Choosing the right educational tech for your classroom

Technological innovations make life more efficient, but having a clear strategy on how to implement them is especially important in the field of education. There are hundreds of programs, gadgets, widgets, zippers, and zappers to choose from, most of them custom-built for education and promising you the world -- and they're marketed by marketing pros rather than educational pros.

So how to choose? In this article, we explore how to navigate the world of education technology to optimize learning and student participation at a reasonable budget.

When to use technology in the classroom

In technology, as is the case with any of our tools, being able to use it does not mean that you should. Students can immediately sense when technology is used as just a useless add-on. Avoid it when you don’t need to.

The use of technology in a classroom should be highly selective. Carefully weigh the payoffs -- student motivation and learning -- against the cost incurred. Remain focused on classroom and institutional goals. Whether you are creating a new course or restructuring an old one, you need to get your own education on the appropriate technology to use, why you should use them, and the if and the how.

A pragmatic approach

Students prefer to use educational tech for anything but education -- unless done right. Remember The Oregon Trail?

Gone are the days when people believed that the mere availability of technology would motivate learning. I still remember the magical days in the 90s when authorities around the world spent a fortune getting the latest and greatest PC -- it was quickly outdated -- into every classroom. They were stuffed full of educational programs, and the students, of course, used it for anything but education.

Today, even seasoned technology enthusiasts have transitioned beyond this simplistic perspective, advocating instead for a more pragmatic approach to the integration of technology in teaching and learning.

To determine the appropriate technology for your situation, consider the purpose. Is the tech for a course or a module? Is it intended to facilitate a specific activity? Keep in mind that the selection of technology is not generic. It should be attached to a particular course or discipline and even to a certain area within the lesson.

Your choice should be focused on your goals. List the most complex and failure-prone elements of your teaching. These can include material that your students may find boring or complicated.

Tech has to deserve to be integrated into your classroom -- by offering real benefits. Make sure it targets the time-consuming and challenging elements of a course.

Research and appreciate the possibilities. The first aspect of selecting tech for your course is surveying the tech background. Don’t waste your time on formalities. For practical reasons, focus on examples and feedback. Remember, students also use tech to access "do my homework" services online.

Once you have surveyed the background and created a list of possibilities, it's time to narrow down options. Make sure you understand the objectives of having tech in your classroom. As you start to plan, always have a clear end in mind.

Consider the costs. Weigh the actual gains against the attached price tag. Of course, there is no one size fits all approach for conducting a cost-benefit analysis -- only you know the specifics of your particular situation. But consider the amount you and your students will need to spend in terms of time, effort, and money.

Tips for educational tech shopping

First, ask yourself whether the technology aligns with your hardest course goals. And what's the evidence for its claim -- are you getting suckered by marketing hype? The tech should align with what has been established regarding how people learn. We have to mention this because this is a rapidly evolving field, and what was true yesterday might not be true today.

The tech you choose should be of a high quality without costing an arm and a leg. Here, quality implies content, capabilities, and future development. Also: has the creator has offered a way of handling questions and troubleshooting -- do they have good support?

Most importantly, does the tech have good value for modern approaches to education? Value in tech is all about considering trade-offs. How much time and resources would be needed to implement it and get started with in the classroom? What are the returns?

And finally, don’t choose technology to look cool. Recognize marketing hypes. Look beyond buzzwords. Are your students really benefiting from doing what they are already doing, but in VR?

Always remember that it's about the student. The goal of technology in education is and can only be to improve the students' motivation and learning -- his or her value from enrolling in your institution.

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