Am I going too far with this blog post title? I don’t think so! Every day, teachers, principals, curriculum directors, and IT directors receive a smattering of emails, postcards, advertisements, and phone calls from vendors. Appealing colors draw our eyes. Utilizing flashy slogans and cute catchy names, they get our attention. Four letters, F-R-E-E, make us stop and read about them. Wanting what is best for our students and curious to know if the product really does what it claims it can do, we try them. Sometimes, we fall in love with them. Almost like love at first sight, we give them our ALL. So what is wrong with that? Just like love at first sight, sometimes a lot and sometimes nothing.
Almost like love at first sight, we give them our ALL.
As educators we are responsible for more than just ourselves and our actions have ramifications outside of our classroom. That’s why we are teachers right? We want to have an impact. How we use our power is an important consideration when it comes to digital tools in the classroom. Consider this, I have an American Sign Language (ASL) teacher who wants to have students record themselves and what they are interpreting to provide evidence that they understand how to sign because 1-on-1 individualized time is hard to come by (especially at the high school level). I’m wondering what high tech tools or apps are available that students could use?
As a technology coach and model of ISTE Coaching standard 3f (select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure), I typically start my search with what is available in our district. We have Google Apps for Education, including Google Classroom. That does a lot in terms of word processing, data manipulation, creation, and document management, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of video recording tools. I have to venture outside my district’s digital toolbox. When I do that, there are a number of things I need to consider as I look at options. I think Gorman (2015) provides a good example of the metacognitive thinking that needs to take place in this blog post on vetting digital tools I received from a colleague. For example: Is there a minimum age requirement? Does it require information beyond email? Does it gather data? For what purpose does it gather data? Will education records be stored by it? Who will own this information? What am I agreeing they can do with the data? As we look at adaptive and assistive support, does it support all learners? As the ISTE coaching standard 3d states, I must “create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students and select, evaluate and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning.”
Who will own this information? What am I agreeing they can do with the data?
My responsibility is not isolated to the national technology coaching standards. I’m also a district teacher and I support the standards teachers must meet. ISTE Teaching standard 5c states that teachers must “Engage in Professional growth and leadership and evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning.” What I noticed most here was the word emerging. Does the typical teacher have the discerning consumer skills to that? Could the school district do that for them? On this last question, I think the answer is an affirmative no. For example, Apple’s app website boasts, “The App Store features over 80,000 education apps — designed especially for iPad …” Districts can try to be helpful by vetting resources, but I think they only become gatekeepers of access. I think the answer is to prepare teachers with the necessary knowledge and skills to be discerning responsible consumers.
“The App Store features over 80,000 education apps — designed especially for iPad …”
This got me thinking. Are teachers asking their districts what they should use when it comes to digital tools? A 2014 survey by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) states, “We learned that teachers’ product choices are driven primarily by word of mouth, confirming anecdotal reports. Teachers are actively looking online, searching social networks, and looking to peers and colleagues for recommendations about what digital instructional tools can be most helpful in the classroom. Some interesting stats emerged: 59 percent of teachers said they rely on recommendations from administrators; 53 percent search online, with the top sources cited being Google or other search engines, Pinterest, Amazon, Edutopia, and educational conferences or conventions; and 47 percent of teachers said they rely on recommendations from other teachers (p. 24).” I noted the word active in that quote. Why are they actively looking? The answer is found in the same BMGF publication, “Only 54 percent of teachers perceive the digital products their students use frequently to be effective (p. 3).” We are human. As teachers will always be looking for something better. We want the very best for our students. Reading these results from this survey further affirmed my opinion, we must equip teachers!
“Only 54 percent of teachers perceive the digital products their students use frequently to be effective”
Currently, I’m working on developing a review checklist and rating document to help my district’s teachers navigate the “free puppy” that came with more use and care considerations than we could have imagined. I’m basing my work off of the work of Deb Tomarakos who modeled hers after Tony Vincent’s Educational App Evaluation Checklist. I appreciate their points of consideration for general information/operation, app design, and use. I want to add some privacy and accessibility categories with “look fors.” If you’d like to collaborate on this venture, let me know!
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014). Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want from Digital Instructional Tools. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Teachers-Know-Best_0.pdf
Gorman, M. (2015). Vetting web 2.0 educational tools: the web in the classroom, part 2. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/blogentry/10002
International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-coaches
International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). ISTE Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers
Tomarakos, D. (2012). App Review Checklist & Rating Chart For Game/Book/Productivity Apps. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/a/digitaledleadership.org/file/d/0BzVaZg1xJJdiOTRBNTNBbXk5NjQ/preview
leesean. Free puppies. https://flic.kr/p/aaVhav (CC BY 2.0)