Monday, June 6, 2016

Minnetonka Technology Tools Protocols: Determining Value Add for New Tool Adoption

There certainly are a lot of educational technology tools out there, and every day it seems even more products are added to an already crowded market. The number of vendor calls and emails I receive per day are a constant reminder of this reality. (If you haven't read Patrick Larkin's spot on message to vendors, you should.) 

In many ways, of course, this is a good problem to have. Having so many tools to choose from and a competitive marketplace means that vendors are regularly adding features and enhancements to their existing products in order to stay in the game and expand their presence, while new companies are releasing innovative products trying to break into the space. Both students and teachers benefit certainly benefit as these tools improve education. 

However, with so many tools to choose from, some protocols are helpful to guide selection of what tools to use and help decide when to adopt new ones. In Minnetonka, we have a set of standard tools that everyone uses, which helps provide focus for training and support as well as not overwhelm our students, parents, and teachers with too many options. For example, we have used one learning management system, Schoology, for years as opposed to allowing anyone to use whatever they want. A lack of standard tools quickly becomes frustrating for a student (and parent) trying to find all the homework for a sick child. In our 1:1 iPad program, we use Notability for our note taking program, and since we limit the availability of apps within the Apple App store (see Balancing Choice and Control with a Half Million Apps), teachers and students can focus on learning rather attempting to keep up with a huge number of apps and track specific and or/individual features and nuances. In some cases when it is beneficial to do so, we do have a few apps to choose from rather than just one, such as more than one screen casting app, one word processing tool, or one formative assessment/student response system.

This balanced versus overwhelm approach doesn't mean we aren't regularly looking at new tools and evaluating whether or not try them out in our environment. When we do add new tools, we often start things in small pilot groups rather than rolling them out district wide. This helps us to make sure things truly work well and better plan our implementation and training, too. 

This spring a group of our instructional technology teacher coaches (Tech TOSAs: Teachers on Special Assignment), Building Principals, and District Admin met and listed our protocols for technology tools in an effort to both provide guidance and clarity for our teachers and staff as to how and why products are selected. We came up with the following. Hopefully you find it helpful. I'd appreciate hearing from other schools to see how you have organized this process:

District Tech Tool Protocols

If you have an app, software program, or web-based tool that you'd like to use, please see the criteria and requirements below.  Then, if your new tool meets these requirements, talk with your Tech TOSA and Media Specialist about adding it as a District supported tool. The following criteria should be applied to all teacher- and student- suggested apps. Teachers are welcome to use new technology tools as long as they meet the criteria below:

  1. Teachers need to use District Materials Selection guidelines (Policy 606) to make a sound decision (requests).
  2. Teachers need to notify tech staff of the tools being used (requested).  A growing number of applications may need to be approved before student data is uploaded or an App distributed through the MTKA store.
All Tools should:
  • Be free (some exceptions if budget allows)
  • Be age-appropriate for audience (14+ for MHS, 11+ for Middle Schools, 4+ for elementary)
  • Be free of advertising
  • Not duplicate a tool/workflow process that we already have
  • Be educational
  • Has the company signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge? (student email address is private data along with achievement scores)
Things to Consider:
  • What are the limitations to the lite version?  Are there additional/in-app purchases for the full version that are essential to the function?
  • Does it have a broad application rather than a narrow focus?
  • Ease of use for students and teachers (Schoology) workflow.
  • How are students accessing/signing in? Does it require individual student logins or can a generic user login be shared by all students?
  • How is student data saved/backup? Will it take up a lot of space?
  • Does the program work on all devices (PCs, iPads)?
  • Who owns the work/copyright?
  • How do parents access/view students’ work? Is this a tool for which parents will need a separate account?
  • Are the benefits/value add for this tool great enough to add to this the mix of tools being used by students, parents, and staff?
  • Will this be used on an ongoing basis for student learning? If so, requires principal or District approval in May annually as supplemental material- Policy 606
Unapproved Tools:
  • duplicate the features and functionality of existing tools (we don’t need another note-taking app, for example)
  • require teachers to set up classes and enroll students
  • be a “lite” version that offers minimal functionality
  • require additional/in-app purchases
  • are too large for use. For example, apps below 125 megabytes work best
  • Age restriction compliance
  • Does not meet District Terms of Service or privacy requirements
Essential Standard Tools
These tools are expected and/or highly recommended to be utilized by all teachers:
  • Schoology
  • Skyward
  • Google
  • Outlook
  • SMART Notebook
Recommended Tools (1:1 classrooms)
These tools are highly recommended for a 1:1 classroom environment. They align with our instructional framework and we have invested and purchased them:
Optional Tools
These provide value, you may choose to use these apps/web tools, if desired. Training and support may be available:
  • Single Sign On tools
  • Google Sites
  • Schoology Portfolios
  • PreciouStatus (Supplemental app, not taking the place of Schoology)
  • iXL (depending on building-level subscriptions)
  • Kahoot, Class Kick, Quizizz, Quizlet, Go Formative
  • Remind (Secondary only)
Unsupported, Unapproved Tools
This doesn’t work for a clearly defined reason… The following are not supported, so please do not use the following tools:
  • Google Classroom (a competing LMS which would require students, staff and parents  to use a second system for coursework)
  • Class Dojo (conflicts with Responsive Classroom)

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