Frameworks for Selecting, Evaluating, and Managing Digital Tools

Overview

The Association for Educational Communications and Technologies defines educational technology as “[…] the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources (Januszewski et al. 2008).  While mostly straightforward, this definition begs the question of what processes and resources are deemed “appropriate”, who determines them as such, and what is the process for doing so?  The “who” seems easy enough–according to ISTE coaching standard 3 it is the role of the technology coach to “select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning”.  Additionally, coaches should create collaborative spaces for teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources (2016). So, if it is the role of the technology coach to facilitate tool selection, how is this done?  

The “how” was much more tricky to answer. I know that technology coaches in my district share digital tools amongst one another and with staff, but I don’t know that there is much of a process besides, “I found this cool, maybe you would too?”  I’m sure many educators have come up with mental checklists for what they do and don’t want in a tool, but I have never been in a scenario where that was openly discussed.  In considering this, I choose to explore the question “What frameworks and tools are available to educators to select and evaluate digital tools?”  My ultimate intention is to start a conversation within my district on our process for selecting and evaluating tools.  To support this, I have compiled some of the main points I have come across in hopes of creating a foundation to start this conversation.

Selecting

In the rapidly growing atmosphere of digital learning, it can be extremely difficult to know where to begin when looking for a digital tool.  As is outlined in my Coggle mind map, one great place to start may be a website, such as the EdSurge Product Index or Common Sense Education.  These sites offer reviews of digital tools by educators and allow users to sort the tools based on subject, standard, platform, and cost, among several other factors.  With or without a specific tool in mind, a few ideas to consider are to…

  • Start with the end in mind.  What standards are you hoping to address?  What do you want the learners to produce?  Does the tool help you reach the intended outcome for the lesson or activity?
  • Ensure all learners have access to the technology. Do all students have access to devices?  What tools work well on those devices?  Will students need access to the internet at school?  At home?
  • Check your district’s technology policies.  What tools are aligned with your districts’ policies?  Does your district already subscribe to tools perform the given task?  Are there restrictions on which tools you can use?
  • Keep in mind learners that need accommodations and modifications. What digital tools will help you better address students who need accommodations and modifications?  Will the tool be valuable for these learners, or will it present new challenges?
  • Make a Checklist. While you may have heard about a really cool tool on social media or from a colleague, don’t forget that you need to choose one that works for you.  It is all too easy to try to force use of a tool because it is exciting, only to realize later that it was not appropriate for the task at hand.  It may be useful to make a checklist of the first factors you need to consider when looking for digital tools to help maintain focus.

My “checklist” is included below, which is from my recent blog post on selecting and evaluating digital tools.

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Evaluating

In addition to helping you find great digital tools, sites like the EdSurge Product Index or Common Sense Education provide extensive ratings and reviews and have therefore done a lot of the evaluating for you.  If their rating system is compatible with yours, you may be ready to experiment with the tool.  For a more individualized tool evaluation system, LearnTrials, an educational technology management system, is an AWESOME resource.   This site allows users to create a library of the digital tools, approve or deny tools for use, write reviews and ratings, explore new tools, and collaborate with other educators.  I see this as a great fit in my district as it could create a platform for teachers to keep the tools they use organized and share them with one another.

Another possibility for evaluating digital tools is to use a rubric or checklist. One of the best rubrics I have come across is the one below, based off of the SAMR model and created by Andover Public Schools Digital Learning Office.  I don’t know how realistic it is to assume that individual teachers would consult a rubric each time they looked at a new tool, but it could provide a good frame of reference.  Rather, a rubric may be more appropriate for a committee to use when making a group decision on whether or not a adopt a new tool.

Future Questions

  1. I am eager to learn more about the tool selection process in my district.  Has a rubric or evaluation process already been put into place?  Who is involved in the tool selection process for the major tools we use, such as our online gradebook or our learning management systems.  How often do these tools come under review?
  2. How can I compile my findings on evaluating digital tools into a resource for educators that is easy-to-use?  Would a rubric be sufficent?  Would simply sharing online resources be enough?  Is it better to give a few options for tool selection and evaluation, or stick with one framework?

