Selecting Edtech Tools for your Online Classroom

As we all transition to remote learning, we have been bombarded by a multitude of edtech tools we can utilize. At times, I am sure it is overwhelming as many are scrambling to build an infrastructure for their online classes. Therefore, I wanted to spend a few moments to describe the decision-making process for selecting your edtech tools for your online classes. Here are the FIVE STEPS in selecting the best edtech tools for the online class you are building and transitioning to.

Step 1: Think Less is More

In order to have a successful online class, you do not need more than three to five edtech tools.  You will not need to know more than this to be successful as an online instructor. You will need a learning management system to host your online classroom (i.e., Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, Blackboard, Seesaw, etc), Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps to create content (i.e., Docs, Slideshows, PDF drawings, Data Spreadsheets, and Assessments), an online virtual meeting tool (i.e., Google Meet, Zoom [if approved by your district], YoTeach!, etc.), and one or two student engagement tools (i.e., PearDeck, Flipgrid, Hyperdocs, Quizzizz, Classhooks, Polleverywhere, Social Media interaction, etc.). Once you have these three facets in place, you will have enough edtech tools in place to develop an infrastructure for a successful online class.

Step 2: Focus on your Audience and Goals

Next, focus on your audience and goals. First, what content and grade level are you teaching? If you are teaching primary education or mathematics, Seesaw may be the best learning management system to use since students can interact with documents you publish in a multitude of different (i.e., photos, video, and drawing/text on the document) ways embedded in the software like taking a picture of the activity on a scratch piece of paper, drawing on the document digitally, or printing out the assignment and taking a picture of it. Also, you must think about your goals. Say you are a social science teacher with one or two AP classes. Utilizing Google Classroom and Google Apps may be your best bet as you can integrate videos, links, documents, and more within slideshows or posted shared documents that your students can interact with in an intuitive fashion. Lastly, you must also evaluate the ability and skill level of your class as well as assess how you can implement various accommodations and language supports for students enrolled in Special Education and English Language Learners. As we stand now, this third question has been the most difficult question of the transition to fully online instruction in K-12 education. Certain accommodations like highlighting key text, speech to text options, and read-aloud text functionalities are embedded in certain edtech tools, but not all. You must do your homework as to what accommodations can be best brought forth in the edtech tools you choose. Overall, these are three questions that need decisions before selecting any edtech tool(s) for your online class as each edtech tool may fit the answers to the questions in only one facet or in multiple facets as presented. Think thoroughly through these questions before moving onto the next step.

Step 3: Assess your Face to Face Class & Edtech Tools you Already Know

Before having to transition online, how did your face to face class function on a daily basis? At the primary level, did you utilize centers on a daily basis? At the secondary level, how much direct instruction versus student collaboration and project-based learning strategies did you employ? These are important questions for you to ask yourself because your online class may need to function in a different or similar manner. Also, in the same thought process, think about the edtech tools you are already using in your class. I am sure for many classes out there a number of edtech tools are being used whether it’s tutorials on iPads, Google Classroom, Pear Deck for student engagement, or many more. For example, in my 9th-grade math class, we utilized a gradual release of students through guided practice and then through collaborative/independent practice throughout our lessons. Additionally, we used edtech tools like Google Classroom, Docs, Forms, and slides to build both online and offline functionalities to produce content and for our students to create student work products. As a result, we can develop an online class that fits this model as we can produce or find videos of math instruction that are embedded in instructional slides to lead our students through guided practice. Then, we can set up independent and collaborative assignments through a learning management system, whereby we chose Seesaw instead of Google Classroom as it’s much easier for students to interact with mathematics online versus face to face instruction. In terms of assessment, we utilized Google Forms and Quizizz for formative and summative assessments for our face to face classroom, which can also be used primarily for an online class. Through navigating through this step, I want you to realize much of what you may be already doing can be developed for online purposes with a few tweaks and one or two more edtech tools.

Step 4: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Sessions 

As an online instructor, you need to determine how much time you want to dedicate to synchronous versus asynchronous sessions. Synchronous sessions involve having a live online class tutorial or lecture where the instructor meets with the entire class online at a given time. Asynchronous relates to having the content already built for students in a sequential manner in which they interact with the pre-built content over the course of a given week or unit. Generally speaking, you want to avoid having more than one full synchronous session per week based on current online teaching best practices. Synchronous sessions are best suited towards having available office hours one to two times per week where individuals or groups of students can interact with you as you can review the content, assignment directions, build community, and go over general housekeeping. However, we must keep in mind each school district may have different philosophies’ s/directives regarding synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Right now, based on your district’s privacy agreements, synchronous sessions are typically on an edtech tool like Google Meet or Zoom [Zoom Premium is HIPPA approved].

Step 5: Reflect and Revise One Week at a Time

Transitioning online is like adding several new job descriptions for many teachers. Try to take this opportunity as a time to learn and build your tech repertoire. Ultimately, you are going to have bumps in the road as well as triumphs; especially, if you are utilizing a new set of edtech tools.  Take your time in this reflection process as it takes practice for you as well as your students to get used to the edtech tools you select for your online classes. Some days may be harder than others so give yourself some time process. Think about the following as you reflect on the online class you have built using the edtech tools you have selected. First, evaluate whether problems arose during the week when you began implementing your online class.  Second, assess whether your students were engaged and understood the directions. Lastly, determine if there was a digital divide in your class and time may be needed to be given to further teach your students how to use the edtech tools you have decided to utilize to build your online class. Also, during this process, reflect whether you have selected the sufficient edtech tools for your class. If something is not working regarding the edtech tools you select, go back to the drawing board and see if you can fix the problems you were having. Or, you may have to select a new edtech tool to fix the problem. This is revising your online classroom, as needed, as you continue to learn how to use edtech tools.

I hope these five steps have helped you narrow down the choices you would like to use in your online classroom. For more information on this as well as another great step by step process in selecting edtech tools, please check out the book I helped co-author and edit: Igniting Your Teaching Using Education Technology: A Resource for New Teachers.

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