Perhaps at a quick glance educational technologies and SEL, short for Social and Emotional Learning, don’t mesh together. EdTech solutions are often associated with teaching students hard skills for the future, such as programming; or giving traditional subjects like math, new digital forms.
SEL on the other hand, promotes so-called soft skills and focuses on qualities which enhance students’ emotional abilities, mental well-being and social life. But emotional and social intelligence are part of the 21st century skill set, and they have a role in the EdTech field as well!
Students Need SEL, Especially Now!
EdTech Magazine reports that even though students have had a special need for mental and social support during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has proven difficult for many teachers to include SEL in their remote lessons. According to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s 2020 Educator Confidence Report, only 7 percent of more than 1,400 educators surveyed were prepared to take the social-emotional needs of students into account during the COVID-19 disruption.
Moreover, employers have noticed that young people entering the workforce don't feel confident in their people skills. In the 10-minute teacher podcast ”5 ways how to bring SEL into EdTech classroom use”, education influencer Vicki Davis (aka Cool Cat Teacher) and researcher Mark Sparvell touch on the topic briefly.
Students would like to receive more feedback when it comes to soft skills, but according to Vicki, they can prove difficult for teachers to evaluate. In cases like these, EdTech can introduce pedagogy that develops SEL skills or draws teachers’ attention more to them!
Benefits of Social and Emotional Learning
According to Committee for children, SEL helps young students to become more self-reliant, well-behaved and compassionate. It also develops problem-solving abilities by teaching communication, and guides students into making responsible decisions.
Creating and maintaining healthy relationships throughout life is one of the main goals of SEL – but also, research shows that students who are socially and emotionally talented, do better academically, have bigger friend circles and are more likely to succeed in life in general.
How EdTech Fosters SEL
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the five main learning goals of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills and responsible decision making.
First of all, EdTech can be used to help students assess their personal strengths and limitations. It can also help children to recognize harmful emotions, like anxiousness or depression, which can prevent them from performing well.
Rob Parker from Innovate My School lists apps that boost mental health and writes: ”unlike wellbeing lessons or counselling services, these apps are accessible at all times, are designed with student engagement in mind and can often be used anonymously, circumventing the stigma which stops many people from seeking help”.
2) Social Awareness
Secondly, EdTech can help students express themselves more freely and teach them proper communication skills. Social pressure, shyness or even disabilities can make it difficult for children to speak out or perform publicly. EdTech can support private and direct communication between teacher and student, which lowers the barrier to get support. Digital channels also enable quick public sharing, speaking out anonymously and the students have more control over their audience.
Also according to Eduporium, robotics has shown promising results for helping children’s socio-emotional development. If a student has a social or language disorder, they can program a robot to convey certain messages or perform actions, which indicate how they’re feeling.
EdTech can also help connect and collaborate with peers from around the world, like this Makers Empire’s article about an online school exchange showcase. The classes involved decided to enhance the distance learning experience with Flipgrid: an online board which allowed their students to upload and view student-created videos.
3) Relationship Skills
EdTech can also foster SEL in group projects - pairing for example STEM learning tools together with socio-emotional lessons, can create strong learning outcomes. Technology provides new platforms for group communication, working on stuff together online or for the end presentation.
Game-based solutions really shine in this field. Minecraft: Education Edition is a great example of a digital platform, where groups can work together on their strategy, team-building, communication - while also following a curriculum. Finnish Seppo.io also uses gamification as a method for teaching self-efficacy, collaboration and team-building. Games help students face failure in a healthy way and friendly competition makes failing almost fun.
4) Responsible Decision making & Self-Management
Technology usually gives the children something concrete to engage, create and share with – which increases their personal interest and input. For example DaVinci Club AR utilizes augmented reality in encouraging children to interact with their environment; and promotes holistic wellbeing, like physical activity, nutrition and social skills in the process.
Also, sculpting a personal study path and learning pace usually lead to better motivation. Getting more agency and learning when to ask for help, are major advantages of using EdTech. Most coding programs and apps, like CodeMonkey, allow children to perfect the skill in their own pace, provide feedback when necessary and reward advancement accordingly.
EdTech is the Teacher’s Support Pillar
If anything, EdTech solutions can help teachers with assessing how students are developing in the socio-emotional realm. Digital platforms make it easy to collect, follow and employ student data. ClassDojo is perhaps one the most known platforms, which aims to foster SEL by allowing teachers to focus on teaching a certain value, for example being kind. It also enables students to share their progress with parents, which is another aspect of SEL – strengthening all relationships and fostering a sense of community.
Some EdTech solutions are fully designed around socio-emotional learning. The Finnish company Positive along its slogan ”see the good”, has a strong SEL message in all of their educational products. Roundies has a full SEL curriculum for Pre-K, Kindergarten and the first years of school.
Last but not least is the Education Alliance Finland certified Mightifier which provides much needed help to remote learning with their flipped SEL solution. That being said, nowadays most educational technologies have the potential of being soft skills learning tools with the proper application and guidance from a teacher who’s ready to try out new things.
Written by Krista-Lotta Ojanen, Marketing Assistant at EAF