Characteristics to Consider When Evaluating Educational Technology Tools
By Lisa Shappee, Kansas State University - Polytechnic
As budgets shrink and the number of educational technology (ed- tech) tools continue to grow, critically evaluating which tools to spend an institution's money on becomes imperative. Do a simple Google search on “ed tech tools evaluation,” and you will find any number of resources that can be utilized or adapted to evaluate any tool that you might be considering for use in the classroom, physical or virtual. Many ed-tech tools are valuable and will meet the needs of most users, however, every instructor and every institution have their own unique processes and needs. This is especially true when evaluating a product for K-12 use. K-12 institutions have much stricter standards and criteria to be considered than most colleges and universities.
Below are five distinct characteristics that ed tech tools should possess. While not an exhaustive list, these characteristics should receive top consideration in the decision process.
Accessibility is an extremely important characteristic of any ed tech tool. Universities are frequently sued over the lack of accessibility of course content, so choosing tools without this feature could be costly. One would think that in 2019 all educational technology tools would be accessible, but one major tool that many faculty and students like to use, Prezi, does not have this feature. Course content should be accessible to all, including those with disabilities. The legalities of this characteristic are what makes it number one on this list.
2. Ease of Access
It can be frustrating to learn about a new tool that would be perfect for your institution or class only to find that is out of your price range. It can be just as disheartening to discover it is free to instructors but comes at a cost to students. Education costs are out of control, so adding extra costs to students is a negative feature. However, the lack of access is not always monetary. Most people today have high-speed internet, but that is not true 100% of the time. We have to consider those students who may be overseas or in rural areas trying access course content from a distance. Tools that can be utilized on slower connections or can adjust based on the student’s connection rate are ideal.
Fig. 1. "Student's Homework" by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
3. Short Learning Curve
While all instructors strive to do their best to be innovative for their students, there is only so much time in the day. Any new tool used for teaching and learning activities should be somewhat intuitive. The actions to utilize the tool should be similar to other products they may have used in the past, allowing them to build on their technology skill set. The same goes for the students. A new tool should not require an instructor to waste valuable class time training students. A useful ed tech tool should enhance the learning environment, not detract from student learning objectives and goals of the lesson.
4. Promotes Audience Participation or Interactivity
For most educators, the main reason to look for new ed-tech tools is to promote participation or interactivity. It is understandable that there are some subjects, or class periods, where content simply needs to be shared. This is where presentation tools and videos can be helpful in the classroom. At this point, many tools that serve this function are free and readily available. However, when looking to spend money on a new tool, audience participation is an important characteristic. This can be especially true in distance courses. Any tool that expands faculty ideas for student learning, assignments, and interactions in the online classroom could be worth the extra money to implement. It is important not to add more technology and work just for bells and whistles. When evaluating tools that promote interactivity, this can be a pitfall.
Fig. 2. "Hand Sky" by Carlos Arthur M.R. on Unsplash
Assessment is extremely important when it comes to choosing an educational tool. A tool that offers results reporting, preferably by individual student, is essential. The reports should be customizable and downloadable. The ability to assess within the tool can assist in demonstrating that student learning objectives are being met. This can also call attention to any concepts that students are not understanding allowing an instructor to change their approach. This feature can make a large price tag more acceptable.
Below is an example of an educational technology assessment tool (in a .pdf form). This tool can be downloaded and used in its current form or adapted to meet the needs of users and institutions.
Fig. 3. Ed Tech Tool Evaluation Form (by Lisa Shappee)
Anstey, L.M. & Watson, G.P.L. (2018). Rubric for eLearning Tool Evaluation [PDF file]. Centre for Teaching and Learning, Western University. Retrieved from
About the Author
Lisa Shappee is the Library Director and Instructional Designer for Kansas State University Polytechnic. Ms. Shappee received her Master of Library Science and MS in Instructional Technology and Design from Emporia State University. She has presented regionally, nationally, and internationally on faculty development, distance education and instructional technology. Ms. Shappee is responsible for creating online teaching training as well as faculty technology training on the K-State Polytechnic Campus.
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