10 Questions to Ask to Evaluate a Tech Tool #DitchSummit Day1

Today is day one of #DitchSummit, a free digital conference from Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) author of Ditch That Textbook. Today’s guests, Tanya Avrith (@TanyaAvrith) & Holly Clark (@HollyClarkEdu)are talking Technology and Pedagogy. We want to have strong pedagogy behind our edtech choices.

So, in response, I thought I would share 10 questions I ask when I am evaluating a new tech tool to decide if I want to integrate it.

Questions to Evaluate tech

What student outcome will this tool help you accomplish? If you aren’t starting with this question in mind, then don’t bother to read on! We never want to use tech for tech’s sake. Evaluating any ed tech tool should always start and end with this question.

Is it well designed and intuitive for the user? If Steve Jobs were still alive, would he approve of the way the tool is designed? We never want the Learning Curve > the Payoff of using it. As Holly said today in the #DitchSummit, it’s about simplicity. You want to use tech tools that are simple and easy to use, so your students can quickly go to a tool and use it.

Does it have guides, tutorials, help sections or tech support for you to contact? Even if a tool is pretty intuitive, we still may questions when learning to use it. How helpful have the makers made it to find answers to those questions?

Does it work well or the same on multiple devices? Even if you are a one-to-one school, this can still be an important question. Having a good mobile version really makes a tool versatile in terms of when, where and how users access it. If an app is only available on Apple or Android, it shrinks the user base.

Does it allow for collaboration between users? Collaboration is a key 21st century skill. If my students cannot collaborate with each other or me when using the tool, then it’s usually a deal-breaker for me!

Does it integrate well with other tools? As a GAFE school, I love when students can use a tool by signing in with their Google account, so they don’t have to remember a bunch of log ins. More than that, it’s also great to be able to easily “app smash,” to use two tools together. Matt mentioned an example of this today from Tanya and Holly’s book, The Google Infused Classroom, where students use Bitmoji and the Google Chrome extension Talk and Comment to make their Bitmoji “talk” and explain their thinking on a project.

Does it allow the user to do something “more” than they could without it? Speaking of Bitmoji, if you can’t draw much beyond stick figures, like me, it’s a great tool to allow one to make professional-looking cartoon drawings. With every tech tool we integrate, we always want to keep the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model in mind, to be sure that we aren’t merely substituting with tech but making something possible that we couldn’t have done without the tech. This also goes back to what our speakers on #DitchSummit were saying today about making sure that the tech we use is giving students a way to make thinking visible, to hear from every student in the class and have them share their learning. As Matt said, these are the “Superpowers” of edtech in the classroom that allow us to take learning to the next level.

Does it offer advantages over a similar product you are already using? I love Schoology, but many teachers at my Academy were already using Edmodo when I came to the school six years ago, so I really had to weigh the benefits of introducing a new platform. Now, both of those learning management systems have been supplanted with Google Classroom for us as we became a GAFE school. It’s not to say that you have to be using the same tech tools as everyone else, but I also think you don’t always want to jump on the bandwagon of the newest tool just because it is new.

Is it free, low cost, or at the least, offer a free trial? If it’s not free is it worth the expense? I don’t know about you, but we don’t have a huge tech budget, so if I can find a tool that is free or “freemium” (free version with paid premium version available), I am usually going to pick that over a tool that costs money. A tool really has to be offering something I can’t get anywhere else before I am going to shell out $$$.

What can students create with this tool? If the answer is “nothing,” then this is probably not the tech tool for me and my students. I want my students to be creators not just consumers of technology. So, I will always favor the tools that allow students to actively create something rather than just being passive users. It’s important for educators to prioritize these higher level uses of tech if we want to prepare them to be future ready graduates.

A final thought from Matt Miller about choosing the right ed tech tools: “There’s so much out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but only grab hold of the things you think can really move the needle for learning in your classroom.”

Trending now in #STL #edtech from @ETAofSTL members


At our Welcome Back meeting for ETA of STL, the Education Technology Association of St. Louis, we asked our members what is happening in their districts and what topics they would like us to cover at ETA meetings this year. Above is an AnswerGarden of their responses.

In thinking about how technology integration can transform learning, SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition) is a big topic to kick off the school year, and one that my Academy has been using to frame our technology pd. Many ETA member districts participated in a summer #METCpd SAMR institute sponsored by Edplus.  They brought in Dr. Ruben Puentedura, who developed the framework. They will also be partnering with the Clayton School District to offer a free SAMR unconference on Saturday, Sept. 9.

STEAM & MakerEd continue to be big topics in the region as well. Mehlville School District opened MOSAIC this year, a new school of innovation for elementary students, and Ferguson-Florissant has a new middle school STEAM Academy. South Technical High School has a new makerspace this year, which we hope to be visiting at a future ETA meeting. For those looking for professional development in this area, you might check out the year-long STEM Academy or the new MakerEd Academy being offered by Edplus.

