Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Evaluating Technology? Here's What To Look For...

In my former life as a Director of Instructional Technology I worked with school leaders to make the best choices when it came to technology. We would spend great deals of time looking at funds and how they could best be used to make an impact on student learning.

I believe many districts do that. However, often, when the hardware is installed and the software has been trained on that is where conversations end and responsibilities shift. The problem with that approach is that how do we know that what we purchase is actually being used appropriately or even being used for that matter?

I began looking at technology after the purchase. How could we help school leaders better understand the technology they purchased and could they determine how effective it was really being used in the classroom.

With that in mind I development 5 questions that school leaders should be able to answer on a walkthrough. Now keep in mind, it takes time to develop an understanding of all these. And while you should be able to see some, you may not see all. And that doesn't automatically mean the technology is useless or is being used ineffectively. It just means that more time may need to be spent on understanding the purpose.

Who is using the technology? Is the technology being used exclusively by the teacher? By the students? Is there a mix of both? While this will be dependent on the type used, there are situations to be mindful of. Take, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard or any front-of-classroom display. Is the teacher the only one engaging with and interacting with the technology? If so, than we might need to look at pedagogy. We would install $10,000 teaching stations that would only ever be touched by the teacher. There's something fundamentally wrong with that. So look at the lesson and look at who is using the technology. Could something better be happening?

If you took the technology away, how different would the lesson be? This observation aims to get at the pedagogy and how the technology is being used. Ultimately technology should enable students to do something they couldn't do without it. I can communicate with students around the globe by having a pen-pal but by using Skype or Google Hangouts I can do it much quicker and reach a greater audience and potentially have a greater impact. Take a long, hard look. Could you do the same lesson and it have the same impact without the technology? If in English class students are using their laptops to just write a paper, that technology isn't very transformational. But if those students are creating podcasts or book trailers or something else entirely, than the technology might really be necessary and transformational. Think critically about how it's being used and would the learning be the same without it.

How much variety with the technology is there? When you see students using the technology are they always doing the same things. Are they just using Wikipedia or the calculator? Are they always on some type of self-diagnosing software or are they doing something different, using different sites, apps and programs? Variety is the spice of life and the spice of learning. We shouldn't pigeon hole kids into using PowerPoint because that is the only technology we know. Kids need to have opportunities to use several different types of apps and sites and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways as well whether the teacher knows them or not.

What opportunities do students have to collaborate with or through the technology? Students need the chance to learn with and from each other. And, again, technology enables us to do that much, much easier. Are there opportunities for students to share and reflect with each other and their teacher? Are they using a social network like Edmodo or Schoology? Are they maintaining blogs? Or are you just seeing one student using the technology individually. If so, depending on the purpose it may be time to evaluate how students work together through or with technology.

What opportunities do students have to create new knowledge or products with the technology? Learning really happens when students can take some piece of understanding and actually do something with. Either create a meaningful product or some new knowledge with that understanding. And, again, technology makes that creation much easier and in some cases more meaningful. When you see students using technology are just merely doing recall and low-level learning. Or are they truly creating something meaningful?

These questions should lead to deeper reflections with school leaders, teachers and students on how technology is being used in the course of learning. They meant to provide a starting point for conversations. They aren't the end all, be all when it comes to technology use in the classroom.

Interested in an infographic for this post? Download one here!

What do you think? What do you look for when evaluating how technology is used in the classroom? Is it these? Is it something else? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: Tracing relations via photopin (license)
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