In order for you to even consider using a program, you have to make sure it addresses a specific need in your classroom. With so many new EdTech programs in today’s market, it’s easy to get enticed by all that is available. This can easily end up with reading teachers spending hours learning about a new project-based math assessment program. Yes, it’s an interesting concept, but if it won’t directly impact the students in your classroom, don’t worry about it! Focus on where you and your students need to improve, and research the programs that will support those improvements.
Nothing can kill a brilliantly planned lesson faster than broken technology. You start the day excited for an engaging learning experience, but sure enough, the internet isn’t strong enough to play the video you planned on using to support instruction. Within seconds, your whole class is out of control as you fumble around and try to salvage the lesson. If this sounds familiar, don’t be ashamed - it’s happened to all of us! Most of the technology used in schools belongs in the Computer History Museum, so make sure the school network and available devices can support the program.
Do a test run! Before you have your students work on the program in class, try using it in your school. Does the website take a long time to load? Does the app keep crashing? If so, you should set up a meeting with your school’s technology specialist. Bring the program to the meeting and discuss how you plan on using it with your students and your hesitations (slow internet, difficulty loading images, etc.). If your technology specialist does not have a solution and you continue to experience those issues, it might be time to look for another program.
A program that isn’t easy for students to use is an absolute deal breaker. You should only need to introduce the program and its features to your students once. If you will have to review the program before each student session, it’s not worth your time! Educational technology is built to free up the teacher and engage the students. A good program will have a user interface that makes students understand almost immediately how the program works and what it is used for. That being said, there’s no harm in having your students try out a program. If they spend the whole first session with their hands in the air, it might be time to try something different.
It’s great if you find a program that will help your students learn, but it won’t mean anything unless you can monitor that learning. Focus on finding programs that provide you with actionable data - and let that data drive your instruction. Many programs have teacher dashboards where you can log in and see exactly how each of your students is performing. These are the programs that you will want your students to use in class.
Note that there is a major difference between programs that show you how many “coins” or “points” your students have earned and those that give you detailed data on their performance across specific standards or topics. In this situation, always go with the latter example. The insights gained from these skills-based programs turn good teachers into rockstar teachers, provided they are willing to put in the time and effort required to let the data drive their instruction.
Last week I wrote about the importance of investing parents in the education of their children. In order to get parents invested and keep them active, you need to provide them with consistent updates on student progress. Fortunately, many EdTech programs have built in methods for parents to receive updates on their children, meaning that no work is required on the teacher’s end! These are the programs that you should be using in your classroom. It’s too easy for parent communication to slip to the back of our minds, but these programs don’t let that happen. By sending parents weekly emails or giving them accounts to log in and monitor student performance, you can rest easy knowing that your parents are aware of all recent progress.
A really great program is one that is flexible across multiple classroom settings and teaching styles. You shouldn’t have to revamp your class schedule to incorporate new technology. Likewise, you shouldn’t have to adjust your teaching style. Search for a program that will fit into your current schedule, build off your strengths and improve your deficits.
You may think that a program is excellent and destined to revolutionize your classroom, but you never know how it will work out until you have your students use it. The final test of a good program is that it makes all students engaged and excited. After students try it for the first time, you want them to start inquiring about the next time they’ll get to use it right away. While students are using the program, they should be engaged in their learning, not easily distracted or goofing off.
Note: If you have your students try out a program and notice that they seem to like it a little bit, but they aren’t really engaged in their learning, it might be worth having them try it once or twice more. Sometimes students need a few sessions with a program before they get the hang of it.
Once you have found a program that meets all of the above criteria, you need to start monitoring the most important aspect of any EdTech program - the positive impact it has on ALL students. The unfortunate effect of many EdTech programs is that the higher performing students excel, while the lower level students struggle and fall even farther behind. This should never be the case. The only programs that you use in your class should address the needs of all students, regardless of their ability level. Frequently revisit this throughout the year, and if you notice that only select groups of students are benefiting from a program’s implementation, it might be time to discontinue its use.
If you can check off all 8 points in the checklist above, you have found the right EdTech program for your students. Don’t hoard this knowledge - share it with your colleagues and friends!
What do you think? Did I forget any key questions? Let me know in the comments!
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