A big name in the EdTech space, Tom Murray, recently pinned the failing of EdTech initiatives on choosing the wrong digital tools for the school and classroom. He may have even gone so far as to describe some processes of purchasing tech as 'reminiscent of the wild, wild west'.
What a flattering comparison - we really think EdTech is that exciting as well! But it really is spot on to call the purchasing of technology a high stakes area that perhaps needs a bit more structure and strategy. It can be an all too common mistake to buy digital tools because they seem impressive and new or they promise to be low cost and low effort.
Again, we’re looking at the need for a “learning first” approach in integrating digital tools into the school rather than getting caught up with the new, shiny toy.
Deciding what is right and what is wrong for your purchasing has everything to do with aligning the types of learning experiences desired, with what the technology is capable of doing. — Tom Murray
Three steps for smart digital tool selection
1. Pinpoint areas of teaching or learning that need improvement
And we know that you know they exist - teachers have an uncanny knack for picking apart inefficiencies and shortcomings!
Whether you’re approaching this from a school or individual level, there are going to be barriers to both the ideal teaching experience and learning experience. Some big ones that we see are:
- Insufficient face-to-face time with students
- High workload for students
- High workload for teachers
- Seemingly constant barriers to student understanding
- Student apathy or disengagement
Begin with these barriers when you begin to research EdTech tools. If your biggest hurdle is too high a workload for students, introducing a smart whiteboard in the classroom is a complete waste of time, money and honestly, it’s a little bit 2006. Instead, be on the lookout for tools that allow students to learn more effectively, so they don’t have to spend as much time working.
You’re also much better off locking in just one or two effective tools so you can narrow your focus to improving the learning and get maximum value out of each one without cluttering the classroom - that just adds more problems.
2. Assess the categories of EdTech tools and match their purpose to your need
The different options cater to different needs so it’s all about matching the purpose of the tool with the learning barrier that you want to overcome. Check out the ways that categories of EdTech address different problems:
Insufficient face-to-face time with students
Virtual classrooms: Programs like google classroom mean the perks of the classroom - the resources, tasks, discussion and feedback - are accessible 24/7 and you can personalise learning experiences for each student like you would one-on-one.
Learning Management Systems: Whether it’s Canvas or SEQTA or any other LMS, these online learning spaces offer the same perks of the virtual classroom.
Student apathy or disengagement
Classroom tools: Smartboards, quiz programs, clickers, educational videos, computer stations to drive interactivity.
Student devices: Giving students laptops or iPads for more autonomy and to push active learning. Check out some perks and some challenges.
High workload for teachers
Teacher tools: Whether it’s a program for killer presentations or an app for lesson planning, it’s all about streamlining the work of the individual teacher.
Admin tools: Efficient timetabling and managing students is a big plus.
Learning Management Systems: just like above, these can streamline a lot of management tasks.
Constant barriers to student understanding
- Digital content resources: Dynamic digital content gives students the chance to revisit concepts they struggle with at any time AND can teach fundamentals out of class to open up more time in class for the skilled teacher can really guide students to complex, deep understanding. We can’t help but suggest Atomi as a decent example here.
3. Use a rigorous checklist to choose the exact product
Once you know what type of technology you need, there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to actually picking the exact EdTech product. Develop a rigorous checklist (or borrow ours) to make sure it’s a perfect fit for your school and your ideal learning experience:
- Is there actual evidence this exact product has improved learning outcomes in other schools?
- Does it come with training and support?
- Will it address the specific barriers to learning in the school?
- Can the product be afforded?
- Do you have a plan for how the product will be used?
- Do you need to purchase any other programs or gear to run the tool?
- Will the students embrace the product?
- Is the product worth its price? (A low-cost product isn’t necessarily cost effective)
This is definitely an area of small risk, small reward. A classroom planning app can be picked up and used by any individual teacher and while it might ease your workload, it doesn’t go as far in innovating a student’s learning experience. Our advice? Do your research, understand the needs of your school and have the confidence in your judgement to make big decisions.
EdTech isn’t a one size fits all but your choice of technology really is make or break for the successful integration of digital tools into your school.
The bottom line: Successfully choosing digital tools needs to always start with a conversation about where teaching and learning can improve.
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