It’s unlikely that you experience a dearth of options when you go online to search for tools and resources to supplement your curriculum, instruction, and assessment materials. Instead, you quite likely experience the opposite—there are so many options to choose from that it soon becomes overwhelming and difficult to parse which are worthwhile and which are better left behind. How do you know if a tool is high quality and truly germane to your purposes? The next time you go online in search of learning materials for your classroom, ask yourself these questions before making a decision about a shiny new offering:
1) Will it help your students achieve given objectives?
Are you preparing students to take and achieve a certain score on a high-stakes assessment? Are there curricular learning objectives that students are working toward, and supplemental, remediation, or enrichment materials that could assist in that goal? Examine ed tech materials with these questions in mind and choose the ones that best fit your purposes.
2) Is it aligned to your standards?
Do you use state or national standards for your content area? Resources that come with alignments to these standards are likely to be more useful to you than resources you may have to align yourself.
3) Is it authored, vetted, and/or distributed by reliable, reputable sources?
One of the great things about the Internet and the ed tech movement is that it has opened the doors for individuals and organizations from all over the world and with diverse backgrounds to develop tools for teachers and publish directly to the web; no longer do traditional publishers rule. At the same time, such ease and freedom in publishing means that every resource needs to be examined carefully to ensure it’s accurate and reliable. Are authors, whether individual, corporate, or organizational, clearly indicated, and if so, can you verify their credentials?
4) Is it current?
New scientific and technological discoveries are constantly being made, just as world events and politics continuously alter the course of history. Thus, it’s important that online tools reflect the latest and greatest of what’s happening to be truly valuable. Make sure that any tool that you select is regularly updated to reflect the latest developments (check for posted or updated dates).
5) Is it interesting and engaging for students?
As important as alignment and purposefulness are in ed tech materials, so, too, is the “cool” factor—will students be excited by it? Will it make them want to explore, question, experiment, and learn? Ed tech materials are competing not just with textbooks and lectures, but also with video games, social media, and other apps. If they’re not interesting and delightful, they’re unlikely to be effective.
6) Is it intuitive and easy to navigate?
If a new platform or tool takes days for you or your students to figure out, you might want to move on. The best tools are built specifically to be user-friendly and simple for students and teachers alike. Look for user guides, how-to videos, FAQs, or live support features to help in learning about a given tool.
7) Is it reasonably priced and/or are sign-ups simple and no-hassle?
Many online tools are free and require a simple registration with your name and email address, so the risk is low. If a given website or platform requires extensive personal information to be shared, or credit card information, you’ll want to be more cautious. Check to make sure the website has a security certificate or an https:// address before sharing your personal information. If you are in a position to pay for resources, make sure that the cost fits the potential payoff; for example, will purchasing a ready-made lesson or assessment bundle save you hours of time? If so, it just might be worth it.
8) Can you easily contact a representative to ask questions?
Being able to communicate directly with an individual from the company or organization behind the tool is a great indication that the tool is truly designed with teachers’ best interests at heart. Email the webmaster via the contact page, live chat with a representative if possible, request a demo or free sample, or otherwise reach out and see what happens—often times, ed tech websites and platforms are happy to partner with teachers and schools in innovative, mutually beneficial ways.
What criteria do you look for in an EdTech product? What products do you use that meet all of these criteria? Share in the comments.