Fréda M. Antoine, Tamika M. Porter, and Elizabeth Reyes-Aceytuno,
We know that there is a problem when the devices we plan to use in our instruction are more outdated than the personal devices that students carry with them daily. A problem educators face daily is keeping their lessons innovative and interesting. The average student has an attention span that ranges from five to twelve minutes (Dunneback & Therrell, 2015). The combination of advances in technology along with the individual needs of each student must be considered when designing and revamping lessons. The characteristics of the “millennial” student are significantly different than students from previous generations. Millennials can be described as students who were raised by “helicopter parents” who tended to hover, over protect, and coddle. To successfully teach them, there must be revisions to pedagogies and tools (Russo, 2013).
There is much to consider when selecting educational technology. While some of the time, your district will choose a set of tools for you to use, there are also often opportunities for teachers to decide on their own that services will best meet your teaching philosophy. Most school districts have upgraded their school campuses to being Wi-Fi enabled, along with having devices like Chromebooks and tablets available for students. Some schools have even received grant money to allow each student to have a device assigned to them individually.
Once devices have been selected for use, the security of information and student data is paramount. The student information system utilized by the school should already have security provisions in place. Firewalls and spam blocking technology are something that individual teachers should not have to worry about. If your school/district has not upgraded its technology, then this would be your starting point. Determining the resources that will affect your ability to implement or embed technology into your plans must be considered.
Once technology devices have been selected, the next step would be to consider what type of learning system or application you would like to use. Considering what your goal or purpose is important at this point. It is recommended that you start out small. Understanding your own ability levels and how you may access these tools effectively is what educators must be focused on. If the district has a grade book or LMS that they have mandated that everyone use, this would be the starting point. The emergence and increasing use of tablet technologies and applications are changing the work of teacher educators. This change calls for the need to have tools to guide educators in the direction that will aid their intentions (Cherner, Dix, & Lee, 2014).
The Importance of Careful Selection
Choosing the right tool also includes choosing software that respects student data privacy and takes sufficient security precautions to put parents and school officials at ease. The test is providing personalized learning, coupled with the right software, which meets student needs. Relevant laws that protect student privacy are also vital in the selection process. This section addresses some of the primary concerns to consider when selecting educational technology.
We must select tools that adhere to the established legal requirements. According to the US Department of Education, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal privacy law that “protects student data education records from infringement of unauthorized third-parties or users. The law applies to all schools who are eligible to receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” 2015).
Written parental permission is essential to disclose any student educational information, but FERPA does allow school sites to release those records if school officials have legitimate scholarly interest in the tools (“Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” 2015). Such rights are then transferred to the student once they reach the age of 18 or enters a postsecondary institution. The Office of the Chief Privacy Officer (OCPO) is also responsible for implementing another law that strives to safeguard student and parental rights in education called Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).
Like school officials, teachers make cognizant choices regarding the privacy and security of the applications they use with students by collaborating with tech advocacy groups like The Common Sense Privacy Evaluation Initiative (“What Is the Privacy Initiative?,” n.d.). Over 100 schools and districts chose to participate in the initiative creating a plan with the intention that pursues not only in assessing educational technology tools but also work in partnership with K–12 educational software industry to streamline and regulate privacy and security policies (“What Is the Privacy Initiative?,” n.d.).
Similarly, to the private sector, the federal government is also moving to implement guidelines through an advisory center, Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) managed by the Department of Education. This regulatory agency considers possible actions that a second or even third party may not consider because they figure the FERPA regulations may not apply. For instance, a third-party provider cannot use data from a FERPA-protected source, like a school for any purpose that was not shared initially (“Protecting Student Privacy | U.S. Department of Education,” n.d.). One example is Google’s product Classroom. Significant strides made with the feedback it received from the teachers and administrator of Chicago Public Schools. The third largest school district in the nation, they had privacy and security concerns that they were not willing to concede. The multibillion-dollar company had to adhere to the FERPA laws if they wanted to continue to do business with the K-12 education sector. The feedback proved to be invaluable in making products that meet the needs of a diverse group of students while protecting the sensitive data provided. (Singer, 2017)
Because data records are distributed more widely than ever since local district network is no longer used for software deployment. According to a recent study from Fordham University School of Law, it discovered that 95% of school districts relied on cloud services, but fewer than 25% of contracts specified the purpose for disclosed student data (Duane, n.d.).
In advertising, puffery is when a commercial’s claims are exaggerated. The same thing can happen when educational technology companies make over-inflated promises about what is possible through the use of their tools. As an educator, do your due diligence in connecting the software tool with your objectives and not falling for false promises. It may seem like a daunting task, yet it can be exciting at the same time.
Legal issues, privacy concerns, and potential for puffery are only some of the considerations we need to make when evaluating educational technology. Important questions to ask during the evaluative portion of your decision include:
- Do the creators of educational software respect data privacy?
- How much information does the company need to allow the product use?
- Has your district or other districts have had experience with the product?
- What are the reviews available and how were they rated in customers service?
- Is the product open to teacher feedback? How likely are the input implemented?
These questions can assist you as you consider which tool will best fit your needs. The time you invest will protect your students, as well as your own reputation as an educator. This next section provides additional advice for adopting new technology.
