Selecting Digital Tools

By Aidan on April 28, 2016
Posted to Using Technology

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Ss kid phone

So we are all using devices now, whether they be the 6 iPads that come to our classroom for an hour or two a week or at the other end of the scale, the school-wide one-to-one device program. This digital access brings with it a range of new decision making processes.

Research is quite clear, and has been for a while; if this digital access is to bring about improved learning outcomes and greater student engagement, the decisions teachers make are critical in the implementation process.

The use of ICT tools and resources in modern education is of paramount importance, regardless of the subject or topic being taught. The information era has forced educators to effectively implement ICT tools and resources in their teaching practice in order to successfully prepare students for the knowledge economy (Maier & Warren 2000, pp.4).

There are several key aspects to assess when determining the usability and effectiveness of ICT resources in a primary classroom. These criteria range from ease of comprehension and understanding, to engagement of higher order thinking skills.

In order for students to effectively engage with ICT resources in the classroom, the selected resources need to be accessible and understandable by the students. Similar to the requirement for analogue resources to be useful and comprehendible, there are many key features that make up an effective ICT tool for classroom use. ICT tools should encourage students to engage with higher order thinking (Lincoln 2009), fit with the method for inquiry into a subject not just substitute a textbook (Puentedura 2012), be intentional in their implementation and use (Singer, Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek 2006), and fit a criteria of genuine digital educational material that helps students develop their thinking (Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2015).

ICT resources often help to engage students in the content they are learning (Reading 2008). Students who use ICT resources in their learning experiences are often more involved and more engaged in the learning, this is particularly true in science education in a primary setting (Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2015).

The Australian Curriculum, and many other international curriculums, place a strong emphasis on general capabilities and these drive the pedagogical decisions behind the use of digital tools. (Puentedura 2012).

Research highlights several criteria that teachers can use when considering implementation of ICT resources (Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2015; Koh, Chai & Tay 2014; Puentedura 2012) into their classrooms.

Criteria One: Accessible – a basic, common criteria across the research, is that the tool or resource should be accessible on any device used by students and that students need to be able to understand and utilise the content and interface they are interacting with effectively.

Criteria Two: Encourages higher order thinking skills – in another words, the resource or tool requires effective use of ‘outside the box’ ideology in order to engage students higher order thinking skills.

Criteria Three: Open ended resource – this criteria highlights the importance of tools that allow students to continue to develop their knowledge or learning outside the scope of the resource. Students could use this resource as a scaffold to learn new things, or to develop alternative ways of solving the challenge/question presented.

Criteria Four: Available across multiple devices and platforms – this criteria seeks to eliminate resources that are available only on a single platform. The ability to access useful resources from more than one device, location, or device type is paramount in BYOD (Bring your own device) environments.

Criteria Five: Intentionality of learning from the resource – it should be clear that this resource has the intention of delivering a learning experience, and that it is not a ‘just because’ tool. This criteria may allow games, videos, blogs, and other types of resource, as long as they aim to develop a learner’s understanding of a topic or build specific skills.

Criteria Six: Scope for enabling independent thinking and research - a resource that students can use independently enables the teacher to hand over control to students. Self direction is a powerful motivator for students and also provides the teacher with opportunities to observe the students in action, intervene where needed and challenge thinking processes.

Criteria Seven: School bandwidth and access – in many sites, the ability to cache content locally or independently host content, to avoid overloaded bandwidth on a poor, or shared internet connection is crucial. This capacity also overcomes the inevitable ‘Murphy’s Law’ situation where a teacher wants to access a resource in a lesson, for example a YouTube video, and the site, carefully checked at home, is blocked or inaccessible because of heavy internet use elsewhere in the school or community.

Criteria Eight: Students respond positively to it and it improves student engagement - continued use of a resource, whether in a subsequent lesson or with another class, should be determined by the degree of positive feedback from students. This feedback may be in the form of active use and reflection on the learning or it may be explicitly requested.

In summary, our aspiration should be for ICT resources and tools to not only enable students access beyond their local resources; they should also enable students to engage in higher order thinking and to work in ways not previously possible. We need to think big, ‘outside the realm of possibility within the borders of the classroom’ (Lincoln 2009) and push the limits of what is possible.

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