As a new year starts, people often find themselves reflecting on the previous year. As educators, we often reflect on how we can best meet the instructional needs of our students. We examine our instruction to see what we should keep, what needs to be tweaked, and what we should never try again. The same is true with the use of educational technology. It’s important to reflect upon what ed tech programs support the needs of your students and which ones don’t. However, if there is anything I’ve learned over the years it’s that new doesn’t always mean better.
Whenever I’m reflecting on whether or not to use specific ed tech programs, I always ask myself the wh questions.
- Who is the program made for?
- What am I trying to achieve by using it?
- When can my students use it?
- Where can it be used?
- Why would my students want to use it?
- How will ed tech programs help me achieve my goal?
Who is the program made for?
This may seem like an obvious question, however, many programs say they are appropriate for a wide age range and they really won’t work for your age level. As an example, Seesaw and Flip (formally known as Flipgrid) are two similar Ed Tech programs. I think they are both great! However, I would never use Seesaw with my 5th-grade students, even though it is advertised as appropriate for PreK-5th grade. My students would have taken one look at the visuals and thought it was too babyish. Flip, on the other hand, can be used with students in PreK-12th grade, however, I wouldn’t use it with my primary students since Seesaw is a lot easier to use for younger students.
By better understanding who the program is made for, and having a grasp on what your student needs, you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision. Just because the program says it works for your students, make sure to check it out yourself before using it in your classroom.
What am I trying to achieve by using it?
As educators, it’s important to be intentional with what our students do in the classroom. For elementary teachers, you only have approximately six hours of instructional time throughout the day (minus any interruptions). Secondary teachers typically average 50 minutes a day. That instructional time is precious and should be used to its fullest.
If I’m trying to implicitly teach listening comprehension skills, then I want to make sure the ed tech programs I use support that concept. I wouldn’t find a random math video game for them to use. Instead, I would go to Listenwise or other recommended podcast channels to find what is best for my students.
When can my students use it?
I personally like to use ed tech programs that my students can use at any time throughout the day. I love the use of Google Classroom as a central hub for managing and organizing my students’ work and resources. When they are absent, I am able to place lesson slides, links, and work on Google Classroom and allow them to keep up with what they missed. It also gives them the opportunity to add a private message that I can see if they have questions during non-school hours.
Where can it be used?
When and where ed tech programs can be used truly go hand in hand. My personal preference is ed tech programs that allow my students to use them anywhere. This provides them with the opportunity to continue their learning at home (or while on vacation) and show their families what they are learning in the classroom. Because of this, I prefer ed tech programs that utilize Single Sign On (SSO). It makes it easier for my students to access the program.
In addition, I prefer programs that can be easily used on mobile devices (phone or tablet). When used properly, mobile devices can be a great benefit to instruction. It also gives teachers more flexibility to use devices other than desktops, especially when the school/district isn’t able to provide 1:1 devices.
Why would my students want to use it?
Engagement is KEY to choosing ed tech programs. When students aren’t engaged, they are less likely to retain the information. I couldn’t tell you what prizes I won from my 3rd-grade teacher, however, I can explain in great detail how she used a koosh ball and small basketball net in her reward system. I remember because I was engaged in the process and I wanted to do it.
The more engaging a program is, the more likely the students are to get the most out of it. Ed tech programs, such as Canva, EdPuzzle, and Phet Interactive Simulations can be highly engaging for students. Google Slides and Google Drawings also provide interactive ways to learn. The more interactive and engaging a program is, the more likely your students will want to use it.
How will ed tech programs help me achieve my goal?
When the COVID pandemic first began many ed tech companies offered their programs for free. It was great! It allowed even more students to have access to online programs. However, it also became overwhelming for many teachers. There were too many choices. In the end, you ultimately need to reflect upon what is your goal. Will the program meet the goal? My goal has always been to meet the needs of my students. That is what I focus my reflections upon.
As you reflect on what ed tech programs to continue to use and which ones you want to try for the first time I encourage you to ask the wh questions. Figure out what works best for you and your students. Talk to colleagues and get their feedback, however, don’t always assume what works for them will work for you too. New programs are often trial and error. After some time using it, make the decision, will this program meet the needs of my students? If not, move on or if it does, embrace it. Sometimes a program is great, but not for that particular group of students. That’s okay too. Place it in your digital file folder and go back to it with a different class.