Since the move to remote learning during this COVID-19 school shutdown, many teachers are finding their social media pages and inboxes full of apps and other e-learning tools offering free premium trials for the rest of this school year. It can easily become overwhelming when trying to decide if any of these tools are worth the investment. As teachers, we always want to do what is best for our students and many of us are always looking for the next top tool to use with our classes. With all of this fresh on my mind, I decided to focus on ISTE standard 2 for educators – Leader. I primarily focused on two indicators which read:
2b. Advocate for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students.
2c. Model for colleagues the identification, exploration, evaluation, curation and adoption of new digital resources and tools for learning.
My focus question throughout this process revolved around evaluating digital learning tools that will be equitable for students and meet diverse learning needs. This is important to me because as much as we would like to do everything, we can’t. Teachers need to be able to look into an e-learning resource and decide if it’s worth investing more time to use with their class. There are many areas to consider when evaluating an app.
First stop on my research quest brought me to articles about app vetting. Most of them brought up important questions like “what makes an app risky?” In an article from Wandera it gave some suggestions about what to look for when deciding if an app is risky. It mentioned looking for permission overloads, privacy, social engineering, and malicious or suspicious network connections. I hadn’t thought of many of these before, but after learning more it made sense. When looking at permission overloads it is important to check before clicking that agree button. Is the program asking you for access to more than it needs to run? With privacy you need to look for what it’s doing with the data it’s gathering. Does it go out to third party sources? Social engineering check includes looking to see if the app is using manipulative practices to fool users into taking action or using their product. Last with malicious/suspicious network connections check for what servers it’s communicating with.
Many of us teachers (myself included in this group) may not know how to check for all of those areas. That got me thinking I needed to find a more information. I came across a free course through PBS that you can do to learn to evaluate online tools. It is specifically designed for educators and is through a trusted source. Not every teacher is going to have the time or willingness to complete this micro credential, but it does provide an option. Even if a few teachers at a school were to complete a course like this, they could share tips and strategies with their fellow educators. This still wasn’t the answer I was looking for though, so I pressed forward.
One of my cohort members found an article that I found really helpful. It is from neaToday. It gives simple directions on how to evaluate tech tools in less than 7 minutes. I was so excited she shared this. I felt like it is exactly what a busy teacher will look for. There are two steps to the strategy:
1: Qualify (two minutes) – ask yourself three questions. Is it free or a small fee? Will it work with my learning management system? Is it easy to install and set up?
2: Playtime (five minutes) – play with it for a little bit. Consider things as you play such as is it easy to use? Does it offer levels? Will it stand the test of time? Does it have in-app purchases or billing?
This is something that could be shared out to staff, and then they could start looking at all those apps and programs filling up their newsfeed and inboxes with a purpose. These two steps wouldn’t necessarily qualify an app to be approved by a school or district, but they could tell you if it’s worth investigating more. This leads me to the next phase of my searching. Now that you have a general idea of what to look for, what should be included in a more in-depth dive? What questions should you look into before asking your district to approve this new tool?
In my research, I found a few rubrics out there that teachers can use to rate tools. Some were very simple, and some were very detailed. Teachers love to create and use rubrics when grading because it makes it more objective. The same process should be used when evaluating an app. I thought of staff at my own school and what I could do to make their lives easier if this process were to stand a chance of working. I knew I wanted something that was user friendly, fairly quick to fill out, and would give results to the administrator or tech team who look into the suggested new program. I came up with a google form.
When I created my google form, I used ideas from both detailed and simplistic rubrics. I wanted it to be teacher friendly. I wanted to make it like a survey so that they didn’t have to type anything in if they didn’t want to. I decided to go with a linear form where they can go through the descriptors and rate the tool. I broke it up into categories to make it easier for the administrators of the form to sift through the data so they can look into these programs for the teachers. This tool isn’t perfect and I plan on it being a living document. I hope that it becomes something teachers can use as a model of thinking when looking into digital programs. I am including it in my blog post. Let me know what you think!
There are so many tools and programs out there. It is impossible to use them all. We don’t want to invest hours of our time in a program to find out that it is risky for us or our students. This is a challenging time for teachers and students. E-learning is no longer an option that some people try out. It is something that has turned into a requirement. Teachers are critical thinkers and when given the tools they need, they can find the programs that best suit the needs of their specific classroom.
- Anstey, Lauren and Watson, Gavan. (2018, September 10). A rubrick for evaluating e-learning tools in higher education. Educause review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/9/a-rubric-for-evaluating-e-learning-tools-in-higher-education
- Digital Promise. Evaluating online tools for classroom use. Digital Promise. Retrieved from https://microcredentials.digitalpromise.org/explore/evaluating-online-tools-for-classroom-use
- Edmentum. (2018). Educational technology evaluation guide. Edmentum. Retrieved from https://www.edmentum.com/sites/edmentum.com/files/resource/media/0613-21%20ED_Ed_Tech_Eval_Guide_Guide.pdf
- Kent.edu. Differentiation Handout. Kent. Retrieved from https://www.kent.edu/sites/default/files/file/Differentiation%20Handout.pdf
- La Porta, Liarna. (2019, January 5). App Vetting: How Do You Measure the Risk Level of Risky Apps? Wandera. Retrieved from https://www.wandera.com/risky-apps/
- Murray, Jacqui. (2019, July 24). How to evaluate tech tools you’ve never used in less than seven minutes. neaToday. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2019/07/24/how-to-evaluate-tech-tools-youve-never-used-in-less-than-seven-minutes/
- Onstand, Katie. (2019, October 11). What is app vetting and why is it important? Education Framework. Retrieved from https://educationframework.com/resources/blog/what-is-app-vetting-and-why-is-it-important