5 Guiding Principles to Help Evaluate EdTech

Innovative edtech products are being developed at an increasingly rapid pace, making it more challenging than ever for educators to decide which to use in their classroom.  As a former high school teacher who was eager to try anything that could improve student learning, I was at times overwhelmed by all of the new tools that claimed to transform teaching and learning as we know it.  Now, as a school district’s Director of Educational Technology, it is not only my role to help us make district-level edtech decisions, but also to help educators make the day-to-day decisions regarding which instructional technologies will work best in their particular learning environments.

Based upon my experiences as a teacher and administrator, along with several resources including the powerful Future Ready Framework, here are 5 guiding principles that should help us make these edtech decisions. Whether you are considering which edtech tools to try out in your classroom on Monday, feature at an upcoming PD day, or invest in across a school or district, these concepts can help provide guidance before committing valuable time and resources to any particular product.

FR Framework Alignment: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

FR Framework Alignment: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

1. Learning Outcomes First

Before diving into any edtech products specific features, you have to get a clear understanding of how it will actually improve teaching and learning. It is equally, if not more important to get a grasp of what type of student learning outcomes will actually be improved.  

Questions to Consider

  • How does this edtech tool connect to core elements of the curriculum?
  • What student skills/content knowledge will be improved with this technology?
  • What instructional strategies will be implemented along with the technology? (Ex. Flipped Learning, Project Based Learning, MakerSpaces)
  • How will this technology enable personalized learning and experiences that are more engaging and relevant?
  • Does this tool collect formative data and provide reports that teachers can effectively use to adjust instruction? Can it also curate resources and create work for students based on collected data?

2. Student Use Is Key

Source: National Educational Technology Plan 2016

Source: National Educational Technology Plan 2016

Although the digital divide may be closing as more districts transition to 1-1, there is a new concern over the digital use divide  - “the disparity between students who use technology to create, design, build, explore, and collaborate and those who simply use technology to consume media passively.” (NETP16)  Although accessing information (consumption) through technology is certainly important in some respects, it should seldom be students’ primary use.  They should also be curating, collaborating, and most of all, creating with the technology.

Question to Consider

In which of the following ways will students be using this technology

  • Consumption: Access information through some form of digital media to deepen knowledge.
  • Curation: Sort through content and present it in an organized and logical way.
  • Collaboration: Communicate and collaborate with others (students, teachers, community) for deeper learning.
  • Creation: Create original products to learn new concepts and provide a representation of their learning.

3. Investigate Infrastructure Requirements

Before diving into any new edtech product, it is vital to evaluate the product’s technology & infrastructure requirements.  This will avoid an instance where considerable time and effort is put into a pilot only to realize that implementation is impossible due a mismatch in existing infrastructure and what the tool needs to effectively function.

Questions to Consider

What steps need to happen for initial setup? Ex. Software installation on devices, class roster upload, student password creation.

  • What type of devices will the software work on? (Ex. iPads, Chromebooks, Laptops, All?)
  • Will the company provide direct support to customers?
  • What set-up and maintenance is required by teachers? By IT?
  • Can students access to this technology outside of school?

4. Take Student Data And Privacy Seriously

As we strive to personalized learning for students, we will also be using tools that collect information and data about students at unprecedented scales.  We therefore have to be increasingly aware of the student data and privacy implications of our edtech decisions.

Questions to Consider

For more info, here is a great student privacy guide for educators.  

5. Be Mindful of Resources, Both Time & Funding

It is no secret that schools have limited resources. And by resources, I include both funding and time.  We must be strategic about where we allocate our monetary resources as well as how much time it will take educators to comfortably implement any new tool.  We also need to be ready to shift resources when necessary, away from tools that provide little academic return on investment towards those that better align to the school’s vision of teaching and learning.

Questions to Consider

  • What is the upfront and recurring monetary cost of the tool (if any)?
  • Is the product intuitive enough for teachers to implement right away? Or, will substantial time and resources be needed for professional development?
  • Is it financially feasible to scale this edtech tool across the school or district?

Of course there are many other considerations, but these are jumping off points for evaluating edtech tools in a way the puts learning first.  Any comments, suggestions and feedback on these principles is much appreciated, please leave them in the comments section below or reach out to me on Twitter or via email (thdriscoll@gmail.com).