Selecting the Best Tools for your Course: A Student-Centered Approach
Implementing new educational technology in our courses can be overwhelming. Let us simplify it for you.Jill Giacomini | Division for Teaching Innovation and Program Strategy Apr 24, 2023
Selecting the Best Tools for your Course: A Student-Centered Approach
When implementing educational technology in our courses, it is easy to get distracted by the shiny object, the best new thing, the latest, and the greatest. With all the exciting and powerful tools available for teaching online and in the classroom, it can be easy to get sucked into thinking, "Hmmm...what kind of assignment can I think of that would allow me to use this tool?" Please do not fall for it! While having a list of tried-and-true digital tools you like to use in your courses is excellent, the tool itself is not the place to begin crafting an assignment.
Where do I Begin?
Start with the student! In other words, what are the learning goals or outcomes you want your students to be able to accomplish when they leave your course? What do you want them to be able to do as a result of completing specific assignments? Once you have a clear picture of your learner outcomes or goals, you can start thinking about how to use digital tools to help your students get there.
Now Do I Look for Tools?
Not quite yet. First, consider the teaching strategy that would be most effective to help students meet a particular learning outcome or goal. Whether you teach online or in the classroom, one way to shift your thinking is to ask yourself, "How would I teach this assignment in person without using technology?" You could have students break up into small groups, do a presentation, or work in pairs to solve a problem. Would you have them do a debate? Or work together on a literature review? Or conduct research to identify contemporary examples? Or create their case study? The options are varied and limitless. The key here is that your thinking is focused on the student and their learning goals rather than the technology.
Choose Your Tool!
After you decide what teaching strategy you want to use, then you can look for a tool that you can use to implement your learning strategy. At this point, you can revisit that toolkit you have been building to see if any tools that have caught your eye might be a good fit. You will want to find a tool supporting your chosen method. If you are teaching online, it is essential when you complete this step to remember that the goal is to avoid replicating the experience that students would have with this strategy in a face-to-face classroom. Instead, the goal is to adapt the learning experience to a different modality--an online classroom.
For instance, a debate in an online environment can still be effective yet operate very differently. You might have students meet at a prescribed time and argue their positions synchronously using an online conferencing tool like Zoom or redesign the experience so that the debate takes place over the course of the week using an asynchronous tool such as VoiceThread, Flip (previously known as FlipGrid) or the Discussion tool in Canvas using video, audio or text. The key to adapting the work to the online modality is to make sure that you set up the assignment with clear directions and enough structure and support so that students know exactly what they need to do when they need to do it and how it needs to be done.
Student-Centered Questions to Consider When Choosing Your Tool
When choosing your tool, it is essential to continue to examine potential tools by keeping your student's needs at the core of your decision:
- Synchronous or Asynchronous: Do students need to conduct this activity in real-time? Even though an activity is conducted synchronously in the classroom, you can often rethink it so students can complete activities together on their schedule. You can use this approach with classroom and online courses to accommodate various student learning preferences and promote reflection. Online discussion forums and tools like Google Docs are common examples. In those situations where students DO need to work together in real-time (a course teaching mediation is a good example), a tool like Zoom is a better fit.
- Accessibility-is this tool designed to accommodate the needs of all your students? This will look different depending on what the tool does, but common examples are closed captioning, transcription, and screen reader compatibility.
- Technical Expertise--Do my students already know how to use this tool? Can they use a more straightforward tool to meet the same learning goal? If not, is the tool intuitive, how long will it take to learn, and is the learning experience worth the time?
- Integration with the Learning Management System (LMS)--Will students be able to access this tool from within the LMS (e.g., Canvas), or will students be required to leave the LMS to authenticate into a separate site? Try to use tools already integrated within your LMS to avoid students being required to sign in to multiple sites.
- Technical Support--Is there an institutional Help Center or quality online resources that students can rely on if they have a question about using this tool? Who should they contact if they get stuck? It is essential to have adequate resources to support students when problems arise.
- Protecting Privacy--Will my students be required to sign up for an account? Is the tool reputable? If students use this tool, will their work be visible to the public? Does the tool include the ability to adjust privacy settings adequately? You must consider all of these issues, and it is especially critical if the tool you are considering is a blog or social media tool. For various reasons, some students may be susceptible to having any personal information posted online, and this concern must be considered when selecting tools for required assignments.
- Equal Access-Is this tool free, or does it require a paid subscription? Is it only compatible with specific platforms or hardware? What are the connectivity requirements? It is essential to consider if selecting a specific tool might burden some students unintentionally.
- Expectations and Clear Directions--Have I provided my students with all the information and resources they need to be successful using this tool? To avoid wasted time and frustration, you must be thoughtful about clearly providing students with the details they need before they get started.
- Student Choice--Would it work for students to complete this assignment using a tool of their choosing? It saves students time learning a new tool, reduces the need for technical support, and enables students to use a tool that meets their individual needs and preferences. Video assignments might be a good fit for this category, or presentations.
Most importantly, remember that the assignment's focus should be on the experience you want your students to have, independent of the tool. As you progress through this process, be sure to continually refer back to your learning outcomes or goals to assess if the tool you have chosen will help your students meet those stated outcomes. If you find that the focus of the experience is drifting away from the stated learning outcome and is becoming more about learning how to use the tool itself, it is probably time to reassess!
This article is a revision of the following blog article.
Giacomini, J. (2020, June 24). Start with the Student, Not the Tool! Office of Digital Education Online Design and Development Blog.https://www.cu.edu/blog/online-teaching-blog/start-student-not-tool