Vetting New Technology for the Classroom

Five middle school students crowded around one laptop computer

As a teacher, you may not have a ton of control over the bigger technology decisions for your classroom, like whether or not you’ll go iPad 1-to-1, or which classroom management system you’ll use. But you’ll still have lots of leeway over dozens of smaller technology decisions, like which apps to use on those iPads, and, in some cases, the platforms through which your teaching team will collaborate.

So, how do you go about vetting these technologies so that you can avoid the dreaded moment when something inappropriate pops up on the overhead while you’re in the middle of the lesson, or a key component crashes, delaying your entire lesson plan by an hour? Here are a few strategies for finding the right classroom technologies for you, as well as a few good questions to ask throughout the vetting process.

Key Strategies for Vetting New Technologies for Your Classroom

1. Gather Reviews

There are many excellent educational technology sites online, which I’ll list in the final section of this post. Teachers on Pinterest at least talk about the technologies they use, and some have excellent pinned tech boards to follow. Joining a Twitter chat like #edchat or one specifically devoted to technology can also be a great source for finding educational technology chatter, or for posing questions to more knowledgeable teachers.

Even better: ask fellow teachers on your own team (especially since you’ll likely be making these decisions together), in your school, or in your district. In-person conversations are often the best for getting the real scoop, and your fellow teachers may just let you visit while the class puts that technology to use. What’s more, teachers near you will have a unique sense of just what your student population is like and what might be right for them.

2. Always Test First

If there isn’t a way to try out the product before purchasing it, forget it. Many platforms have a trial user program. Take full advantage of those, but make sure you don’t have to enter any credit card info to do so – or, if you do, you create a calendar reminder to cancel before you’re charged.

Most manufacturers are also eager to let teachers demo their new hardware. This can be a great way to give the product a test run. However, some districts restrict how much you can do this on your own as their may be legalities around it, so ask your admin before you reach out or say yes to a manufacturer demo. If your admin likes the ideas of using this technology, they just might be able to get that demo for you anyway.

3. Work With Your Team

As mentioned above, your teaching team is really your best resource in vetting technology – all the more so because you’re most likely going to be using this technology together to track and help students across your various disciplines or specialties. This is important from a coordination and efficiency standpoint, but it matters from a psychological standpoint too: you want your fellow teachers to be as enthused as you are about this new technology, rather than dragging their feet. And of course, as the technology is implemented, make sure you’re providing each other with the support you all need to do it right.

Questions to Ask About Any New Educational Technology

There are a number of important questions to ask about any new technology.

1. Is It Free?

If not, how much does it cost, how many licenses will you need, and are there discounts for educators and bulk purchases?

2. Is there support for the product?

Or will you be on your own when something fails? On a related note, how much support is there when it comes to learning how to use the product both at a basic level and in new and creative ways?

3. How well does the technology protect and support student data?

This is important both on the individual level, and because many districts have specific requirements when it comes to protecting student data. Similarly, you should also investigate how powerful the technology’s data analysis tools are. A great app is well and good, but you’ll be missing big opportunities if that app doesn’t track your student’s data well, leaving you in the dark about whether or not he or she is improving.

4. Are there separate accounts for teachers and students?

This matters because again, you’ll want to do a few different things in your version of the app, like tracking student data.

5. How well can students share together?

You’ll want to be careful about how your students share with the world, but you’ll definitely want students to share with each other freely. How well does the technology support this functionality?

6. Is it legal for your students to use the site?

If they’re underage (and I’m assuming most students you’re working with are), it might not be. In some cases, you may need parental sign off.

7. Does it actually improve the classroom experience?

Or is it just a fancy bell and whistle, replacing an older technology that works perfectly well with unnecessarily complicated functionalities? Does it unlock teacher and student potential or slow down the pace of class? In other words, does it augment or truly innovate learning, or is it technology for technology’s sake?

8. How easy is it to use? How engaging is it?

If it’s difficult to master and navigate or it’s simply boring to use, chances are neither you nor your students will use it much.

9. Is it accessible?

Many platforms and technologies don’t consider the needs of students with physical or learning disabilities. Is your chosen technology accessible to every student in your classroom?

10. Does my school have the technology to support your technology?

If your school has a slow Wi-Fi network or none at all, opting for that cloud-based technology may not be the best move.

Excellent Sites for Vetting Technology

Here are a few great sites to visit when you’re vetting technology for your classroom.

1. Common Sense Media

These are perhaps the most in-depth and extensive reviews available on the web today, and cover not just technology but a wide variety of media sources as well.

2. Education World

This comprehensive list of technology tools from Education World takes you through popular items of the day, while also suggesting good ways to vet and implement technology successfully in your classroom.

3. EdTech Review

This site review educational technology more directly, and also offers good tips on using whatever technologies you choose.

4. Edutopia

This review article from Edutopia looks at some of the best technologies out there while also guiding teachers through finding and vetting them. Edutopia in general is a top notch source for educational guides and reviews.

In Short

We’re in the golden age of educational technology, but as exciting as that can be, it can also be completely overwhelming. Taking the time to vet the technologies we bring into our classroom is an investment that will be pay off in both the short and the long term.

 

About the Author

Leah Anne Levy is an education writer/editor and author of middle grade fantasy books that satirize the American schooling system. Connect with Leah on Twitter at @LeahAnneLevy, and join in the conversations around #ham,#binders, #fantasywriter, #edtech, and #education. See more of her writings on her website at leahannelevy.com.