Tuesday, January 15, 2013

7 Smart Rules for Educational Technology

Image courtesy eurleif CC-BY-SA 2.0
Are you an educator on Twitter? If so, you should be following @Getting_Smart, because they are constantly sharing great ideas for education. You should also follow Tom Vander Ark (@tvanderark--one of the founders of Getting Smart), because he is full of great, challenging ideas and has the research to back it up.

I mention it for credit where credit is due, because the following brilliance is not mine, but Tom's.

In a post from last summer, Tom shared the following great ideas for deciding whether an educational technology is worth adopting. (The original piece is definitely worth reading as well!) Here's the 7 Smart Rules for Educational Technology:

  1. Educational problem first. Start with the problem, not the technology.
  2. Added value. Make sure that the technology will add value to other existing solutions.
  3. Sustainability. Will the project be relevant and accessible with the passage of time, or will external factors or lack of relevance eventually lead those involved to abandon it?
  4. Multiple uses. Select a technology and design an intervention so that the technology can be used for multiple purposes/classes.
  5. Lowest cost.  If a lower-cost technology is available to solve a particular problem, even though it might be less “politically sexy,” it should be used.
  6. Reliability. Ensure that the technology is reliable and will not rapidly break down.
  7. Ease of use. Excessively complicated technologies present barriers to implementation and the ultimate success of the intervention.
Smart thinking, right?

A few of my reflections on these:
  • The first one here is the no-brainer to me, but I think it's often the most overlooked. I know I tend to get really excited about tech tools (oooo...shiny!) without fully thinking through the problems the tech might actually address. Number five goes right with number one; much as I love my iPad...perhaps we should consider lower cost tablets? (This Apple-fanboy is cringing to even say so...)
  • Item number seven comes right behind: if it isn't easy, no one will use it but the über-geeky or über-stubborn. (Speaking as someone who falls into both of these categories...) Item number six corresponds: if you're always fighting with unreliable tools, how likely are you to use them?
  • I'm all for number four: multiple uses is key! Alton Brown had a great bit on Good Eats where he decried uni-taskers in the kitchen. EdTech should be considered in a similar fashion--no uni-taskers allowed.
  • Number three has me thinking. Sustainability is an issue. I'm wondering about things like SMARTBoards--have they had their day in the sun? Are they approaching irrelevance? I'm not entirely sure...but I'm thinking about this.
  • I'm thinking a lot about the implications of the second item on this list. I agree in principle--of course there should be a value-add for any tech tool incorporated into a classroom. What I'm wondering about is if motivation is enough of a value-add to count in this regard. I'm inclined to think so...but that's just my best thinking right now.
So that sums up my thoughts at the moment. What do you think of this list? And how do you respond to the ideas presented here?


  1. Sustainability is definitely an issue. PCGS will be deploying a 1:1 iPad initiative in grades 6-8 next school year and in our answer to the question "Why the iPad?", we addressed all seven of these areas. We believe we will need to maintain a laptop presence in the building because of this decision, but an overwhelming majority of tasks that we ask our students to complete in a classroom can be accomplished on an iPad. The obstacle that prevented us from pursuing a laptop program was quite simply financial sustainability of such a program.

    1. Thanks for your response, David. That is largely my own thinking about iPads as well. They perhaps can't replace *everything* a laptop can do, but they replace *most* of the things a laptop can do (especially if you have a bluetooth keyboard available!)

      In some of the chatter on this topic I've followed on Twitter, I see a good number of people arguing against iPads because they don't replace a laptop. I think this is a fallacious train of thought. If the question is laptops or no device at all, of course laptops make more sense. But an iPad (or other tablet--Apple is just winning this game right now) can bring affordable access to great tech tools in a sustainable way...this seems like a benefit, not a detriment!

      Also, this doesn't even begin to address the many benefits an iPad can bring in and of itself! :-)

  2. I taught with a Smartboard in the UK for three years and wondered what I would do without one, when I came back to Canada. When I began to teach in Canada again, I realized that I did not miss it at all. I now have a kind of Smartboard in my class called a BenQ. Honestly, I hardly use it as an interactive board. Besides making fancy Powerpoint-like presentations, what are they really good for? The "interactive " aspect of Smartboards, really is not interactive. Whatever you can do "interactively" on them, can be done interacting with your students orally. In my opinion, they are a big waste of money. Having a projector in your room, on the other hand, is essential!