So, you want to use that new app, site, web tool, gizmo, or doo-dad in the classroom? That’s great! Now what? Using a process to vet, research, and test a new addition to your repertoire is crucial for approval and success with students, parents, and administration. Here are the steps to should take as you begin:
1. Identify and verify. The first step is to make sure you really have the thing you think you do. Some apps have impostors. Websites have numerous similarities. Visit the official web page if possible, and confirm it is what you think it is by searching for mentions of it by teachers on Twitter, Pinterest, EduClipper, or other sites where educators lurk. Get a basic familiarity of your new tool. Too many people have been duped into thinking they were using Schoology or KidBlog, only to realize they were lead to Schoolology or KidsBlog by mistake.
2. Do some real research. I know, it sucks, but this is for the good of the students. We can not justify taking every shiny thing for a spin without understanding whether it is actually good for kids. Try to find a few legitimate articles by reputable sources to find out just what the benefits will be. Think about it critically. If it’s all flash and little substance, skip it. Using technology in education simply for the sake of using new things is irresponsible and detrimental to students.
3. Write a rationale for use. Really. Trust me on this. If you implement that new site with students without a clear rationale, you open yourself to challenges by administration, peers, parents, and even students. Make a few notes about what educational challenge the new tool will help alleviate, how learning will be increased, and how it will be effectively integrated into the existing curriculum. Be clear on what your goals are for using it, and how you will know if it effective or not. Share with administration or technology specialist if necessary.
4. Test-drive. Anyone who is great at implementing new tools into their instruction knows that test-driving is the most important step for success. In most cases, you will need to get the app or register for an account. While you are at it, create a fake student account as well. Spend plenty of time on your own (no students) becoming familiar with the instructor/admin controls, functions, and layout. Do full mock-ups that resemble what you will be doing with students. Take notes if necessary, or screencast things that work well for yourself, so you can refer to it later if needed.
5. Be the student. With a dummy account or through the student access point, interact with your new content or tool as if you were the student. On many apps and sites, the student view is significantly different than the one you see as the teacher or admin. Sometimes it works well to switch back and forth to make sure what you think is happening on both sides of the coin is actually working.
6. Take it for a spin. Your first outing with your new thing should also be a test run. Let students know you are piloting a new educational tool, and that the first time is a trial run. Try something complex enough to give you a good feel for how it is working, but not so complicated that the process itself becomes the challenge. If it is a new LMS, start with one or two “find it, do it” tasks. If it is a new app, have one or two goals the students will be able to do on this first try. Don’t expect to accomplish any significant learning tasks here, and make sure you have a solid back-up if it becomes clear that there is an unexpected issue.
7. Re-evaluate. As soon as your trial run is complete, make a list of what didn’t work well. Keep this as a running list for a while. When you have time again, try to solve the issues you encountered on the trial run. Common initial issues involve the logging in and registration of new students to sites and apps, and general navigation issues. These issues will prompt you to have better instructions, expectations, and understanding of the tool’s advantages and limitations. Consult tech coaches, IT professionals, or the online community for advice and guidance as you problem-solve.
8. Build norms and expectations for use. In most cases, the new tool will require some unique expectations for the student. Make these clear, and use multiple methods to reinforce them. If necessary, these may need to be shared with parents. It may also be a good idea to discuss the use of this tool in your instruction with your administration or technology coach if you haven’t already.
9. Get back on that horse. At this point, you have made all of the right moves to be able to integrate this new tool into your regular instruction. Continue to stretch the capability of the tool, without getting to greedy. You don’t need to be three months ahead. You don’t have to utilize every feature. Look critically at your curriculum and learning target and look for opportunities where the new tool can help students meet those targets more effectively. Try to use the new tool more frequently at first, so you and the students can become acclimated quickly to its use. Once all users are more comfortable, work toward integrating it as part of well-reasoned, regular learning experiences. Beware of making it a one-trick pony. If it is valuable, it can be used often. If it can’t be used often, it may not be worth the work of getting involved with it.
10. Continue to evaluate success and challenges. If it just doesn’t seem to become more effective in helping student learn, be prepared to adjust greatly, try a different tool, or abandon it completely. Sometimes it just isn’t there. For the sake of your students, know when it’s a good time to prune the branch to save the tree. Be prepared for the tool to change over time, either to become even more functional, or to become obsolete as different tools become more widely used. Many teachers want to invest in learning how to use new educational technology effectively, and to be able to use it for many years. In today’s world, that is becoming less and less likely. Instead, look at it as something that is great for now. Keep your eyes open for other, even better ways to get to the same place.
Education technology is a great advantage and a great responsibility. We need to remember that at the heart of new methods is the desire to help students. Observing a rational process for implementation is the difference between teachers who see ed. tech. as an app-of-the-day barrage of spiffy new tools and those who use a professional, reasonable, and transformative approach to building better learning experiences for their students.