Finding Digital Tools for Education.

As a teacher of computer it’s kind of expected that I’ll know about most of the digital tools out there, which is like expecting a history teacher to know the deatils of all of history. Where the reality is most know knowing the techniques without the details of the individual tool.

Finding the right tool for the task at hand has been an uphill challenge with literally thousands of different pieces of software or web services to choose from. Many of those solutions have hidden catches or create other problems that are not obvious from the outset.

Also having move school over the last few year, I’ve discovered that each workplace has it’s own common choice of software solution. Jane Hart maintains a list of the top 100 digital tools. The Best of Breed 2016, is excelent list of software that meets a particular need. Although be aware that with the speed of change on the Internet it will never be a complete list.

Now the trick is to reduce the list to a minimum set of posible choices, that will do what is needed. So I ask a series of questions to narrow my choices;

  1. Purpose. Know what you want to do. By setting out and planning your software goals, it’s easier to meet them. Do I have something that will do the job already? For example; for most of the image cropping I do Paint loads quickly and can finish the job, while Photoshop is like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
  2. Availablity. Does the school already prefer certain software, or require the use of particular systems? For example, if the school supports Microsoft’s Office365, of Google’s Docs/Drive/etc, then it may be best to start there. Something that limits your choices can be make it easier. Personally, I have a preference for open source software. mainly because the underlying code is checked others, and not locked away in-house and it’s less likely to disappear if the company goes under.
  3. Support. Who is available to assist you if you need help? Most good software will have a wiki or some form of online documentation. The ‘For dummies’ series of books can be very useful to get started with somethign new. If another teacher is already using something within the school, then it can be an easy source of professional development and experienced support. Also consider if the digital tool is Cross-platform, in that it will run on different operating systems, because in the BYOD school environments you should only need to learn the software once regardless of which operating system it is run one (ie Windows, Mac or Linux), and that will make life easier for you. This is where online websites work well, as they run in any web broswer, but if the network is goes down or is slow, then the service becomes less usable.
  4. Cost. Not just in terms of money from the school budget, but in in terms of time & nuisance. For example, with a lot of web services using the SAAS (Software As A Service) model there maybe a monthly or yearly subscription cost to cover the development of the software. Another model is the freemium, where the basic service is free and the useful version costs. Also watch out for ‘free’ software that incorporates advertising.
  5. Trust & Longevity. If you are planning on using a piece of software or an online service to achieve your educational goals, then is the company who’s technology you are using to be trusted, or likely to be around in the long term? For example, Geocities was once a huge hub of Internet culture with websites that are now considered horrific. Since it’s heyday it has faded into nothing. Myspace was another large Internet company offering online space and it has also become a backwater.

So when searching for the best digital tool for your educational purposes and considering its suitability for your purpose look at it’s Availablity, Support, Cost, Trust & Longevity.