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Use This, Use That

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As teachers we are are bombarded by the constant influx of technology. Every year the floodgates of technology tools increase it seems tenfold. At the beginning of year professional development is ramped up and there are more tools to use. Do you ever feel like you are looking your toolbox and want to empty it out. Maybe it is time to focus on just a few tools. I know for myself there was always the temptation to use anything that was mentioned on my Twitter feed, but I soon became overwhelmed.

The bottom line is as teachers we sometimes forget about the students and become excited with the new tool and the features. The old saying goes “we put the cart before the horse.” Sound instructional pedagogy requires one to examine and experiment with the tool first before actual implementation. The term sandbox comes to mind. Think of a child playing with a new toy. I remember receiving Tonka toys as gifts as a child. My brother and myself would then venture out to the sandbox that my father constructed and proceed to use all of the features of the trencher, the bulldozer, and dump truck. Many hours were spent doing so. Time invested in playing with a new application is time well-spent. But what is the next step?

Getting Real

In the ideal world a teacher would then talk over their new found experience with others and discuss what features would benefit their students and content. Unfortunately, that does not occur often. Additionally, establishing a protocol in evaluating tools should be something found on every school site. Even within a school district the needs for onsite are very different than others due to student populations. So what would be some of the questions asked in a protocol for assessing a technology tools effectiveness?

Action Plan

First, begin with how will this tool improve student achievement and enhance the learning experience. A simple question, but one that requires much thought. Are there specific needs of my students that can be addressed by the platform? Over the last few years, many companies have sought to address this area by including features that allow students to view integrated recordings, use visual or written tools, and provide a variety of interactive features such as drawing so that students can represent their experience with agency. A simple form can be used for this and then reviewed before any purchase takes place.

Second, what always seems to be the ever-persistent question in education, how much is it going to cost? Schools have limited funds so investing in an app should be done with the intention of showing its effectiveness at the end of the year. This sounds time consuming and it is, but considering that the investment should be demonstrating some type of effect on student learning is not out of bounds. Along this lines, will the company provide webinars so that teacher can learn how to use the platform and are the sessions ongoing. I have found that many companies such as Flipgrid and Pear Deck provide webinars throughout the school year and without cost. These opportunities should be utilized during planning times that teachers have as most of the sessions are recorded.

Third, how effectively does this tool integrate with the content that is being taught? From my experience I had to play in the virtual sandbox a considerable time in order to create an effective lesson with a new technology tool. However, if you have a social media presence you can find plenty of posts on features of an application within your network. My use of Twitter has given me the chance to review lessons that other colleagues have created and then utilize them in my own class. Anytime I was using a new feature or tool I made sure I conferred with my students their thoughts on the implementation. Once again a simple form or push out using a survey platform works well for this type of assessment.

The bottom line is that we need to be more intentional about this process.Time has to be spent in authentic evaluation and in discussion. Building a consensus on what is the most effective tool is not easy, but the decision should be based on informed instruction and piloting before putting the stamp of approval on large scale purchases

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