In a technology ecosystem where thousands of products are clamoring for attention, choosing the right tool for your school or classroom can be tricky. Sifting through the marketing claims to find software that actually works — and meets district requirements for privacy and interoperability — requires educators to be part researcher, part pedagogical expert, part IT developer and part legal consultant.
It’s a lot to ask of anyone.
“People always want to know if there’s something better or new out there that can help them achieve their goals, but it’s generally not something that anyone has time to wade through,” says Meg Hamel, director of learning initiatives for ISTE. “When you’re a classroom teacher, your primary job is not to do research on tools. Your job is to teach students, and everything else has to be outside the normal school day.”
To find effective tools for solving complex teaching problems, educators need information they can trust. To that end, Hamel is overseeing a revamp of the EdSurge Product Index, a free research tool that allows technology seekers to easily search and compare hundreds of edtech product listings.
Currently in beta testing, the improved index now indicates which products have been validated by trusted education and technology organizations. Educators can use the index to search for products that have earned rigorous certifications, such as Project Unicorn’s Interoperability Certification, the Common Sense Privacy Rating and the ISTE Seal of Alignment. As the tool continues to evolve, certification information will also be added in the areas of usability, accessibility and research-based design.
“The index has answers to questions people don’t know they need to ask yet,” Hamel says. “We believe educators and decision-makers are really looking for alignment across a lot of things, but too often people think of those critical market areas far too late in the purchasing cycle. I want them to start thinking about it during the research and discovery phase.”
Before turning to a research tool like the EdSurge Product Index, however, Hamel advises educators to ask and answer a few key questions for themselves.
1. What is your learning goal?
Whether you’re looking to solve a specific problem of practice, raise student achievement in a particular area, or find a tool that’s more effective than the one you’re already using, a well-developed goal will help keep your search laser-focused. It can also provide a metric for evaluating the products you do choose. The key is to be as specific as possible.
“A good way to start your search is to ask, ‘What am I trying to accomplish in terms of teaching and learning needs?’ ” Hamel says.
2. What’s your teaching and learning philosophy?
Every educator has a learning philosophy, or underlying belief about education that guides their approach to pedagogy. Do you believe in putting students in the driver’s seat, building knowledge through real-world experiences, or providing multiple pathways to learning? Articulating your personal philosophy as an educator can help you find tools that will match your teaching style and integrate well into your practice.
3. What’s your context?
Context is about more than just what grade level or subject area you’re teaching. There are a lot of other factors that can influence whether an edtech tool will be a good fit. What’s the composition of your classroom? Are you teaching face to face, online or in a blended environment? What specific learning or technology challenges do your students face? What resources do they have? How much time do you want them to spend on the computer each day? The more contextual factors you consider when making technology decisions, the better your chances of success with a new tool.
Finding technology solutions can be an intimidating and time-consuming job. Having clear goals and a trusted research tool like EdSurge’s Product Index can take a lot of the guesswork out of the process.
“The index is really trying to create a comprehensive and easy way to find information so schools and classroom educators and district educators can make good decisions about which tools to put on their shortlist,” Hamel says. “We’re sort of the hub where people can get a snapshot what each tool has to offer.”
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.