The worldwide pandemic created many teaching scenarios this past year that included emergency distance learning, essential learning target only teaching, complete distance learning, and then some type of hybrid (mine was a concurrent learning model). With these situations, the number of technological teaching tools that were thrust upon us seems endless. We were given different platforms for students to access, various streaming services, password-protected curriculum services, meeting venues that covered Google (r), MS Teams (r), and Zoom, and so many more. Now that we can timidly look at the beginning of next year with optimism of total in-person learning, how can we take what we have learned and evaluate it for efficacy in the physical classroom?
I have many co-workers who want to turn totally away from technology; however, when we consider all we have learned and all the skills students have honed or learned as well, it seems counterintuitive to give up on what technological tools we have come to rely upon. This is why it is so important that there are stream-lined ways in which to evaluate the tool so that we can quickly determine whether or not it is relevant for continued use.
My first find was a rubric (Antsey & Watson 2018) that allows educators to look at each tool through lenses and create data the teacher can make a quick decision regarding its efficacy. Efficiency and simplicity will be key here. By dividing the categories, teachers can determine if s/he needs to evaluate each one or can they determine the tool’s validity by choosing a few. This is how the rubric breaks the information down:
Category and Criteria
- Functionality: Scale, Ease of Use, Tech Support/Help Availability
- Accessibility: Accessibility standards, User-focused participation, Required Equipment
- Technical: Integration/Embedding within a Learning Management System, Desktop/Laptop Operating Systems, Brower, Additional Downloads
- Mobile Design: Access, Functionality, Offline Access
- Privacy, Data Protection, and Rights: Sign Up/Sign In, Data Privacy and Ownership, Archiving, Saving, and Exporting Data
- Social Presence: Collaboration, User Accountability, Diffusion
- Teaching Presence: Facilitation, Customization, Learning Analytics
- Cognitive Presence: Enhancement of Cognitive Task/s, Higher Order Thinking, Metacognitive Engagement
There are many categories that I did not consider but see how they are incredibly relevant in determining if our pandemic-driven teaching models are worth carrying over into the physical classroom.
There are studies that also look at how to discuss the relevancy of technology in the classroom. On such study specifically looks at the use of social networking: Hoffman’s 2009 “Evaluating Social Networking Tools for Distance Learning” where she addresses the importance of “carefully evaluat[ing the tools] in terms of affordances and course goals” (Hoffman). This is extremely vital so that we are implementing ideas that have merit rather than using them for their “flashiness” or momentary hype. While this article is directed towards higher education, there is still a conversation to be had regarding how social networking can promote a sense of community and student engagement (Hoffman). While we were in a total distance learning situation, the idea of community building was crucial to creating seamless education during such an uncertain time; therefore, I advocate that when we return to in-person learning this will still be incredibly important. Students have seen and experienced the positive side of collaborating digitally through many modes (shared documents, small group presentations, online discussions, etc.) and I believe that they have found comfort in some of the anonymity that this environment provides. Taking away the networking that they are used to will be detrimental and should not be considered in the fall.
Another evaluation that is available is Harmes et. al.’s 2016 work “A Framework for Defining and Evaluating Technology Integration in the Instruction of Real-World Skills.” This multi-volume work addresses a matrix entitled Technology Integration (or TIM for short) that allows educators to evaluate the use of technology in the classroom and provides resources for professional development (Harmes, et. al.). What drew me to this work is the characteristics that TIM explores for meaningful education which include active, constructive, authentic, collaborative, and goal-directed (Harmes, et. al.). I appreciate that this group of experts do not rely totally on the idea of technology as a substitute for in-class learning, but how it can enhance what educators are already accomplishing in their classrooms.
Harmes, J. C., Welsh, J. L., & Winkelman, R. J. (2016). A Framework for Defining and Evaluating Technology Integration in the Instruction of Real-World Skills. Leadership and Personnel Management, 481–506. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-4666-9624-2.ch022
Hoffman, E. S. (2009). Evaluating Social Networking Tools for Distance Learning, 92–100.