For the students of today, technology is highly captivating and engaging. It makes learning exciting, creates a buzz about lessons and work assignments and supports both you as a teacher and your students as learners. We encourage the use of technology in education, but ultimately understand that a good education comes from good teaching and learning. We don’t want technology to be a distraction, but instead want students to see it as a fun new aid to make their learning easier.

The exciting learning series which you will see over the following weeks will help you to introduce technology into your lessons, and enhance the good teaching you’re already doing. Instead of flooding your classroom with technology, we will guide you to make the right investments for the right reasons because there is a need for it.

Bing

Every day the Bing home page shows stunning, new and creative imagery from around the world, which, as well as being beautiful and worthy of a discussion in its own right, has hidden ‘hot-spots’ within the image. These can be great to form questions around for your students, and can provide a fun and interactive starter. If students have their own smartphones, tablets or personal laptops, they can use these to find out the information using Bing Search, rather than leaving this powerful technology switched off in their bags. As well as being a pretty picture, the image usually has some direct relevance to something that is going on in the world. This is a great way to teach students about current affairs, world cultures and other countries in a fun and engaging way, and may even spark up a conversation outside of the classroom.

If students take interest in the home page image and current affairs connection, Bing Social Search can also be useful to show them what people are talking about. Using Twitter’s trending topics, Bing Social Search shows the topics which are trending from across the web, in addition to showing public updates. Rather than browsing these in Twitter and opening another tab to search, students can search the trends straight from the social search. One feature I’m particularly keen on in this tool is the ability to see recent tweets on a map. Using this, you can search for tweets by location or landmark, keywords and people. Seeing the regions and countries which are talking about certain topics can be thought-provoking for students, as they can discuss why some trends are more important to specific areas and people.

Skype/Real time interaction

Skype, a new Microsoft acquisition, and Lync, part of the free Microsoft Office 365 for education service, are real-time interaction and web video conferencing applications which can bring people from anywhere around the world into your classroom. There is no doubt that bringing an expert into your classroom via video will capture your students’ imagination and create an engaging lesson.

Skype in the Classroom connects you to other teachers using Skype, allowing you to search for teachers by language, age taught and subjects. In the same way as the Partners in Learning network, you can create some fantastic connections with teachers all around the world using Skype, bringing them into your classroom and sharing lessons and resources with one another. This undoubtedly enhances teaching and learning as you share expertise and experiences with each other.

Lync online is another tool which can bring people into your classroom through video conferencing, but also offers you an IM connection, a virtual whiteboard, a presentation platform and screen and file sharing. This means that, when video conferencing with an expert or fellow teacher, they can present their lesson slides to your students as if they are really there in the classroom. The IM system allows students to ask questions throughout the presentation without interrupting, and the whiteboard means that notes can be made by the presenter to emphasise points in the same way as they would in a classroom.

Application development and Microsoft App Builder

Students are always using technology, whether for work or play, and are constantly thinking of areas in which they could use technology to make their learning more exciting. Many students consider developing an application for certain classes or projects, yet they don’t have the right skill set to do so. Wouldn’t it be great if your students designed an app which allows them to interactively answer questions in class using their mobile phones or tablets? The changes to the curriculum to introduce more Computing into ICT lessons will remove this obstacle, but what about the students who have already gone through the school ranks and haven’t been taught to code and develop. Is it fair that they can’t design an app when the right idea exists simply because they haven’t been taught how?

We don’t think it is, which is why Microsoft has developed App Builder, a website designed to aid budding app designers through a combination of quick guides, walk-throughs and tools (including DreamSpark for students).

Once your students have successfully designed an app, encourage them to enter for App Builder Rewards, where they’ll be rewarded for their hard work with goodies such as a wireless Xbox headset, tablets and even a trip to Paris.

So, next time your students have an idea for an app they could create to enhance their learning, tell them about App Builder and App Builder Rewards. Not only will they get their hands on some cool rewards for themselves, but they’ll also leave behind an application which will help aid future students’ learning.

DreamSpark

DreamSpark (www.dreamspark.com) is a programme introduced by Microsoft that provides students with software design and development tools for free (including Visual Studio 2010 Professional Edition) to help them design and create applications and games to advance their developing talent. The programme now runs in more than 80 countries and is offered within secondary, further and higher education. To register, all students have to do is visit the DreamSpark website and verify their student status.

Microsoft knows that, in order to make learning more motivating, relevant, and engaging for today's students, teachers require a diverse set of resources. DreamSpark gives educators the resources to ensure their classrooms always have the latest technologies to challenges, motivate, and keep students engaged in new ways.

If you have any questions about engaging your students using technology, or would like to tell me how you use technology in lessons, get in touch on Twitter @katiehook1