Pick Me! Choosing the Right Technology Tools for Your Courses

Ariel Siegelman, Sr. Instructional Technology Specialist, CAT

All of us at one point or another have fallen victim to “Shiny New Toy Syndrome.” We hear about a really cool new tech toy, gadget, or app and we have to have it because it looks flashy, or is the latest and greatest fad that makes us look “hip.” But soon after we buy it, we realize that it’s not exactly what we were expecting—maybe it doesn’t work as well as promised, or maybe it’s not really so useful after all. And so, after the initial excitement wears off, it sits forgotten and unused.

Having thousands of new education technology tools and apps available, it can be easy for “Shiny New Toy Syndrome” to strike when searching for resources to use in your courses. You might think, “My students will think my class is so cool if I use this!” or “Everyone is using this tool right now, I should too!” But before grabbing the first trendy-looking tool that comes up on Google or Twitter, slow down for a moment and consider: how is this tool really going to help my students learn? Even though a fancy new tool may seem like a sure-fire way to increase student engagement, if students think that the tool is ineffective or a waste of time, it could actually lead them to be less invested in your course.

With so many new products and applications, how it is possible to figure out which tools to use? After conducting a series of several studies that examined a myriad of digital and mobile applications and how efficient they were at enhancing student learning, Kearney, et al., a group of researchers based out of the Centre for Research in Learning and Change at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, published a framework describing three essential features for a digital tool to provide a quality learning experience. While this framework was developed to evaluate mobile tools, it can absolutely be applied to any digital tool out there.


First, students must be able to personalize the tool to fit their own needs and interests. This can range from allowing students to customize the way that they study the information, such as choosing whether to read an article or watch a video to learn about a topic, to having students create a personal profile or avatar of themselves that collects awards or achievements as they progress through the content. This aligns with research that shows students learn more effectively if they have more control over their learning experience. Additionally, adding a personal touch to an assignment or educational tool can help students feel more connected to and invested in their work. In other words, each student should not have the exact same experience when using a digital tool--they should be able to curate the tool so the experience is as enjoyable and as effective as possible for them.


Another important aspect to consider is if the tool can assist in providing students the opportunity to connect the experience and content to real-life situations. Research shows that students are more engaged with content when they can identify how it will assist them in their future, thus improving their chances of valuing and understanding information and concepts. If integrated with an assignment or lesson plan that simulates real-world scenarios, a digital tool is worth using if it can help students make meaningful connections.


A final feature to consider is a digital tool that allows students to work together to create and discuss content. This provides the opportunity for students to receive and give feedback about their understanding of the information, which is important to ensure that students don’t walk away with any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge. Additionally, in a fully-online class it allows students to connect with one another and establish a greater sense of community. Research supports the idea that when students build social connections while learning new information, they are more likely to become invested in that information.

It can be tempting to use technology just for the sake of it, but by establishing that the tools we use in our classes are well-rounded and effective, we can ensure that the activities our students participate in are worthwhile and enhance their overall learning experience.

Let’s Exchange EDvice!

What kinds of tools do you use, or have you heard about that meet all of these criteria? How have you integrated them into your courses? Or, after learning about this framework, are there any technology tools that you will no longer use in your courses?


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