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Please, Not Another Tech Tool! How to Safely Adopt New Technologies as an Educator

  • 5 Min Read

When I was a teacher, I loved finding new tools and technologies to adopt in my classroom. My process was always the same:

  1. Identify a learning challenge I needed to solve (usually for a lesson plan coming up in the next 24 to 48 hours).
  2. Poll my colleagues or search the internet for a (free) digital tool that could help.
  3. Download and quickly learn the tool before incorporating it into my lesson.

Of course, looking back with the benefit of hindsight—and after several years coaching educators on technology adoption—my old process makes me cringe. I retroactively applaud my focus on putting the pedagogy before the tools, but there are so many red flags: the student data concerns that come with using a free app, the need for my students to regularly learn new tools, the lack of consistency for parents, the limited amount of time I gave myself to research the tools, etc., etc.

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"Please, Not Another Tech Tool!"

Guiding Your Staff Through the Technology Adoption Process

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That’s not to say that finding new digital tools and apps to use in the classroom is a bad thing. Just like our students, teachers are constantly learning, and there are always new and exciting digital resources to explore. But learning how, when, and why to adopt these digital tools is an important skill to develop.

There are five key questions I encourage teachers to ask when adopting new digital tools:

1) Does your school or district already have licensed technology that can support your needs?

Many districts have a list of digital tools or resources that have already been licensed. Before seeking your own solutions, start here to see what is already available. If you see a tool you’re unfamiliar with, check whether your school or the technology provider offers self-serve training resources. If you see a tool that you tried a few years ago and it didn’t fully meet your needs, I encourage you to check it out one more time. Good technology providers are constantly adapting and evolving their digital solutions based on feedback, so chances are there may have been updates that make this tool a better fit for your classroom.

Why do I recommend this?

There are a lot of reasons why schools license technology on a broader scale, including better security, consolidated data and the ability to create teacher networks of learning. Digital tools licensed at the district level have often gone through a serious vetting process to evaluate accessibility, user experience and data safety. This process is not one we can easily replicate as teachers, so, when possible, it’s better to leverage these already-licensed tools.

2) If there isn’t already a digital tool that you can use, is the free technology you found safe to use in the classroom?

When running technology adoption workshops, there is a saying I always come back to: “Nothing is free.” This might sound like the mantra of a cynic, but it’s often the reality. Sure, there may be an innocuous reason a company is offering its digital tools free of charge, but more likely student data is the currency that you are using to pay for the digital tool. Knowing detailed information about the next generation of consumers is invaluable marketing intelligence, and you may be unwittingly compromising your students’ privacy by using “free” tools.

So how do you know whether a free tool is safe? Do your due diligence, research and when in doubt inquire. Your district or school likely has an IT or technology department—send them a quick email and ask. In this case, it’s far better to be safe than sorry.

Why do I recommend this?

A 2021 study by Me2B Alliance found that 60% of apps being used by schools were sending student data to third parties, often without student or parent consent. Many of these apps send data to advertisers, and a worrying 18% share with very high-risk third parties (entities that share data with hundreds or thousands of others in their networks). It is critical that educators perform due diligence to protect their students’ information.

3) Is there a digital tool that you have used in the past that can be repurposed for this new activity?

There is something to be said for new tools and apps: Technology evolves, and there are always cool new digital resources to explore. That said, learning time is valuable. Time spent by students learning to navigate new digital tools can negatively impact the time spent learning curriculum content. When possible, create a consistent library of digital tools that students can use throughout the year.

Why do I recommend this?

A few years ago, I was running a design thinking workshop for middle school students. The students were asked, “What is the biggest challenge you face as a class?” The problem they identified: Their teacher was using too many digital tools, and they were struggling to remember how to use the technologies (and to recall their logins!). We often think of this generation of students as digital natives, but we still need to be thoughtful of the digital load we create. Overwhelming students with a huge library of digital tools can be detrimental to learning.

4) Is this digital tool accessible and equitable?

As teachers, equity and accessibility are front of mind when we design and plan our lessons. But do we apply the same standards to the digital tools we use? When checking a digital tool for accessibility, consider the different needs of your students (including any Individualized Education Plan accommodations) and how they will interact with the tool. Many digital providers will share accessibility statements and certifications on their website, so make sure to check this. If you do have any students using screen readers or other assistive technology, make sure that the digital tools you are using will work with those devices.

Why do I recommend this?

We often use digital tools to enhance the learning experience for our students, but we can sometimes unknowingly create situations of inequity if not all our students can experience the tools in a way that supports their learning. Also make sure to consider device access for your students, particularly if you are asking them to use a new digital tool outside the classroom and without school-provided technology.

5) Does this digital tool support my learning plan?

My final tip is to ensure that you always start with the pedagogy first. It can be tempting to find a new digital resource and plan a lesson around it, but we should always make sure the technology enhances our teaching instead of guiding it. Think first about what learning goals and outcomes you want your students to achieve, decide how technology can augment learning and then choose the right tool for the job.

Why do I recommend this?

When we start with pedagogy before technology, we use backward design to plan learning experiences. This keeps us focused first on the learning outcomes we want our students to achieve (“What are my learning goals?”) and then on understanding the best assessments and instructional methods to support that outcome. This is a very effective method of instructional design.

Exploring new digital tools to support learning is a common part of the innovative educator’s instructional planning. But we need to bring the same research, intentionality and thoughtfulness to our choice of digital tools that we do to everything else in the classroom.

Interested to learn more? Watch the on-demand webinar here!

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