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School’s out! Finding teacher tools that finish at the top of the class

…And skipping the teacher tools that earn a failing grade.

Technology delivers plenty of tools to help teachers manage their classroom and transform how they teach–from solutions rolled out by schools and districts, to personal mobile apps and programs. The challenge for teachers is sorting through the possibilities to find what truly works, what can be consolidated into a broader tool—and what should get a failing grade.

Based on our many years of experience as education technologists, here are key items to consider, both good and bad, in choosing technology tools that truly help teachers (and their students) succeed in the classroom.

Focus on Tools that are Easy to Use

The importance of ease of use can’t be overemphasized. Unfortunately, software design hasn’t reached a point at which all or even most tools are easy to use.

A popular product whose user interface is outdated may no longer be worth the time it takes new teachers to master it. With limited time for professional development, and with so many new tools on the scene yearly, teachers need to choose wisely. If online reviews and in-house pilots indicate a useful app but one that is tough to get up and running, keep looking.

For IT departments, one basic way to save teacher training time and guarantee ease of use is to choose tools that easily integrate into the existing learning management system. That means users login once for all their learning tools’ and have only one look and feel to master–as well as the ability to get students up and sharing content relatively seamlessly.

For example, with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) emphasizing the importance of parental engagement, tools that help busy teachers reach out to parents efficiently should be top-of-mind.

In D2L’s Brightspace LMS, that means a secure portal that gives parents and guardians a bird’s-eye view into the classroom, without creating yet another task for teachers. This helps teachers interact with parents more often. Teachers can securely share the class activity feed and each student’s portfolio. Making those features a part of the LMS lets teachers track parental contact and prepare reports, saving them time while helping meet district and state requirements for family engagement.

(Next page: Going mobile, anytime/anywhere, and saving time)

Go Mobile Everything

With mobile device use at an all-time high, and studies consistently showing that students want more technology used in class, choosing software that does mobile well is a must.

To put it bluntly, your school or district should not be adopting any new apps that do not work seamlessly on all mobile devices. For IT departments, the surest way to guarantee mobile connections for all is to make sure your LMS works well on all devices including tablets and smartphones. That saves teachers from spending time helping students get apps up and working on different devices. Instead, they can focus on teaching.

Speaking of the LMS, make sure your learning management system can incorporate content from a multitude of places, including popular sources for good content such as open educational resources (OERs) and Google Drive. If the LMS has built-in connectivity with all devices, those tools that teacher’s love can be seamlessly accessed by students, teachers and parents on any tablet, computer or smartphone.

Put a Premium on Anywhere, Anytime Access

On the list of things to avoid are tools or platforms that rely on outdated, fading technology–an app that requires Flash to play, for example, or a plug-in. With so many tools on the market that don’t require those props, it’s not hard to avoid software that creates accessibility barriers for teachers.

In fact, a good general rule is to avoid closed systems–software that doesn’t play well with others and systems that can’t share data across platforms. Good software design means seamless sharing of data across many systems. Again, with so many good tools out there that can share data, there’s no reason to settle for one that can’t. Looking for software that works within your LMS can help address this issue.

Save Teachers Time

In the end, every classroom tool should have an underlying focus–making it easier, not harder, for teachers to do their jobs inspiring and educating students.

That’s why new tools such as an “activity feed” in your LMS can let teachers send out a general message to all students about a field trip, or answer questions online about a paper that’s due. Similarly, that’s why a parent portal in your LMS can be priceless to teachers who are looking to reach out to parents more efficiently and often.

With so many great tools for the classroom available, teachers and IT leaders can sort through the offerings by looking for apps and platforms that are designed for today’s classroom. Focus on an easy-to-learn interface that runs seamlessly on devices from tablets to mobile phones, preferably within your LMS, has the ability to share data with other systems, and in general makes the tool a useful addition to the classroom.

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