Choosing between educational technologies
WashU provides access to many educational technology tools that have the potential to increase student engagement, foster deeper connections to content, and save you time on teaching and learning tasks. However, the wide array of options can be overwhelming – to you and your students.
Hence, it is important that you only choose tools that will solve a particular teaching problem or advance your teaching. To reap the benefits of adding a technology, many instructors choose EdTech tools that address a specific ‘pinch point’ or bottleneck in their class. Often, the tool would support a teaching and learning goal for the class which may already be in their syllabus (e.g., learn a disciplinary skill, engage in collaborative knowledge building, or demonstrate competencies).
Furthermore, it is also important to start small – add only one or two new tools at a time so that you and your students have adequate time to learn how it works and how to use it effectively. Taking small steps in technology adoption will address some of the challenges that come with using educational technologies.
Challenges in using educational technologies
Technologies increase cognitive load for students learning a new tool.
Make sure that the tool you will use is easily learnable and that using it will not take away too much energy from students in learning the content of your course. Many educational technologies are designed for multiple audiences to serve specific goals, so consider whether the tool will serve your learning goals and your students.
Be ready to offer tech support or be able to steer students towards resources. New users will require technical support or need resources ready for them should they need assistance.
Technologies may not be equally accessible or equitable.
Students do not have equal access to the devices, technological infrastructure, and resources that may be needed to use specific tools. Consider potential obstacles: will students need a subscription? Is there a fee? Will they have to participate in a public space? Is the tool accessible? Identify perspectives and participation that may be amplified or silenced by using the new tool.
Strong pedagogy starts with specific learning goals for students, not with the shiniest, newest app. Always reflect on whether a new tool is necessary to achieve course learning goals and whether all students will have equal access to the tool.
Technologies require scaffolding to help students build proficiency with the tool.
Because each technology is unique in its goals and functionality, even students who use technologies often or are expected to be “digital natives” struggle to use unfamiliar technologies. Provide students with plenty of directions and opportunities to practice with the tool. If possible, only pick a tool that you will use early and often.
Provide clear and specific expectations to students (in text, video, or both!). Many of the tools have quick instructional videos linked within their websites or on YouTube. You can also easily create your own “orientation video” that will help them navigate the tool.
Explain WHY you are using the tool. Connect the work you are asking them to do to learning goals you’ve established for the course. Students are notoriously bad at doing this connection building themselves. If they don’t understand why they are being asked to do something in your course, they may miss the benefit and feel they are doing excess work.
If you are planning to use a tool as part of an assessment, provide time for your students to learn how to use this tool in a low-stakes format (e.g., an icebreaker early in the semester, or a brief ‘check-in’ assignment that uses the tool). If a student fails to use the technology to complete the assessment, how will you know if they did not understand the content or that they did not know how to use the tool?
- Bruff, D. (2019) Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching. West Virginia University Press
- Darby, F., Lang, J., (2019) Small Teaching Online. Jossey-Bass.
- Integrating Technologies Section of Challenges and Opportunities Resource, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
- How to Make Smart Choices about Tech for Your Course, Chronicle of Higher Education