6 Ways Kids Can Use Technology to Improve Their Grades

With schools back in session, I thought I’d use this opportunity to show how kids can use technology to improve their grades. As someone who taught at the college level for more than 10 years, I often made these same recommendations to my students. Remarkably, many of them tell me that they were completely unaware of these resources.

1. Using Boolean Operators in Search Engines

Search engines use algorithms based on both logic and popularity, which is why Wikipedia is often at the top of the results from most search engines. Since most people rarely go through more than one or two pages of results, it’s important that the results are as helpful as possible. Boolean operators will help accomplish that for you.

For example, when searching for information on Alexander Hamilton, you will get different results based on what is typed into the search engine:

  • Alexander Hamilton will return pages that contain either word.
  • “Alexander Hamilton” will return pages that contain an exact match.
  • “Alexander Hamilton” and “Maria Reynolds” will return pages that contain both exact matches, likely related to their affair and the subsequent blackmail by her husband, James.

There are plenty more Boolean operators available and the results will definitely be better for the student.

2. Google Scholar

As popular as Google is, it is subject to results based on popularity. Google Scholar, on the other hand, will provide research quality results and have better search criteria tools, including dates, patents, authors, and more. Those kinds of results rarely show up using traditional search engines.

Not that Google doesn’t have those features, but Google Scholar puts them front and center so that the student is more likely to use them. That’s not to say that the popular version of Google isn’t sometimes a better option, as it would miss out on many reliable sources because they don’t fit academic standards, such as news sources and trade journals.

3. Khan Academy

Parents of younger children may already be aware of Khan Academy. Our daughter was using it at an early age after using it in grade school. For those that haven’t used it, Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that provides free lessons and educational videos for students of all ages.

4. Wikipedia

My students were always surprised when I told them that they could actually use Wikipedia to help write their papers for my classes. They were never allowed to cite Wikipedia, as it could very well be providing false information, but it is often right – probably even right more often than it’s wrong. The trick is to take advantage of the work done by the people who wrote the pages by looking down at the bottom of the page at their references. Many of them include links to other sources and if those sources are reliable, then Wikipedia was helpful even if it wasn’t listed as a source itself.

5. Microsoft Word References

I found that one of the best kept secrets that my students didn’t know about was how much Microsoft Word can help students by making sure that their papers are written to academic standards, including APA and MLA requirements. Almost all my students were in at least their sophomore or junior years, but many knew nothing about how Word can take out most of the “grunt work” when it comes to writing a paper to APA or MLA standards. This is especially true when it comes to listing all of their sources.

Students should always check with their teacher/professor about which optional information should be included as well. For example, I always required that students include the URL link to any online sources even though it’s not an MLA requirement. Using Word’s Reference features will make their papers much easier to do and help ensure that they meet the technical requirements of the assignment.

6. But What about ChatGPT?

My students always liked that I never gave tests. I never considered them to be realistic, as no boss ever told me to clear off my desk and take a test. They gave me assignments and I had to complete them. That’s what artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT can do, but at the expense of having the students learn, which is the real reason the students are in school. Additionally, these sites are not infallible, especially if the request isn’t written in the proper way. That means that students still need to qualify the results provided by them. So, like Wikipedia, it may provide some benefit, but it should never be accepted at face value or used as provided by the platform.

And even if ChatGPT is accurate, students still run the risk of being discovered as not having done the work themselves. Faculty have access to a host of AI checkers – here is just one example. Additionally, what comes out of an AI will not be written in the student’s “voice” and will be easy to identify as such.

In one of my first semesters as an adjunct professor, I had a student submit a paper that clearly wasn’t written by her. The grammar and tone were more like a doctoral thesis. With a quick search, I found three sites that were selling the exact same paper for less than $10. All of them had disclaimers that they were meant as a guide but should not be used in place of a student’s work. As a result, she failed the assignment.

Where AI platforms like ChatGPT can help students is by helping them brainstorm ideas, a critical part of most assignments, especially in the early stages of the work. For example, when I entered, “give me a list of 5 topics related to global warming for a high school report” into the platform, I was provided with five solid ideas that I could use to write a paper or create a presentation. It all depends on how you phrase your query and students should be prepared to try variations on their original query to see how it affects the results.

The Bottom Line

The benefits that technology can provide to students are very real. On top of that, most of what’s shown here uses technology that is already familiar to most students. By using any of these resources, students can generate better quality work in less time than they would otherwise.

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for several years. He is also an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that he became involved in helping others in the area. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention and is the cyberbullying advisor to Fifty Shades of Purple against Bullying. He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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