Thoughts on Evaluating New EdTech Tools

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The annual ISTE conference is happening this week. This is when most of the big companies in the U.S. educational technology market unveil their new offerings and smaller companies try to make a mark for themselves.

Going to the ISTE conference can be an exciting time to see all of the new “shiny” things. Unfortunately, I won’t be attending this year. I will be following #ISTElive on Twitter to see what people are excited about. It’s times like this that it’s important to remember to look at new edtech products with a critical eye and think about how these products can actually improve students’ learning experiences.

The framework that I’ve used for years to evaluate new edtech products is a simple one of Discovery, Discussion, and Demonstration. I explained this in detail in this video that I published a couple of years ago. The main points are summarized below.

Discovery

Does the product or service help students discover new-to-them information? If so, I’ll spend time investigating it to see if it merits using in a classroom. Some products and services that fit this category are Google Books search, many augmented and virtual reality apps like those from Merge Cube, and digital map platforms like ArcGIS Story Maps and Google Earth.

Discussion

Can the service or product help teachers facilitate discussions beyond typical in-classroom conversations? These are tools that can give shy students a voice and give chatty students a place to express themselves, too. Flipgrid does this well, as does Synth.

Demonstration

Can the tool or service help students showcase their knowledge and skills in a new and interesting way? For some students this might be as simple as a new Google Slides or PowerPoint feature that helps them give a better presentation. For other students this might be making green screen videos. And for other students it could be developing their own games or mobile apps to show their knowledge or programming concepts (the MIT App Inventor is great for that, here’s how to use it).

Could this be done just as well without tech?

A final thought about evaluating new edtech products that I shared in a private webinar last week. The framework is great, but an even simpler way to think about new edtech products is to ask yourself, “could this be done just as well without tech?” If the answer is yes, then that product might not be worth spending a lot of time on.

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Natasha M. McKnight

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