The accessibility of the technology tools and apps can be overwhelming for any teacher to choose. Picking the right app or tool that your students can easily navigate while driving home your lesson objectives. When you are selecting a tool take into consideration the following items:
Trying to get a handle on too many technologies causes unnecessary stress. Learning a digital instrument takes time and apply it as part of the lesson ranging from an hour to a couple of days. Knowing if it will work smoothly during the class session. You also must provide secure and specific directions that you go over, demonstrate and have availability all semester. Having clear instructions that you review, model and have available all semester is helpful.
Focus on Your Goals
It can be tempting to get caught up in the list of features a technology tool provides and miss determining whether or not the educational goal will be met through its use. Choose a few tools at a time and try them out. Give them a test run to see which are the easiest to learn and use. Read the reviews to gauge whether they met the basics needs other customers and how likely will the product align your lesson goals. This method leads the actual picking of the best tools that will serve you need. The more you try out tools, the easier it gets because you will know what you want. Move on to another if the app no longer meet your demands.
Assess What You Have
Take stock of the technology available in your class and on your campus. Knowing the technology capabilities determines in what capacity the app is useful. Also, you should find out what websites and apps your students used in the past. Be mindful of district firewalls, therefore check ahead if the technology is capable.
Consider the Implications of Whether or Not to Pay
As a teacher, the excitement of a new tool and the possibilities of enhancing your lessons is overpowering. Getting clear on how you intend to pay for them is crucial. Questions to ask yourself include are you willing to pay or go the free route? If you are ready to pay, who will be paying for the tool? What are the included features in the tech and how much of a difference does paying make? How does the company make their money and stay sustainable, when they give their tool away for free? Is there a potential for our students’ data to be the produce that is being bought and sold?
Revise and Reflect
Go back to your goals and reflect on how well has the tool fulfilled your needs. How long and often is the app used? Do any problems arise while using the new tech? Remember, if it is not working well enough, you can pick another. Determine how it will be paid for – this reflection can reinforce the digital divide if we do not think carefully about who will bear the cost.
This section has provided guidance on selecting technology. Sometimes, it can help to hear from someone’s individual experience. In this final part of the chapter, Elizabeth Reyes-Aceytuno shares her story of choosing tools that best fit her needs throughout the various roles in education she has held.
My Experience Using Selecting Educational Technology
I have had many roles in my education career. I have been a Resource Specialist (RSP) teacher, Special Day Class (SDC) teacher and now I am an Academic Coach. In those roles, I have selected technology tools for different purposes. Many times whatever technology I wanted to use had to be free or inexpensive because I had to purchase myself. I was always on the lookout for free sites to help my students and make my instruction more engaging. If I did not buy it myself and the school site was able to purchase it, I still was aware of the budget so I can get more for my money.
As an SDC teacher, I selected technology tools that helped me as teacher and websites that could capture the student’s attention while being easy to use. I used the PEC system to create visual schedules for my SDC class and free websites like Starfall, PBS kids, and CoolMath for the students to work on in centers. When I first started out as an SDC teacher, the students did not use much technology, and I slowly incorporated the use if it which helped me with classroom management as well as creating engaging instruction. As an RSP teacher, I would select technology tools that would assist my students in their general education classroom to help them access the core curriculum. I would look for assistive technology and computer-based programs to support the students. Tools such as text to speech such as Snap and Read, and Co: Writer, were some tool that I incorporated with the approval of the school site because they all had to be purchased. Since then, I found out that Google has extensions that can do the same thing as these programs.
In my current role as an Academic Coach, I no longer have students of my own. I work with the site principal, teachers and parents. When selecting technology tools, I ask specific questions to see if the device or website being chosen is the best fit for both the students and the staff. The questions I ponder on in regards to students are, How will this technology help the students?, What level of Depth of Knowledge (DOK) does this help students access?, Does the device and or software cater to multiple student’s needs? Other questions I think about are, Is the cost worth it?, How will the technology work with the teacher and activities its being used for?, How will teachers be supported?. Educational technology tools that I have helped teachers, and administrators choose are Read Naturally builds reading skill. ALEKS and iReady provide a computer adaptive assessment then provided students with lessons to address their skill level. All tools provided data for the teachers to monitor student progress.
When selecting educational technology tools remember to ask yourself, how will this tool help my student? Does the tool meet the needs of multiple students? Who will purchase the tool? How will this tool support my instruction and how will I be supported? Whatever technology selected needs to benefit both the student and the teacher. Be mindful to analyze potential student privacy issues. Scrutinize how the company makes their money, how well they take care of their customers and how open they are to feedback. Ultimately, you know your students and what they need. Selecting a tool is just part of meeting their needs. If it no longer fulfill its purpose, you can always try another.
The selection of tools may seem like a difficult process at first glance. However, when you take into consideration the hype of the tool, privacy, and the legal ramifications you may have using a tool, take a deep breathe and start small and determine whether the tool you are selecting will achieve the goals you have for using it in your classroom. By utilizing the steps of selecting tools discussed in this chapter, you will be trying the best tools for your classroom that are available. Also, you will more likely implement and keep the tools you select. Therefore, take your time, go through the steps discussed in this chapter, and you will have plenty of powerful tools to utilize in your classroom.