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Use Research-Based Approaches to Choose Edtech Apps

By Liz Kolb
October 20, 2021
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Evaluating and choosing educational applications for school learning has often been compared to the wild, wild West. Yet, selecting the “just right” app for teaching and learning to meet learning targets is truly a science and should be done carefully using evidence-based decision-making grounded in the learning sciences.

My 20-plus years in education and education technology have allowed me to develop a cadre of resources and tools to evaluate an educational application based on research and the science of learning, rather than choosing tools that are shiny, popular or feel good. Beyond the classroom, I have also found that I need to support parents and caregivers in understanding how to use research-supported strategies with educational apps at home. Here’s a look at the resources I use to select and evaluate educational apps using the learning sciences. 

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Tools for evaluating an educational app

Triple E Evaluation Rubric for Educational Applications. This rubric is derived from the Triple E Framework Rubric for lesson design with technology tools. The Triple E Framework has been found to be valid and reliable for designing lessons with technology to support learning outcomes. The Educational Applications rubric brings together many research-based pieces on how to evaluate educational applications into one simple-to-follow rubric. 

What Works ClearinghouseSince an educational application’s website often has biased research, it is important to find unbiased research. In order to know if valid and reliable studies exist on an educational application, the What Works Clearinghouse should be your first stop! The clearinghouse is run by the U.S. Department of Education and critically examines any research on educational applications to see if the research is valid, reliable and unbiased. 

AIMS-E ToolIf you are looking at educational apps for younger children, I highly recommend the AIMS-E tool created by Screensense. This is a great rubric for determining if an application will support the pedagogy of learning for children ages 2 to about 6. 

KidMap. It is important to consider diversity and equity when evaluating a digital tool for learning.  Kidmap has created an easy-to-use checklist for educators to make sure their new application is inclusive and equitable. 

Digital Promise Product Certification. Digital Promise has recently developed a certification process for educational applications to make sure they regularly address the learning sciences, support diverse learners and ground product design in evidence-based research. Tools that have earned the certification are worth a look!

iKeepsafe Data Privacy Certification. The iKeepSafe website has compiled a list of educational applications that are FERPA-, CSPC- and COPPA-compliant. This allows a school to know which educational applications have built-in student privacy security measures. 

Tools to help pilot education technology apps

Rapid Cycle Evaluation. Mathematica developed this very useful tool that allows teachers to easily create a pilot study on an educational application with data-driven outcomes. 

Digital Promise EdTech Pilot Framework. Digital Promise has developed a process to help districts determine if a new digital tool meets the needs of teachers and students.

A tool to help educators provide strategies for parents and caregivers

Tap, Click and Read. The Tap, Click and Read website developed by Michael Levine and Lisa Guernsey is a wonderful resource for educators and parents. The website focuses on how young children and their caregivers can best engage with media and educational applications. 

Better Edtech Buying for Educators - Education Technology Resource Guide

Liz Kolb is a clinical associate professor of education technology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and is the author of four ISTE books, including the best-seller Learning First, Technology Second