How to know if a technology is any good for teaching & learning.
There are just so many platforms, apps, software tools, addons, plugins, and more; so how do you know if any of them are any good? Should you download as many as possible and start trialing them? No, don’t do that, you’ll quickly run out of time to do anything else.
Some frameworks can guide us, a way to hold one of these technologies to the light or see if it suits our requirements.
Where to start?
As you’re building your curriculum and designing the learning, you’ll come across learning outcomes that are similar or reoccur often enough that you might need to create a series of activities or tasks for learners. You’ll find common categories within Bloom’s. For instance — discuss, create, analyze, share, collaborate, etc that might make you think about a particular project or way to capture evidence of the learning that’s taking place. This could be almost anything, a portfolio or photography project, or a series of experiments or practical tasks. You should be free to explore many different possibilities.
What is your need?
You could use the SAMR model, to explore how an activity or technology you currently use (for instance in the classroom) could develop along with a framework of adaptation or augmentation. These needs might be identified as “you could do more if you could scale up” or “we could do more if the students could do these tasks outside of class” or “students could explore in a more sophisticated or detailed way” or even “… we could include a game or add a media component”. These are just a few examples of the instincts that you might have which lead you in search of technology.
What do other people use?
This is really useful, teachers are good at sharing tools are resources. We all know that technology is an investment, that there’s only so much time in the week for planning, so there needs to be something good that is worth the effort. You might search common Twitter hashtags #edtech or #edutwitter etc. There are also your colleagues and experts in other areas too, sometimes it might be good to note recommendations as you encounter them so that you can take a look at them when you have some time.
Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
There’s a correlation between the simplicity of the technology and its usefulness. So it’s fine to use an app that just conveniently looks after the “cut and paste images” function, especially if it only takes five minutes to understand how it works. However, if you only want to “cut and paste images” and it comes as just a feature of an entire platform that you have to install and spend a week learning, then you have to decide how much time you can give to learning it.
Another analogy you might use is the one used in survival — “the energy gained from the food is more than the energy you expended in procuring it”. This is useful to think about in terms of technology, especially when it comes to the time it takes to learn a tool or app.
What is it? Who are they? What is their funding model?
Okay, so you’ve spotted something that might be a possibility, a platform, an app for instance.
At this point, it’s good to take a look at the website. If I do this, then I’m often looking for a few things.
These are clues to the user-interface, does it look modern or dated? I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but a friendly usable website is often a sign that the tool is well-built and regularly updated.
But not from the site… back to Twitter to see if anyone has used this tool and if they think it’s any good.
Pricing or funding model
You’ll be able to tell from the different license options whether this is something an individual teacher with a class might use, or whether the computing services or IT department would need to be involved, whether it is an institutional or individual purchase. Obviously, if it is a big institutional purchase then this isn’t a tool that you can just download on a whim, you’ll need to talk to someone in your company or institution and ask them to take a look.
At this point, you might also have a look at who owns this app, a big tech (Google, Apple, Facebook), a small startup? Again this is a bit like buying a car and trusting your gut instinct, so perhaps take it for a test drive.
Trials and Freemium models
I know you wanted to avoid this, but in some cases, you will need to download a trial or signup for a free account just so that you can give the test it out.
You might ask yourself.
- What is the functionality like?
- Is the interface easy to navigate?
- Will it take up all my time?
There are a few more questions that you might consider.
- Could my students use it?
- Could my colleagues use it?
You might not have the answers to the last two, but it is something to consider. You want a tool that will move through Blooms as seamlessly as you need it to, so simple (lower order) tasks, to more sophisticated (high order) activities.
Hopefully, by the end of this stage, you will know whether you want to use it or not. This is a big decision so you want it to be a positive one. This tool is one that you’ll have to learn, you will get better and faster as you get to know it, you will become an expert who can use this tool quickly and effectively. Remember that won’t happen right away…
Becoming a champion.
But with the time you will come to rely on this tool. My recommendation is that everyone has a few tools in their repertoire, these might be specific to your subject, or more generic. You might have a bag of small useful tools and technologies that you use or you might get behind the functions in something bigger, such as your VLE.
Over time you will be become more adept at finding the right tools to support your learning outcomes, you will become sensitive to the way that your learners respond to them and how the technologies themselves are being developed.
If you get good at something I would encourage you to write about it, publish research, review, and recommend. You might get noticed by the company that created this technology and they may provide extra support and guidance (they might even pay you to talk about their product or give you a free t-shirt, or Pro-Account!!!!)
If a particular tool is helpful and serving you well then it is your duty to share it with your colleagues, who would benefit just as you have.