Choosing Which Web Tools Are Right for You
Multi Tools by pennuja, on Flickr
Teachers who know where to look can easily find themselves bombarded with free web tools that promise to enhance their lesson plans and make learning more engaging for students.
Lack of availability isn’t what holds many teachers back from incorporating digital elements in their classrooms. In fact, many have the opposite problem: They’re overwhelmed by too many options.
For time-strapped educators, staying on top of the latest and greatest web tools can be challenging.
“Teachers should be exploring different tools but not getting hung up on them,” said Adam Bellow, founder of eduTecher and eduClipper and co-author of Untangling the Web. “There’s never going to be a way for us to learn all of tools that are out there.”
He offers the following advice on selecting which web tools to use in the classroom:
Try one new tool at a time. Trying to do too much at once can result in a negative experience—and turn teachers off from using digital tools in the future. Choose one tool and try it out. How well it fits into your curriculum should determine whether it deserves a second shot.
Focus on tools that let students create. The most powerful tools on the web involve making something, whether it’s video, audio or mashup media, Bellow said. “I find it much more empowering for students to be able to create content digitally or to share content in a new way than to get the latest flash cards. I think the best way to learn something is to make something new.”
Find out how other educators are using it. Web tools are useful only if you figure out how to thoughtfully integrate them into your curriculum. Fortunately, teachers have started banding together on Twitter and at edcamps to help each other do exactly that. Another way to find ideas is to check the tool’s “help” page, Bellow suggested, as many developers now provide examples of classroom applications.
Test it at school before using it in class. “There are still districts that are banning and blocking the tools teachers find for the classroom,” Bellow said. Perform a trial run at school to make sure the tool isn’t blocked, to test whether you’re proficient enough to model its use and to make the process as simple as possible for your in-class users.
Be willing to fail. Adding digital components to a lesson does open the door to potential glitches. But educators who keep at it will discover that the potential rewards are more than worth it. Just make sure you have a backup plan—traditional pen and paper will always do in a pinch. “The tool does not define the lesson; it should enhance it, Bellow said.
“If the pencil breaks, get another pencil and move on.”