A teacher recently asked me, “What are things to look for when selecting the right tool?” This is a question I’ve asked myself many times and I’m constantly evolving the answer. I hope by sharing my current answer here, I can get some feedback and evolve it further.
Like many questions, I believe the answer ultimately depends on one’s situation and goals. Here is a broad framework that may encompass a variety of situations and help narrow down one’s selection. This is written from the standpoint of a classroom teacher, though it can apply to any kind of educator.
- What are my goals?
If this is for my students, what are my instructional goals? What kinds of outcomes am I seeking? If this is for myself, what am I trying to achieve? What problem am I trying to solve?
- What kinds of activities do I want to do?
If this is for my students, am I looking for a solo activity or a group project? Should this be interactive or is it more about rote learning and drills? Will this take place inside or outside of the classroom? Should they make something or consume something?
- Who will be involved?
Will my entire class be participating, or just a subset? What are the grades/ages of my students? Are there any special needs and concerns? Will parents or other individuals be a part of this too?
- What are my device constraints?
What kinds of technologies do I have on hand? iPads, Chromebooks, an interactive whiteboard, a shared computer lab, students’ own devices, etc?
Steps 1 and 2 can be broken down into many sub-steps, such as alignment with Common Core State Standards and fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy, TPACK, SAMR, etc, depending upon your preferences. Going through these steps will progressively narrow down your choices from thousands of tools to hopefully a more manageable number.
Once you have that, here are some ways to help you decide between the final choices. Look at:
- Expert and peer reviews
What do experts think about these tools? What do my colleagues think about them? Which opinions are most relevant to me? Which opinions do I trust?
- Ease of use
Can I use it easily? Can my students use it easily? Is there a demo I can play with right away?
- Support options
If I need help, are there tutorials or guides to help me? Is there a way to contact customer support?
For websites, does the URL start with
https://, with the s there? A lack of this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad site, but having it is a strong plus – with one exception: if the site has a page that asks for a username and password, that page MUST have an
https://in the URL. Otherwise, don’t use it.
- COPPA compliance
If my students are under 13 years of age, is the tool COPPA compliant? Does it ask for parental consent before my students sign up?
- Data ownership and portability
Will you and your students own your data, or does the company own it? Will the company use your data in ways that make you feel uncomfortable? Can you export your data from the tool? Does it integrate with your school’s student information system?
If your school is fortunate enough to have a dedicated technology team, they can help you with all of this, and much more. If not, I hope this broad framework can help you.
What things do you look for when selecting the right educational tools?