In this post, we’re going to look at the reasons why we need to evaluate our EdTech use. Reflection and evaluation are an importnat part of any process: how do we know what we are doing is effective? How can we improve upon what we are doing? How can it be better or more effective for our pupils?
All of these questions are important to consider when reflecting and evaluating what we do in the classroom. And they are just as important when we evaluate the tools we use in EdTech. Our EdTech use needs to add value otherwise using them may waste time and resources, and even worse, introduce confusion to the pupil.
Find the apps
This is the hard part of this role—the perpetual whack-a-mole of identifying loopholes, one-offs, and shadow apps. Shadow apps refer to software tools an individual may use, even if their organisation prohibits its use.
The number of tech products has nearly tripled over the past six years. That’s a lot of tech products to track, not to mention the time it takes to migrate any old data, learn the workings of the new platform, and time spent maintaining it. Teachers can very quickly suffer from tech-fatigue, so school leaders, decision makers and influencers (within the school that is) need to be very deliberate about what they recommend and why. A very clear distinction needs to be made about how this app/software will streamline workload for the teacher or enhance the learning experience for the pupil.
This can be another difficult section to navigate effectively.
If the app has no proven, vested interest in education, does it belong? Possibly.
Surface-level first impressions don’t always tell the whole story—for example, non-educational apps such as social media platforms may still play a niche role in certain classrooms. But not every app marketed for education is actually educational anyway. Conversely, apps that are marketed for productivity can have huge impacts to the classroom.
Look for independent and peer-reviewed research instead of research that has been bought or paid for by an edtech start-up – they will be biased in favour of their employers. Efficacy might look different for individual teachers, subject areas and key stages. It can be useful to ask around in your social networks what teachers use for certain tasks. You may find a common tool is used in particular circumstances because of a ‘best-fit’ approach, but no one EdTech tool to answer every need.
Evaluate in Order to eliminate Duplicates or Risks
Now things are getting a little easier, at least technically. It can be difficult to pare down apps that do similar things—after all, there’s a reason they were all chosen by the educators using them.
Curriculum guidelines can help. Watch for similar apps and trim the overlap.
Evaluate the market
Don’t get distracted by pretty shiny toys!
This is where you need some cold, hard, inner steel. Edtech companies sell edtech. Their job is to sell. Or put another way, to convince you to part with your money. Edtech partners support edtech users. The market is shifting to favour the latter, but that doesn’t mean the former is going to disappear. On the contrary, they may even get more tenacious. Remember, their marketing budget and sales targets does not equal efficacy in your classroom! Be particularly wary of any company who make bold claims without the (independent, peer-reviewed) proof to back them up.
Companies need sales to keep moving forward. That will mean they might engage in slightly nefarious business practices to secure your business. Recently I had a person contact my school asking for my contact details as I was helping him with some research (I’m not helping anyone currenlty with their research, our receptionist thought is was a marketing ploy, so beware!) It’s your job (and that of your school staff to keep them at bay until you are ready to make a pressure-free decision on what gets your business.
Evaluate by Asking Around
What do you do when you’re in the market for an investment at home? You read reviews, and reviews are gold. Word of mouth is the best way to get a real, honest look at the good and the bad of edtech (and many other things). Video reviews on YouTube are of course another way to get a hands-on look at a tool in action, but again be wary of creative video editing techniques that can maximise speed and ease of use. You should focus on hands-on reviews when navigating YouTube.
If you are also connected to online social groups that are focused on your subject area, or teaching/education in general, then it can be very useful to ask these groups for their advice. Most times, teachers are more than happy to offer their experience of relevant apps and tools that they have found useful (or which ones to avoid).
Evaluate and Adjust School Culture Accordingly
Now that you’ve purged your school system of unnecessary edtech, how will you go about pruning future additions to ensure the plethora of applications and tools doesn’t grow wild again?
This is a function for the IT department of course, but it’s also a culture question. There will always be a trendy new application educators want to explore—at least, we hope so. This is how edtech will evolve and so should be expected. Build a sense of caution into the school technology culture. After all, students deserve the most effective, safest edtech available, and that’s not always the newest, flashiest edtech. In the course of writing this post, I have been reviewing a software tool that is well known, has a high level of adoption and market usage, but it still requires my evaluative skills to ensure it is the right recommendation for my school.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of never evaluating our EdTech use. Old apps fall by the wayside, and stay in the background, never being used which leads to our IT networks and devices ecoming clogged up with old apps and software that isn’t needed or used.
Evaluation not only keeps our systems trimmed and lean, but helps to keep our costs in check – are you paying for a license that you aren’t using? This process will enable you to keep a tighter check on your department or school outgoings for licenses you don’t need or use.
Some apps also fall out of trend or favour, or are replaced with something better. In my own career I used to be a big fan of to do list apps. I have used todoist, Any.do, and EverNote but now solely base this type of work in OneNote or Microsoft Planner. MS Planner is good for the list view of what I need to do, but the actual content work will be based in OneNote and then moved to the appropriate format. Evaluating apps also in this way, helps to maintain our devices in a way that keeps them in shape and of best use to the greatest amount of people.