When I first started teaching technology in schools a decade ago, it felt as though there was good technology out there that was relatively easy to pick and choose from for what should be taught. When I discovered a new tech tool I would ask myself a few simple questions.
- Is this tool high-quality and reliable?
- Can this tool be used effectively by elementary-aged students?
- Does this tool align with our school’s mission and teaching style?
If the answer to these three questions was yes, it became a matter of finding the right place in the curriculum to use it – and there always seemed to be a place.
Today I still ask myself those questions but now there are far more products that can pass this test than we could possibly incorporate into the curriculum. That competition has made the companies offering educational technology tools more proactive in trying to get my attention, instead of just waiting for me to find them. So I’ve had to add more questions to our evaluation list:
- What distinguishes this tool from other, similar tools?
- Does this tool allow us to do something that would be difficult or impossible to do without technology?
- Will the skills in using this tool have value in a world where technology keeps changing?
The list of questions is longer now, and the process of wading through the options more challenging; however, the changes in the technology landscape also mean that when we find a useful tool, the impact can be greater.
Case in point
One new tool that we’ve been trialing this year – thanks in part to a partnership with Google – are some virtual-reality field trips with Google Expeditions. While the internet has long made it possible to see pictures of places that we could never visit before, there’s something very different about going to a place that can occupy your entire field of vision and then turning around to see even more. The immersive VR is accompanied by notes that help convey information about the virtual destination; teacher tools allow instructors to see where students are looking and to focus their attention on a particular part of the tableau.
I expect that the trend of having to apply increasing levels of scrutiny to the tools we’re considering will continue. I remain undaunted and eager, though, because I also expect that the payoff when we find a good tool will be even greater still.
Lane Young joined the PBS community in the restructured role of Director of Educational Technology with thirteen years as an educator already under his belt, most recently at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Ill. Lane earned his bachelor’s degree in history and his elementary and middle school education certification from Beloit College. Despite his deep Chicago roots, Lane has been a fan of the 49ers since he was 7.