"Over the past decade, studies have shown that access to technology tools and resources alone is no guarantee that students' comprehension or academic achievement will increase. . . . the pedagogical and instructional choices around the tools become essential for successful learning outcomes." - Liz Kolb, Learning First, Technology Second
As the number of education-based online tools continues to rise, educators should be taking a good, hard look at which resources they are implementing into their class procedures. The innovation taking place across the web is inspiring, but there is a temptation to use a new, shiny interactive piece of software every week that can be overwhelming for both students and educators.
I've fallen into this camp numerous times - a spiffy, interesting web tool passes on my radar and I develop a lesson that can be infused with the tool. Although some of these lessons have been successful and can have a lot of novelty, this practice of reinventing the wheel can lead to student confusion and the diminishment of learning goals. As I head into a brand new school year, here are the critical questions that I am asking myself as I settle on a fairly static suite of tools to use over the next ten months.
Note: I am going to skip a few base-level questions such as "does this tool align with my class goals" and "does this tool help students learn," and jump to more logistics-based queries.
What full-featured tools are available in my school/district?
Many online educational tools have features stuck behind a paywall. Although this can be frustrating, it's a necessary reality considering server costs and the teams required to maintain these tools. If you discover a technology service that can help reach your classroom learning goals, check with your technology department and/or administrators to see if you already have full access to the tool. You may be surprised with what you find, and if you already have access to the software, it may apply to the next question.
Which tools are my students familiar with?
By either surveying students or reaching out to teachers in lower grades, you can gauge which online tools students are already using, removing lost class time allocated for learning how to use the tool. This consistency can help put the learning at the forefront of your lessons. If there is a tool that learners have been using with other teachers, but it's new to you, it can be a great opportunity to let students share their knowledge and help shape their own learning experience.
How often will this tool be used throughout the year?
Consider the amount of time needed to familiarize students with the tool and if it's worth the amount of time it will be positively impacting your instruction. If there is an interactive website that will take one class period to set up, and you will only be using it for one class period for the rest of the year, it may be worth it to consider a different avenue for reaching your learning goal.
Am I only using this tool due to its novelty?
Even the most unique and innovative tech services still need to be aligned to specific classroom goals. Having students exclaim "THIS IS SO COOL!" during your lesson is undoubtedly positive, but that excitement should lead to a genuine learning experience. Additionally, novelty can fade away quickly, rendering future lessons to lose that "wow" factor.
Being intentional about the technology tools we use in the classroom goes a long way. A source of initial excitement for a teacher when using fresh technology may ultimately lead to a headache for a student. And, by asking these questions, you may just found that you've saved yourself some headaches as well.