Choosing a Good Education Tool

For the past two years, I’ve been using Edmodo as my digital home page. It’s been a great launch pad when I want students to do a quiz, go to a website, check out a diagram or give me a short written response.

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I’ve heard teachers say that Edmodo doesn’t work and it saddens me when a teacher tosses out a great device because they don’t know how to use it.

All the education apps, sometimes known as #edtech, I’ve seen advertised on blogs, teaching magazines and social media are popular and out there for a reason. Education apps won’t survive today’s competitive market if they aren’t well designed, versatile and adaptive. Think of it this way, a good carpenter would never blame a hammer for what it can’t do; an effective tech-savvy teacher takes time to test out a variety of BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) tools and focuses his/her energy on which is the best tool and what it can do depending on his/her classroom needs. Many school boards in Canada, such as the Peel District SchoolBoard, now have policies around BYOD and see blended learning as a necessity to developing strong students.

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The bottom line is, becoming tech-savvy and getting your kids to love your apps ain’t easy.

You can’t get a firm grasp of education tools if you’re not willing to put some time and effort into it. But being busy isn’t a good excuse; it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find a YouTube tutorial or a post on a teaching blog explaining all the pros and cons or how to navigate Class Dojo or figure out how to turn Quizlet flashcards into literacy games.

If you’re just starting out, here are some important questions to ask when you choose an #edtech tool:

  • How accessible is it? Is there set up for desktops, accessible through the web or best used through an app?
  • Is it free? How much does a single user license cost? A school-wide license?
  • Which OS is it available?
  • How effectively can I roll out this tool? How will I introduce it? What strategies can I use to help my students to effectively use this site / app?
  • Does the site / app give opportunities for collaboration? (i.e. editing document together, developing discussions)
  • Am I familiar with the all the options that are available on the site? Did I spend time researching it?
  • How tech-savvy are my students? How friendly is the user interface (UI)?*
  • How do other teachers use it? Are there YouTube tutorials / blog posts about its effectiveness?
  • Are similar tools available? Which is better for my classroom (e.g. comparing Schoology and Edmodo)**
  • For BYOD tools, will a student without a cellphone still be able to access it from a desktop computer?**
  • What languages are available on it? Are translation tools available?***
  • How much bandwidth does it require? Does it load easily in the classroom?****

And smart developers know that teachers are their customers and ask themselves these questions when creating a good educational app.

But ultimately, the end user is always the student.

They are our main customers. They might vary from city to city, culture to culture, but most teachers quickly realize that our customers are pretty darn picky! While educators might choose tools based on how well we like it – we tend to focus on file management or how easily we can track our students progress – the biggest goal is to choose it based on how receptive our students are.

So far, I’ve been very, very careful about choosing my #edtech tools. I go through all the considerations I’ve mentioned above and read several reviews from other teachers before I decide to introduce it into my classroom. Not a single one of my choices have ever been rejected, but it often takes a month or so before students get comfortable with it and are able to navigate it on their own.

For example, many students were hesitant to install Class Messenger this year. They were comfortable with getting text messages from me through Remind.com, but did not like the idea of a new app they had never seen before. I had to use several strategies to “sell” it, including using my own data to have students download it in class, but after 3 weeks, many of the kids saw how much more superior Class Messenger was to Remind.com and any stragglers who didn’t have access to it were asking me how they could join the club. It’s worked well for our school because we have many kids without cellphones; if they only had an iPod, they were still able to be included on the updates when they connected to their wireless internet at home. Therefore, I was able to fill the needs for my students since I took the chance to try something new. And believe me, even I was initially hesitant until I put the time and effort into discovering a new app!

So while Edmodo has been working well for my students the past two years, most of my kids are starting to get tired of it. I’m working with older students – Grade 10s and 11s – they need an interface that allows them to create documents (i.e. Word, Powerpoint) and access them more easily. Edmodo can’t do that, but Google Classroom can! And since my students’ needs are changing, what better time than now?

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Of course, I only purchased the domain tonight and just started playing around with it. It’s eaten up a good 2-3 hours of my day already, so I’ll have to write more once I get this rolling. Learning about new BYOD tools is always a process with ups and downs. It will take a few months for my students and I to get the hang of it, but since I’ve heard so much from other teachers, I can’t wait to try it. It’ll be interesting to see how Google Classroom will impact my classroom in my 3rd year of teaching!

Which education tools do you use in your classroom? How do you choose a good app?

Have you looked at the #edtech hashtag on Twitter to learn more about educational tools?

Would you like to learn more about BYOD in the classroom?

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*Some UIs are designed to be similar to other social media platforms. For example, Edmodo has a similar set-up to Facebook.

**Kids don’t have Twitter? Put everyone on Today’s Meet. Want to review photosynthesis on Socrative? There’s still a desktop version available.

***An important factor to note if you work with Second Language Learners.

****I would love to use Classcraft, a classroom management tool, but the bandwidth in our school isn’t strong enough for it.

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