curiosity, attention and attitude towards the learning process (Shin, Sutherland, Norris, & Soloway, 2012). When students play competitive games, they are entirely engaged and focused on the game itself. Instructors can use this concentration to benefit learning. For instance, by creating a game in which the main character is a biologist who has just been deemed lead investigator in the Zika virus outbreak. Through a series of steps, the biologist must develop a plan to combat the virus, such as genetically-modifying mosquitoes or devising a mechanism to inhibit the way in which the Zika virus affects fetuses. The same idea can be applied to teach a wide range of concepts and topics by encouraging students to problem solve and think critically.

Finally, by incorporating devices into education, students are encouraged to practice and actively learn the material. Technology can be effective at getting students excited about their studies, possibly enticing them to conduct their own research on the topic. Not only will students receive instant feedback from their peers and instructors, but they will also be able to instantly learn from and correct their mistakes (Zimmerman, 1990). Therefore, introducing fresh and entertaining uses of technology can be an effective way to improve science-based learning, motivation and student engagement.

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Ault, M., Craig-Hare, J., Frey, B., Ellis, J. D., & Bulgren, J. (2015). The Effectiveness of Reason Racer, a Game Designed to Engage Middle School Students in Scientific Argumentation. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 47(1), 21-40. DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2015.967542

Carpenter, J. P., & Krutka, D. G. (2014). How and Why Educators Use Twitter: A Survey of the Field. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(4), 414-434.

Ekin, T. (2014). Welcome. tahirekin.com Retrieved from: http://www.tahirekin.com/

Nelson, T. (2013). Tech-Savvy College Students Are Gathering Gadgets, Saying Yes to Showrooming and Rejecting Second-Screening. Globe Newswire. Retrieved from: http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2013/06/13/554002/10036312/en/Tech-Savvy-College-Students-Are-Gathering-Gadgets-Saying-Yes-to-Showrooming-and-Rejecting-Second-Screening.html

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2010). Integrating educational technology into teaching (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson

Sha, L., Looi, C., Chen, W., & Zhang, B. H. (2012). Understanding mobile learning from the perspective of self-regulated learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 366–378.

Schroeder, N. L., & Adesope, O. O. (2014). A Systematic Review of Pedagogical Agents’ Persona, Motivation, and Cognitive Load Implications for Learners. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(3), 229–251.

Shin, N., Sutherland, L. M., Norris, C. A., & Soloway, E. (2012). Effects of game technology on elementary student learning in mathematics. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(4), 540–560.

Thomas, K. M., O’Bannon, B. W., & Britt, V. G. (2014). Standing in the Schoolhouse Door: Teacher Perceptions of Mobile Phones in the Classroom. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(4), 373-395.

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Zimmerman, B. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview. Educational Psychologist, 25, 3–17.