Education technology is a key part of the modern classroom. One report found that K-12 students used 74 different digital learning tools during the first half of the 2021 school year, while educators used 86 different edtech apps and software systems. With so many websites, games, and services available, how can you sort the various systems to find the most valuable options for your class? More importantly: how can you preserve your precious classroom budget so you don’t waste your money on tools you will never use?
You need an evaluation process. You need a rubric that can help you look objectively at different apps to understand their value before you implement them in your classroom. Use this guide to review the various technology tools for teachers on the market to find the best ones for your classroom.
Create a Checklist for Any App or System You Evaluate
The first step when evaluating any new edtech system is to have a set of guidelines to determine whether the app or tool is right for you. You can develop a checklist at the start of the year for any app you want to use or you can brainstorm a list of questions for each tool you look at. Your checklist should cover a variety of different criteria, including:
- Core curriculum concepts
- Training options
- Interest to students
- Long-term benefits
For example, many teachers use Kahoot to create fun quizzes in the classroom. The app is free or affordable, it has high usability levels for students, and it can be used throughout the year and in almost any subject. Both kindergarten and college classrooms use the app. If a teacher were to evaluate it objectively against these criteria, it would come out favorably.
Check The Tools Against Your Curriculum
There are plenty of apps and games that seem incredibly fun – but are they actually useful? Are they built with your specific curriculum needs in mind? A good edtech system should state what standards it aligns with so you can know where to place the games in your lesson plans. Clear curriculum guidelines can also help you advocate for resources to pay for these systems if you want to expand their use.
At eSpark, we work carefully with school districts and governing education bodies to align our quests with curriculum expectations. This is why our activities are grade-appropriate and fit for the lessons you develop.
Source: Anna Maria College
Explore the Student Side
Many edtech tools have a teacher-facing side and a student-facing side. The teacher side has reports on student performance, descriptions of lessons, and alerts when students need help. However, you might spend more time on the student side of the software you choose than you realize.
When kids use new technology, they expect you to be an expert on it. You are their first line of support if they get stuck or don’t know how to use the program. As an educator, you will have to be versed on the student side in order to explain to your class how to use various apps and games.
Simply put, if you can’t figure out how a game works, your students won’t be able to. They will get frustrated. They will get bored. And you will have empty lesson plans to fill when students don’t want to use those apps. Take your time getting to know the student side and make sure it’s fun, usable, and educational.
Evaluate Free vs. Paid vs. Trial Options
There is very little difference between the technology tools for teachers and any other software service on the market. Software and technology providers (from TikTok to the Smithsonian’s educator resources) look for ways to monetize their services through free options and demos. With each software solution you find, identify what is actually free and what comes with strings attached. Here are a few different types of systems you may encounter:
- Free. Teachers can access all of the tools created by the company for as long as they want.
- Freemium. There are some completely free resources but you need to pay extra to access other tools and apps.
- Free Trials. You can gain complete access to the system for a short period and then you will be charged for using the service.
- Flat rate fees. You pay one fee (or a monthly fee) to access the tool and you can use it as much as you want.
- Per-student fees. The system gives you licenses for a certain number of students and charges you access for each student you add.
- Usage-based fees. The company monitors how much you use the system and charges you based on the time or resources used.
Many tech tools for teachers use a combination of these business models. They might offer some tools for free and then charge a flat rate to access freemium options. Know exactly what you are expected to pay before you start using a tool, game, or app.
Look for Groups and Online Communities that Use the Tool
Teachers are incredibly active online. There are Facebook groups, Twitter chats, and endless blogs and Pinterest accounts with tips, debates, and discussions. If you have a question, it’s highly likely that another teacher someone across the country also has the same issue.
As you look at different technology tools for teachers, identify whether there are places online you can turn to for help. Google is a strong example of this. Teachers can complete certifications on Google tools, participate in communities dedicated to using Google products for education, and even attend conferences on maximizing the value of these services.
Not every app or game will have its own dedicated communities. Check the social presence of each app you look at to make sure there is an active place for discussions and questions.
Ask About Accessibility
Your classroom is incredibly diverse – can your edtech tools meet the needs of all your students? Accessibility should be a standard focus on the apps and games you find, not an add-on to accommodate district guidelines. There are a few ways to determine whether a system is accessible:
- Ask the software vendor for their accessible features and any testing they do on their tools. (Alternatively, look for accessibility information online.)
- Evaluate accessibility options yourself. Would you be able to adjust the games for students who are deaf or blind? Can you make adjustments to games that are overwhelming for neurodiverse students?
- Look for multiple accessibility options. Disability isn’t a monolith. Some people who are blind read braille while others use different methods of reading and communication. Avoid software tools that only provide one accessibility solution.
- See if multiple languages are offered. A student might understand math concepts better if they are presented in their primary language.
You might not have any students with accessibility needs this fall, but you may in the future. You want your edtech choices to support your students this year and beyond.
See What Training Resources Are Available
Many systems claim to be intuitive, but few actually are. While you might be able to navigate through different systems and learn how they work, it helps to have a guide. Training videos, assistance pages, and online chat tools can empower you to ask questions and use each part of an app or system to its fullest.
As you get to know the different technology tools for teachers on the market, see which companies invest in training and onboarding educators so you will have the support you need. If you get stuck, there should be someone who can help you.
Listen to What Your Students Say
Anyone who has spent time around kids knows how picky they can be. Even if you have worked through this checklist and think you have a winning app, your students might get bored if they don’t like the tool.
At eSpark, we take this into consideration. Whenever a student completes a challenge, they can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. We take this rating into consideration when creating and adjusting our curriculum.
Whenever you introduce a new app or game, collect student feedback on it. The opinions of your students can be a ticket out the door (TOTD) and can determine whether you use the system again in the classroom.
Learn How eSpark Meets These Criteria
Our developers at eSpark know how packed the edtech space is. They also know that most of the tools available don’t fully meet the needs of teachers. This is why we strive to develop exciting games that also align with curriculum needs. Our engaging, standards-based games allow for adaptive and differentiated learning, so each student is challenged on a suitable level for their abilities.
Explore all that eSpark has to offer you and your students for free today!