Resources

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Johnson, K. (2016, March 15). Resources to Help You Choose the Digital Tools Your Classroom Needs (EdSurge News). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-03-15-resources-to-help-you-choose-the-digital-tools-your-classroom-needs

Teachers Know Best: What educators want from digital instructional tools. (2014). Retrieved August 3, 2016, from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Teachers-Know-Best_0.pdf

Technology Integration Rubrics – Andover Public Schools Digital Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/k12.andoverma.us/aps-digital-learning/technology-integration-rubrics

Zielezinski, M. B. (2016, June 25). What 7 Factors Should Educators Consider When Choosing Digital Tools for Underserved Students? (EdSurge News). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-25-what-7-factors-should-educators-consider-when-choosing-digital-tools-for-underserved-students

Redesigning Classroom Management Practices in a Digital Environment

Overview:

At the start of next year my district will be fully 1:1 with Chromebooks.  This means that all students above sixth grade will be assigned a Chromebook which they take to and from school during the school year and elementary level students will have access to Chromebooks during the school day.  While this increase in technology accessibility is met with great enthusiasm, many educators are also expressing concern over how to properly manage the technology and student behavior and this new digital atmosphere.  As a classroom teacher I share my colleagues’ concerns and as a technology mentor I have been eager to explore the topic of redefining classroom management in a digital learning environment.  Fortunately, my digital education leadership program through SPU is currently studying ISTE Coaching Standard 3 which states that “technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students”.  Components of this standard require that educators model effective classroom management strategies, coach teachers in online and blended learning practices, and expand choices for online professional development (2016).  In consideration of this standard, I have recently been exploring the question, “how must educators redesign both the physical space of the classroom and their classroom management policies to accommodate a digital learning environment?”.

Through my research I have found a melee of resources relating to my question.  Some resources focus on theoretical aspects of the changing learning environment and offer points to consider when designing instruction.  For example, in “Designing for the K-12 Classroom: ten influential elements to consider” contributor Caroline Bone briefly outlines the flipped classroom and blended learning models as potential frameworks for redefining traditional teaching.  She explains that the benefit of such models is that they “allow for more collaborative, group-based learning in class, with the teacher acting as a facilitator rather than the ‘Sage on a Stage’” (Bone, 2014).  These models, which are being used in more and more classrooms, offer greater opportunities for differentiated instruction and rely heavily on embracing digital education.  Many other resources I came across offered more concrete, “do this”-type advice on how to manage a digital learning environment.  One example would be Edutopia’s blog, titled “Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design“ in which contributor Mary Wade offers a detailed infographic of a 21st century classroom.  Along with her visual, Wade explains that the key elements of a modern classroom revolve around accessibility, mobility, inspiration, and respect  (Wade, 2016).

With so much information already available relating to my question, I choose to synthesize my learning into the eight main points I came across when considering how to redesign the physical space and classroom management of a digital learning environment.  These points, outlined in the infographic below, were designed in consideration of a classroom that is in a 1:1 setting where the district provides technology to students.  I attempted to keep the tips general enough so that they could still apply to a BYOD or shared-device setting.  Additional information on classroom management in a digital learning environment can be found in the links under “resources”.

Ideas to Consider when Designing and Managing a Digital Learning Environment:

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Possible Issues and Future Questions:

  • The “points to consider” that I have outlined are met to address current concerns in my district.  How will the digital learning environment continue to change as more educators embrace the flipped classroom and blended learning models?
  • These resources, while good for any classroom, relate more to secondary level. What different classroom management challenges might an elementary level teacher face in relation to technology integration?
  • As my district provides Chromebooks to students and uses Google Apps, I sometimes focus too heavily on tools and tips that only work for those platforms. What other classroom management policies might educators need to reconsider in a district that uses digital tools I am unfamiliar with?

Resources:

B’s Book Love : Don’t Hate, Integrate: How to use Smartphones in the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2016, from http://bsbooklove.blogspot.com/2015/11/dont-hate-integrate-how-to-use.html

Bone, C. (2014, October 7). Designing for the K-12 Digital Classroom: Ten Influential Elements To Consider. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from https://designmind.frogdesign.com/2014/10/designing-k-12-digital-classroom-ten-influential-elements-consider/

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2016, from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Johnson, B. (2015, June 17). How to Manage Cell Phones in the Classroom. Retrieved July 24, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-manage-cell-phones-classroom-ben-johnson

Wade, M. (2016, March 29). Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/visualizing-21st-century-classroom-design-mary-wade