Chromebooks seem to be the 1:1 device of choice in area, with many districts rolling out new or additional Chromebooks including a K-12 program for Winfield, 1:1 Chromebooks at North Technical High School, and Rockwood District rolling out Chromebooks to 6-9 this year. In Ferguson-Florissant the STEAM students are 1:1 with new Dell touch screen fold-able Chomebooks.

Digital Citizenship and related topics are also in focus this year. Our next ETA meeting on September 20 at Hancock Place will be centered around Digital Citizenship, Digital Footprint, and Student Data Privacy. Educators may want to follow the lead of Orchard Farm School District, who is hosting a  Teen Digital Citizenship day for their students October 13. METC’s middle school summit on digital citizenship is Sept 21, and Oct 6 is DigCit Day: Moving Beyond Internet Safety .

As always ETA members are looking for innovative and “new big ideas.” I’m excited to join Tierney Brother’s free STL Tech Tour on October 24. If you are interested in joining in, you should contact Dawn Shuler (dawnshuler@tierneybrothers.com).

It’s sure to be another busy year in #STL #edtech, but we hope you will take time out each month to join us for my favorite local #PLN: ETA of STL.


6+ Digital Alternatives to the Poster Project

Recently on Twitter, this #dokchat discussion touched on one of my pet peeves as a library media specialist….the poster project.Tweets with replies by Shannon Steimel (@ShannonSteimel) - Twitter

Why do I despise the poster project so much that I would wish death upon it? My experience has been that whenever teachers ask their students to “research” a topic (notice the air quotes) and present their findings in a poster, the skills the students utilize have nothing to do with inquiry or information literacy and much more to do with manipulating scissors, glue and markers (which I am pretty sure most students master around early elementary). As Alice Keeler points out this equals a Depth of Knowledge ZERO!

I should mention that I was once a well-intentioned teacher who assigned poster projects, too! So, please don’t take my snarky tone to heart! I really do just want to help.

So, I thought I would offer some digital alternatives to the poster project, AND, perhaps more importantly, some questions to ask yourself about the project before you assign it, (along with some resources to help you answer them).

First of all, ask yourself…

Am I asking students to think critically? Will your project require them to expend some brain power or just time and energy? If DOK is confusing to you, join the club, i.e., check out Alice Keeler’s blog post, #DOKchat – DOK is Hard Let’s Talk About It.

This should lead you to…

What questions will my students answer with this project? Questions are what drive inquiry, so good ones should always be at the heart of any research project. Need guidance? Check out Tony Vincent’s blog post, Crafting Questions that Drive Projects.

Am I asking my students to engage with the primary sources they select? If you are allowing students to simply pull images from a Google image search and plop them into their projects without any further thought, you are missing a prime opportunity Why not challenge them to thoughtful selection of images and other primary sources followed by interpretation and analysis? The Library of Congress has some great info on Using Primary Sources. And, the National Archives Digital Vaults will even let you create your own poster or video with their primary source materials.

And, while we’re on the subject of Google image searches…

Am I ensuring that my students are good digital citizens when it comes to Fair Use and Copyright? I know, I know, we librarians can be such sticklers for these things. If you are wondering what you should know and why you should care, check out Ronnie Burt’s painless Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use and Creative Commons.

Finally, if you are going to use one of the digital tools below, please also consider…

Am I merely substituting a digital tool for poster board, or am I incorporating the transformative properties of the technology into the scope of my project? If you’re not familiar with the SAMR model, by all means, please familiarize yourself with it: The SAMR Model Explained By Students.

Now, let’s move on to the digital alternatives to the poster project…

(Hey, you there, I see that you just scrolled past my excellent and thought-provoking questions to get to the list of digital tools. I implore you, for the love of meaningful research projects…please scroll back up and consider my questions!!!)

1: Thinglink Create interactive images by adding text, videos, links, other images and more to your photo. Consider using a collage maker, such as Pic-Collage,  first if you want to include multiples images as the main image.

2: Padlet Images, videos, documents, and text can be placed on this virtual wall, making it as versatile as an actual poster board.

3: Google Sites If you are a GAFE school like we are, why not consider having students create a simple webpage or site as a final project. If not, you might consider Weebly for Education.

4: Infogr.am Have your students make their own infographics. Infogr.am will allow education accounts 10 free infographics.

5: Capzles Add video, images, music and documents to this timeline creator.

6: Canva Design graphics like a pro without needing to know Photoshop.

Those with deep pockets and/or big budgets might also consider…

7. Voicethread, 8. Glogster or 9. Smore

And, in response to Simone Strauss,

Tweets with replies by Simone Strauss (@straussFCSteach) - Twitter


here are two bonus ideas for presentation alternatives:

10: Powtoon or 11. Biteslide

There you go! 6+ alternatives to the poster project and its close cousins, the tri-fold board project and the brochure project.

For those of you who are fretting that you will have no lovely posters with which to decorate your classroom walls once you allow your students to choose one of these digital alternatives to the poster project…

Consider having them select their most compelling image, add the driving/essential question, and a QR Code. Print them out, hang them up, and you’ve got…Instant Gallery Walk!