I have been searching high and low for an efficient, easy-to-understand list of criteria for evaluating hardware, software, tools, and everything in between. Most online articles that I found focus on selling things, or are incredibly vague or incomplete so I decided to do some brainstorming based on what I have found in my own practice speaking to students, teachers, specialists, and researching online. Here’s what I came up with.
TechPudding’s checklist for evaluating technology:
- Always put learning first. What is it that you want your students to learn, examine, discuss, think about, use as assistive technology, and research? it is useful to create a list of what you want to do first so that you don’t forget anything or get distracted by extra bells and whistles. How does the technology help to accomplish your learning goals? There are so many options for applications, software, and hardware out there that you will definitely be able to find a tool for every learning opportunity.
- Higher order thinking skills. Does the tool support you and your student’s engagement in higher-order thinking? Andrew Churches’ Educational-Origami wiki provides a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating).
- Does it follow universal design for learning (UDL) principles? Meaning, does it allow for: 1) multiple means of representation, 2) multiple means of expression, and 3) multiple means of engagement? UDL principles are becoming more and more important as we move toward personalized, real-world learning and away from teachers as conduits of knowledge that use limited modes of teaching and delivery.
- How about usability? Is it user-friendly? Is it easy to learn for everyone who will need to learn it, including teachers, administrators, students, and parents? What kinds of training and support are necessary? How long does it take to get comfortable with it? One way in which you can “try before you buy” is by downloading a trial of a prospective application or service. It is useful to have people of varying comfort with technology try it out, and for students to try and evaluate it.
- How much does it cost? What can you, your students, and your institution afford to spend on training, maintenence, upgrades, and the like?
- Word-of-mouth. Researching online user discussion boards and asking specialists for recommendations can be very useful. But also be careful about word-of-mouth. I find that people often recommend anything that is new, just to sound like they are on top of the trends (or they try to sell you products and services).
- Reliability and support. How much support is required? Are there frequent updates that need to be installed? Does it break down easily? You can find information about this from real users on discussion boards.
- Flexibility. This refers to how the software is used, what it can produce, how much it can expand with increased use and access, and how it might expand to offer more services in the future. For instance, utilizing Google Apps may offer incredible options in the future as its services and access points expand.
- Evaluation and monitoring tools. Does the technology come with tools for you to monitor how you and your students are using it? Does it come with tools for you to evaluate your students’ learning? If these tools are built-in to the application, it can be a huge bonus for both teachers and students.
- Security and privacy. How does this technology protect information and privacy of its users? Who has access to what is shared and how is it shared?
- User interface. The more I use different tools, the more this has become a deal-breaker for me. When user interfaces are cluttered, illogically laid out, or overly complicated, they immediately turn me off. Information and commands should be laid out with the most-used ones easily accessible. There should be no more than 3 mouse clicks to access any option or command, and vocabulary should be readily accessible to new users. Again, UDL principles dictate that software and apps should offer visual, audio, text, and other forms of support, not just one. Furthermore, the user should be able to create their own shortcut keys and commands for exactly what she/he would like to accomplish.
- Sharing and communication. We know that collaboration online and sharing with an authentic audience is important to both student learning and teacher collaboration. Therefore, the software should enable sharing either in a secure way to authorized users, or in a public way to all users online. The tool should make it easy to view, share, comment, communicate, evaluate, contribute, and socialize synchronously and asynchronously.
- Integration with existing tools. Does this tool support or integrate well with the existing tools that you are currently paying for or using? Can you use it to “fill in the gaps” for existing applications? How can all of the tools that you use collaborate with each other and enable you to do more than you could with them independently?
- Don’t get attached to one tool. This is the most important thing to remember! There was a time when we all thought that Microsoft Word was the be-all and end-all of word processing tools. But now there are multiple ways to produce, share, collaborate, and contribute to written texts. There will always be new tools–one is released every second, so don’t get stuck using only one. Always be on the look-out for recommendations and discussions about the next thing. That way, you will be able to find the best tool for whatever job you are engaged in. You can sign up for online newsletters, blogs, and other services to help stay up to date.
What are your criteria for evaluating technology, applications, software, tools, or hardware for the purposes of learning and teaching? What can you add to this list based on your experiences?