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5 questions teachers should ask before investing their time and money in edtech

Here's help for selecting the best digital games, books, and learning activities for the classroom

As someone who has dedicated her career to making the world a better place through the education of our children, I was excited to learn that tablets and computers are nearly commonplace in elementary school classrooms across the nation. In fact, 88 percent of K-2nd-grade teachers use a tablet in the classroom and nearly 70 percent use educational apps and software, which means that our youngest students—who have never known a world without technology—can use the tablets they love for learning!

While it’s an exciting development for students, teachers are faced with a growing challenge—finding best-in-class content that supports learning and skills development and is also engaging. Throughout the school year, teachers spend hours upon hours searching the app stores for digital activities their students can use to master a math concept, advance a reading level, or reinforce a new science lesson. This is no small feat when you consider that there are thousands of apps to choose from and no set criteria defining the specific features of an educational app.

Teachers are largely left on their own to identify the content they need and then vet it with their internal IT person and school administrators. A recent study by Tyton Partners found that about 60 percent of teachers are responsible for making the digital purchasing decisions for their classroom and 27 percent purchase the content out of their own pockets. When you’re talking about a commitment of time and money, the stakes are high, so let’s take some of the guesswork out of the equation.

Following are five valuable tips for choosing best-in-class learning content that meets the need of teachers and aligns with the criteria many IT leaders and administrators look for when evaluating digital learning resources for schools:

1. Is the content mapped to curriculum standards?
Sure, teachers can assign fun games to students hoping they will inspire learning, but digital activities that are mapped to national, state and common core standards are designed to reinforce the curriculum students are learning in the classroom.

2. Does the digital program feature a variety of curricular activities across multiple subjects?
We all recognize that children learn at different paces and in diverse ways, so having a digital suite of curricular activities that provides multiple options for practicing a math concept or developing reading comprehension is key. It’s impossible for a teacher to know exactly what each individual student will need to be successful, so having options that reinforce curriculum concepts through repetition, pictures, puzzles, music, and other activities all in one place is a plus.

3. Does the mobile application adhere to child safety and online compliance standards?
It’s imperative that teachers choose tools that won’t allow students to take a U-turn onto the internet or inadvertently share personally identifiable information. The federal government and education regulators require educational technology used in the classroom to be compliant with two main laws:

  • Children’s Internet Safety Act (CIPA), which requires that U.S. K–12 schools and libraries use internet filters and implement other measures to protect children from harmful online content as a condition for federal funding.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires operators of commercial websites, online services, and mobile apps to notify parents and obtain their consent before collecting any personal information on children under the age of 13.

4. Is the digital program easy to access, navigate, and manage?
When choosing edtech for the classroom, make sure it’s easy to use and intuitive for even the youngest students. Children understand how to point, click, tap, and swipe their way through games, books, and puzzles, so choose content that packs an educational punch without a complicated play pattern. It’s also important to look for back-end features that allow you to control what each student can access, as well as track their progress to ensure that they continue to be challenged … while having fun.

5. Does the educational content meet your classroom needs?
Before beginning the search for digital learning content, be clear on how it will be used in the classroom. Some teachers use digital content for free time, others use apps to teach curriculum, and some look for ways to reinforce learning. If you’re clear on the purpose, it will be much easier to find what you need.

As technology continues to evolve, we need to ensure we’re leveraging tools and apps that help them learn and grow. Engaging them, recognizing their current interests, and being smart about the tools we leverage in the classroom will keep us all moving forward with our students.

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