How to choose the best Ed-Tech tools for Online Instruction

How many ‘ed-tech’ tools are out there that can enhance online learning? I’d guess hundreds if not more. It’s almost on a daily basis that I come across a new educational technology tool. Before we move on – what is educational technology or ed-tech??? Ed-tech is a term for technological applications or tools that can be used in an educational environment to enhance instruction.That’s the theoretical definition (though there are others) but

.. what ed-tech can do when used effectively is to create meaningful, engaging instruction that motivates learners and supports learning objectives of a lesson or course.

In this post I’ll share how educators can use educational technology effectively with the aid of a five-step strategy. I’m convinced that a sound integration strategy for using ed-tech tools or applications is essential for successful instruction online, and from experience I’ve found that without a thoughtful plan, the value of the tool can fall flat – not enhance, improve or engage anything or anyone.

Examples of Educational Technology
To set the context for the strategy, I’ll provide a few examples of technological applications that could be used in an online education environment, one is Jing, a screen capture and voice recording program, another is Voice Thread, a collaborative, multimedia slide show application in the cloud, and Google Hangouts, an interactive real-time communication application available though Google +.  Ed- tech tools on the other hand, are more likely to be used in a face-to-face learning environment, are items such as an iPad, Kindle Fire or an Interactive whiteboard. This list is but a fraction of what is available. Fortunately there are several websites dedicated to educators that provide excellent coverage of ed-tech tools, one is Emerging EdTech, though there are numerous other sites and blogs that give excellent advice and information, I’ve listed just a few at the bottom of this post.

For course instructors and designers it’s not so much of should I use one of these applications or tools in my course, but which one?  Often what happens is that we end up designing the course or lesson around the tool, attempting to fit the tool into the course or lesson without asking ‘does it meet my course objectives’ or ‘does it fit into the learning context of the lesson? I have been guilty of this myself. And, I have found this approach produces mixed, if not poor learning outcomes.

As mentioned, through trial and error, I’ve stumbled upon an effective strategy – a strategy for choosing and integrating the right and best ed-tech tool or application for a given course or lesson.

Why use an Ed Tech tool if the first place?
Before we discuss the strategy, I want to address the ‘why’. Why should we use a technological tool or application in an instructional setting over a traditional tool? In this post, we are assuming one wants to use an ed-tech tool, but it may not always be the best choice. I want to acknowledge this point, but this topic warrants its own discussion. For the purpose of this discussion, we are working on the premise that we do in fact want to implement such a tool or application. Below is a list of reasons that support this decision.

  • Motivation – to gain attention of learners, prompt an interest in a topic
  • Enhanced instruction – to bring content to life, communicate concepts, reach students with relevant learning tools
  • Promotion of digital literacy-develop student skills by using technological applications
  • Encouragement and collaboration –  some tools inherently encourage interaction

Integration Strategy
How do you integrate a new ed-tech tool into a course? In many cases, the course instructor, teacher or designer is working with an existing program, usually in an effort to revise, modify or update the course. Others may be starting from scratch, perhaps creating a new course for the online environment. Either way, the following strategy is adaptable. Though instructors designing a new course should have a good part of the instructional plan done up to this point – objectives established, and learner analysis complete before using following the integration strategy. Refer to the Dick, Carey and Carey Instructional Design Model or other course design model for further details.

5 Step Ed-Tech Integration Model (click to expand diagram)

The 5-steps as shown in the above diagram are listed below. (Please note: I use the word ‘tool’ and ‘application’ interchangeably, which refer to the same thing, an ed-tech tool or application).

  1. Consider – will this application/tool enhance, improve instruction or motivate learners? What similar applications/tools are there to consider?
  2. Review/revisit the learning objectives for the course or lesson
  3. Identify the content student needs to learn – review, augment and/or update content with web site, text-book, video lecture, PDF articles or other
  4. Assess the ed-tech application/tool – will it encourage students to apply the content and learn the material, construct knowledge and promote critical thinking?
  5. Select and implement the best application. Create concise instructions of how-to use tool. Allow time for learning of tool and learning of course content

The ultimate goal of the 5 step Ed-Tech Strategy is to act as a guide for educators in order that their courses are kept current and relevant by using emerging technology, yet at the same time ensuring that the instruction continues to be effective so that students are learning the content. I hope you find this tool helpful. Check back in a few days – I’ll be writing about five new ed-tech tools that we’re either currently using at my workplace, or are planning on using shortly. I’ll apply this Ed-Tech Strategy – join me and see what will work for our courses and what won’t. Thanks for reading!

Resources:
Top 100 Tools for Learning 2015, Centre for Learning and Performance Technology
EdsurgeUser community and resource site for the emerging education technology
Educational Technology Guy
Blog
Emgerging EdTech,
Blog
Smartblog on Education,
Blog

9 thoughts on “How to choose the best Ed-Tech tools for Online Instruction

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I see a tight relationship with TPACK. Although there is imho an important limitation: the 5-steps do not pay explicit attention to pedagogy. I would add a sixt step (between the current steps 3 and 4): Review the used pedagogy. What new learning activities can be organized, enabled by the considered learning technologies? How can existing learning become reinforced with the proposed learning technologies?

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    1. Hi Wilfred. Thanks for your comment – excellent point. You are right – TPACK is one of the models my steps are based upon. That is a good idea for the 6th step – to keep it simple I’ll stick with 5 steps (5 step sounds better than 6 from a user-friendly perspective), but I will add your questions to consider into the revisions of my model. I plan to add this model as a resource to my blog soon. Thank you for your feedback!!!🙂

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