My first enthusiastic forays into Ed Tech shows were like that of the proverbial kid in a candy store. A plethora of shiny hardware, colourful wrappings and promising ‘blurb’ on packaged software stating how it would enhance curriculum engagement or improve accessibility. In trying out many different resources it soon became essential to develop a healthy critical evaluation of the resources being used.
What is Ed Tech?
There are technologies designed specifically for the education markets and the different age groups within it. So by one criterion, Ed Tech is hardware and software whose functional design meets a learner’s age and developmental stage. Remember the ‘Red’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ options in Research Machine’s Word version that simplified the layout; TTS’s microphone recorders; programmable toys with simplified button layouts or the iterations of Clicker and others, for example. So, if the kind of Ed Tech you are looking for comes within this definition, it is not difficult to find something that suits the needs of the students and the requirements of the curriculum.
Technology not specifically designed for the education market is also used in schools. The introduction of tablet technology, for instance, enables children as young as two years old to access apps. The iPad, Android or Windows tablets were not designed specifically for education or as an accessible technology, yet they are fast becoming embedded as digital tools in education establishments. This rapid development of computing devices creates more choice. Too much choice can cause us to feel bewildered by the scope of what is on offer. Another concern is that if we can only use one particular system, we may not have access applications that are available on other platforms.
Through the Maze
So how do we choose suitable technology for our students’ needs? “Anytime, anywhere learning”, is an idea that technology should enable everyone to access materials and undertake study wherever we are in a building or outside of it. In the context of a school building, one answer has been to have every room accessible to the WIFI network. However that is only one aspect. When teaching and education staff have enquired about what software to buy, because they have more than one type of device in school, I began looking for applications that could be used on any device or operating system, provided they met the needs of the student.
There is no “one size fits all”. Some applications contain ready-made content specific to a subject area. Other applications allow the teacher and student to add in their own content, so the application has uses for virtually any subject. There are applications that will continue to be specific to areas of the curriculum, such a computing. For applications for other curriculum areas, I tend to use these questions to focus my search:
- Does the application need to have specific content for subject study or not?
- Is this to be used only in class or with a certain group within school?
- Do they need access outside of school?
- Will the student need accessibility or assistive features such as text to speech, word prediction?
- Does this need to be accessed on different devices?
If the software solution you need only works with one computing system and you need this in one specific setting, that’s fine. However, when students need access at other times and on different devices, what then? Enter the idea of ‘Ubiquitous Technology’. One on-line dictionary defines ubiquitous, as, “The state of being, or seeming to be, everywhere at once”. Never heard the term? Perhaps the term ‘Cloud Computing’ may be more familiar. Many applications that run from websites work on any device and operating system. Software from some of the well-known education suppliers are already ‘ubiquitous’, cloud-based and work across computing devices.
As a final word of advice, go with the simplest and easiest solution, every time, to build your confidence in using technology.