Choosing a tool: It all starts with Why?

We have all witnessed over the past 20 months the huge increase in the number of tools, apps, and platforms available to support learning and teaching in the classroom, whether virtual or in the return to the face-to-of face environment. Some of us were aware of these tools beforehand, but perhaps didn’t really see or feel the need to use them in our face-to-face teaching. They may have been more of a “nice-to-have” than a “must-have”. We may have used them sporadically or for very specific topics or purposes.

Many of these apps, tools, sites and so on were made easily available and accessible during the period where we were forced into emergency remote delivery; they were made “free” for a period in an effort to support educators in their new methods of delivery, engagement and assessment. The choices became endless. We grappled to get our hands on anything that might make the “flat-screen environment” as 4D as possible, or at least more HD. All the bells and whistles; premium features unlocked and as many participants and “gos” as you want. What’s not to love? For a limited period.

Why graphic

Now, we (and our learners!) have had our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds exposed to the multitudes of offerings available to provide multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation and multiple means of action and expression. But no longer for free. No longer so easily available. Now we may be able to create 3 instances of a board or a quiz or an interactive video and we need to delete them before we can make more. So, we need to be more discerning, to think, to plan, to match, to be strategic, we need to be intentional. Where do we start? WHY would you choose one tool over another?

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Every choice we make, every decision about the approach, the method, the tool, or the strategy must start with why. Why this and not that, why one and not the other. Why for that class group and not another; why for that topic or subject and not the next? So many questions!

For me, it isn’t a complex checklist or a big, long string of questions. It starts simply with why. Why do you need to try a different approach? Why are you using a tool at all? Simon Sinek talks about how we should communicate our why. Let your learners know why you are trying something out. Let them know why you are using a tool or approach. Involve them in the process, in the reflections, in the decisions around whether you are going to continue to use this tool or approach with them or not. By communicating your why, you win hearts, trust, and loyalty and not just minds. Once you communicate your why and involve the learners in decision making and in evaluations and reflections, then you decide how to use the tool and what tool to use. But it all starts with Why.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle graphic
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

You start with your objectives, what is it that the students should be able to do, The SAMR model will help. If you are using a technology tool, is it to substitute, augment, modify or redefine? Substitution and augmentation will enhance learning but modifying and redefining are transformative.  You then need to be mindful of your school/college/centre’s technology landscape. What are the tools you are permitted to use? Which ones are readily available and are supported organisationally? What are you happy to use and comfortable with? Then you are on to thinking about cost. Is the tool free or will there be a cost? And if there’s a cost- who pays it? I have subscriptions which I pay for myself for MANY different tools- Are tech tools effectively the new, much more expensive stationery? Then you also need to make sure that you try out and test the new tools- this is where we can really learn with our students. Trial with them not on them…… Next, time to choose, so which tools will you settle on and make sure that you select the right tool for the learning objectives you set. Don’t leave it there……. Evaluate! What is the impact that the use of the tool has on the students’ performance/learning? It is more than just “was it easy to navigate” tick box that you need to include in the evaluation. How does it impact? Did it transform what you were doing previously, or is it merely substitution?

SAMR model graphic
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