Okay, so we’ve all been there: bombarded with the overwhelming number of edtech tools to use in our classroom that promise to make our lives easier, our students more engaged, our job more streamlined, our students’ test scores higher, and so on... But there’s no way to use them all. There’s just not enough time in any given day. So how do you decide what edtech tools to use? Which ones should you attend professional development for? Which ones can you stick on the back burner or forget altogether? Here are a few tips to help with those decisions.
1. Find out what’s mandatory.
Sometimes your school or district will adopt certain edtech tools that you are required to use. It might sound like a no-brainer but, learn how to use those. Sometimes they are basic tools for email or classroom management. Some are very easy and intuitive to figure out on your own.
However, if the tool in question is one you are not familiar with and/or you know you just don’t have the time to figure out on your own, this is where you want to sign up for professional development because if you’re not using these tools, the undertow will pull you down.
2. Know your curriculum and student goals.
Remember that you are the expert in your classroom. Perhaps you think your students are more adept at catching on to all the edtech tools than you are – and you very well may be right in that thinking – but they are not the ones who get to choose which tools to learn faster than you.
You know, or should know, your curriculum and the standards you must teach. You know what student outcomes your administrators will be looking for at the end of the year, and at various checkpoints throughout the year. The edtech tools you choose to incorporate within your classroom should enhance your teaching, engage your students, reinforce key ideas, provide remediation for those who need it, and enrich learning experiences.
That said, not every edtech tool is geared to do all those things, nor are they for every single one of your students. Know the purpose of each program or app you are using. There may be one that you use specifically for those struggling with a concept purely as a remediation tool. Your high achievers may never need to open it. Another may be solely for those students who need enrichment. And yet another could be a productivity tool used by everyone for small group projects or whole group collaboration.
Just keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter how many edtech tools you choose to use, but you must make sure that each one is accomplishing a goal and being used for a purpose, not just to keep your students busy.
3. Get an overview of the capabilities of the edtech tools at your disposal.
Building on the last point, in order to know if an edtech tool can help you and your students accomplish a goal, you must first know what that resource can do and how it is relevant to what your students need to learn. But how?
First, pay attention when you’re attending professional development. The trainers there are often experts on a plethora of edtech tools and incorporate some of them into their presentations or embedded activities in the class. This is how I was first introduced to some of the tools I now use regularly or am trying to integrate into my classroom.
Next, check out social media sites, especially those where fellow educators tend to congregate. There you’ll find all the nitty gritty comments from teachers using tools in the trenches and get a feel for the plusses and minuses of any you might be interested in trying out.
Finally, do your own research. Read some edtech-related blogs. Visit websites for products you are considering. Attend educational conferences that showcase new offerings in educational technology, as well as old tried-and-true classics. Also, take advantage of a free trial, if one is offered, for a product that piqued your interest.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to do all these things. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Pick the way that works best for you and learn only what you need to know to help you make a decision.
4. Collaborate with coworkers.
After learning what you can, talk to your coworkers. See what they know. Ask what they use. You probably do this already. Sometimes the easiest way to learn about a new tool is simply to watch another teacher using it with his or her students. You get the immediate feedback of seeing how it works in a classroom and if it might be something that would work in yours. Not only that, but you already have an expert onsite who could help you.
Of course, be considerate of your coworker’s time and try not to inundate them with questions. Although most teachers are very willing to share their knowledge when they find a tool that works and are usually happy to have someone else that they can collaborate with about using it.
In addition to discovering tools that your coworkers are already using, sometimes, as a group, you may also be able to secure a new resource for your students. If everyone does their research and finds an edtech tool that they think will work for a grade level, or entire school, sometimes there is power in numbers when presenting the information to an administrator for consideration. Never underestimate the power of a group think.
5. Stick with what you know.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Don’t reinvent the wheel when it’s not necessary. If you have an edtech tool that you use with your students that works – keep using it. The tried-and-true programs that stay around are those that continuously provide updates and change with the times. Don’t feel bad about using a resource that’s been around for a while. As long as it’s assisting with the positive learning outcomes of your students, and it’s working seamlessly in your classroom, that’s all you need to know. Enough said.
6. Spend time learning a tool upfront.
As educators, we are very aware that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done that we want to. We work many hours behind the scenes, grading papers, planning lessons, and learning about edtech tools, that no one every knows about. But sometimes putting in a little extra time in the beginning can save a lot of time in the end. When it comes to edtech integration, spending some time frontloading your knowledge of a program and setting it up for your classroom can actually save you an enormous amount of time and headaches in the long run.
Take the time to learn a program that you know your school or district will be focusing on this school year. Search databases of pre-existing tech lessons for ones you can use as is or tweak for your students and standards. And if you can’t find what you need, spend the time it takes to create your own lesson(s) within the edtech tool(s) you chose.
You know your students best. You know what digital skills they need. You know what is relevant to the standards they must master. You know what can personalize their learning so each and every one of them is acquiring the knowledge they require. In fact, I almost always recommend tweaking a lesson because no classroom, or student, is exactly the same. The time is worth it.
7. Breathe through the worst-case scenario.
Your school district doesn’t renew the subscription to your lifesaving tool. The one you use with your students every day. The one your students love. The one that not only streamlines your work but engages your students and improves their skills. First, breathe.
You are not going to drown. It might feel that way at first, but life will go on. It happened to me a few weeks ago. Though still mourning my loss, I am floating along and figuring things out.
Your edtech tools do not define you as a teacher. You are still the captain of your classroom and the one that must guide your students merrily down the stream of knowledge. There is no educational technology tool that can replace a good teacher. We just need to keep finding the ones that make the journey a smooth and successful one.
Bottom line: Educational edtech tools aren’t going away anytime soon. These days it’s no longer about finding some to incorporate into your day, but rather narrowing down the best ones to use. So, get comfortable with some, but maybe not too comfortable – especially if you’re at the mercy of your school or district budget. Change is inevitable in our fast-paced world. And it’s not always bad.