A classroom technology sniff test can help ensure you're getting the most effective tools in your classroom
For Administrators Updated February 8, 2018

6 Important Questions You Must Ask About 2018 Classroom Technology Tools

By Brian Gatens September 3, 2015

2018 will introduce the arrival of new classroom technology tools. Despite the possibilities of their popularity, supposed ease-of-use, and predictions for improving student outcomes, we still face the same questions: Are they just another fad? How can we ensure they’re a good fit for our schools and staff?

A classroom technology sniff test can help ensure you're getting the most effective tools in your classroomClassrooms, like the rest of our world, seem to be soaked more and more in technology every day. Smartphones, social media and low-priced computers seem to be everywhere at the same time.

Meanwhile, technology companies perpetually introduce new devices, websites or computer programs for education. Slickly packaged and full of promises to improve student performance, these technologies seem to easily find their ways into our classrooms — and our school budgets.

Mind you, some of these are worthy of our time and attention, but others overpromise and underdeliver. What’s the secret to finding new technologies that can become integral to our classrooms? I think it comes down to developing a sniff test for educational technology. Answering these questions will help you do that:

What do other educators say about it?

Whenever a salesperson informs me of a new and exciting product, I immediately ask for the names of three schools and contact people who already use it.

Salespeople are committed to convincing us of the promise of the product, so it’s a mistake to consider them the sole avenue of learning about their products. Call or email a colleague who has been using the product and get honest feedback.

How long has it been on the market?

The useful lifespan of many products appears to be getting shorter and shorter as more and more products and companies get into the educational technology field.

Nevertheless, you can be reasonably assured that a product delivers on its promises if it has been on the market for several years. A new product can get you to buy into a “wow factor,” but that light soon fades. A venerable and successful product will remain for more than a few budget cycles.

Is data touting its effectiveness reliable?

Product marketing materials often point to a study showing the gains of its users. Ask the company for the details of the study. Who funded it? Has it been reviewed by other researchers? Was other data left out?

A private company intent on selling a product sometimes leaves out key information that may not put their product in the best light. It is your responsibility to suss out the accuracy in their claims.

Does it integrate with other learning goals?

A new piece of technology needs to integrate with the other aspects of your classroom. Be sure to think of how much time using it will take away from your other classroom goals.

A brand new computer program may require so much dedicated time that you can’t possibly fit it into your busy day. If you’re going to sacrifice other activities to use the new product, be certain that those goals can be met in some other way.

Are student privacy and content protected?

Your district should have a protocol for using any new products and making sure that student privacy and content are protected.

Do not sign up for a new product (even a free trial) before running it by your department chair or principal first — especially if the program requires you to enter student names. This doesn’t mean you can’t take part in any programs, but you need to be thorough in making sure that students are taken into account.

Does it offer home-engagement opportunities?

One of the greatest benefits of online technology is the ability to connect schoolwork with home support.

Investigate how parents can work with the product to support student learning. It can be as simple as logging time on the computer each night to reinforce basic reading and math skills. Many of the newer programs have integrated a game-like setting into this work and the resulting student engagement helps to drive improvement.

Technology in the classroom can do a lot of good, but we must bring a high level of thought and consideration before we begin to dedicate time, resources and student learning goals to the next “bright, shiny thing.”

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