Apps and other platforms can add a lot to teaching, but can also eat up a lot of time and energy dealing with issues that can arise. In this post, we’ll look at how you can mitigate some of these issues by thinking about the sustainability and openness of tools that you chose to use.
Is the technology sustainable?
Technologies can go away just as quickly as they arise. In the last few years, services that have been used for teaching and learning have disappeared. Examples include Wikispaces, a collaborative social writing platform which closed due to insufficient funding to support its ongoing infrastructure, and Storify, a social media curation service which discontinued after its parent company was bought over another digital publishing powerhouse. These examples show how apps and platforms can disappear for a myriad of reasons – with or without warning to its customers. If you are using external tools, you need to ensure that the learning experience of students is not significantly impacted should the tools become unavailable.
“Padlet may also terminate or suspend your access to or ability to use any and all Services immediately, without prior notice or liability, for any reason or no reason…”
These terms of service are not unique to Padlet and are similar across many external platforms. It has significant implications particularly if you are using these platforms to assess students: You are liable and responsible for everything you put up, but the tools you use do not have the same responsibilities to protect you or your students!
How can you set up external tools to be used sustainably for teaching and learning?
Beyond the technology itself, you also need to consider the longevity of its use. Below is a list of questions you may want to ask yourself before deciding on using an external tool:
|Ask yourself…||Our commentary…|
|How will you back-up students’ work?||Some universities engage in services to “scrape” (or save a snapshot of) information from external tools as a means of data retention. Most platforms also have archiving or export functions that you should consider using to help you keep track of activities and address any issues that may arise in future (e.g. Dispute over grading).|
|Is it equitable and accessible?||There are again several considerations here including how and when the tool is accessed (e.g. mobile devices needed during class) and if it meets accessibility requirements. Asking your students if they can or have the means to complete the activity, especially if it is compulsory (e.g. Assessment), is critical. I often use an online web accessibility checker (e.g. WAVE) as well to help me gauge if the content I put up is accessible.|
|Is it easy to use?||This question helps you to weigh between time and effort needed to set-up and run the activity versus intended outcome. If it takes too much time for your students to complete the activity, for example, will the outcomes and learning experience of the class be impacted?|
|Do you, your teachers or students need training and support?||Providing (or receiving) training and support requires additional time and resources that should be within your consideration.|
|Are you intending to repeat this activity in future?||The design of activities can change depending on the need for repetition. For example, using polling services such as Poll Everywhere may take a long time to run in the first few sessions as students are unfamiliar with the tool but this resolves over time as you and your students become familiar with the platform.|
|Do you have an alternative?||As discussed above, if the tool becomes unavailable, do you have a back-up plan?|
|How is this communicated to students?||Students need to be communicated to about the use of these tools especially if they are required to sign-up for an account or if they are being assessed on these platforms (preferably prior to the start of the course). There have also been cases where students were advised to sign up to a service using their university login information and passwords which was subsequently hacked. This has implications to the university’s security systems.|
There are many more questions to be asked here. Can you think of any? Share your other questions and considerations in the comments.
How open do you want you and your students’ work to be?
I am a big fan of open educational practices (OEP) as they seek to reduce barriers to accessing education (see our coffee course on Open Educational Practice). Using external tools such as Twitter or blogs to teach can invite very vibrant forms of teaching where students can engage in discussions beyond the scope of their coursework, and bring in experts from beyond the classroom into the discussion.
While I enjoy this form of openness, there are several caveats that need to be considered. For example, students may not be comfortable sharing information or their views in public – this may be because they are shy but there is also a serious consideration as to whether students should be represented by their assignments or classroom discussions in public, especially after they graduate. In recent years, there have been initiatives such as “Domain of One’s Own” which aim to help institutions and their students gain control of their own data and avoid advertisements while continuing to be publicly available on the World Wide Web. This has received positive feedback, as it encourages a pedagogical shift away from traditional forms of teaching, but has also opened up questions about ownership and agency. If a piece of work is publicly available but also required to be assessed, can it be a fair representation of the student’s view?
As an educator, do you want your work to be available in the open? In the spirit of OEP, I hope you may wish to share some of your wisdom with the rest of the internet and external tools can drive this (without risking students’ privacy). Tools such as Oppia and H5P are open source platforms that allow you to create interactive lessons, videos, etc. and embed them into your course. Basic usage data is recorded but unidentifiable (except for the content creator who has to sign up for an account) if the tool is not integrated with your LMS. These platforms are usually Creative Commons licensed but you generally have a degree of control over your content such as in H5P where you can disable embedding and downloading functions.
Have you ever taught “in the open”, outside the boundaries of the LMS? Why did you do it and what was your experience like? If you haven’t done so, share your thoughts about teaching in the public eye. What concerns or opportunities might arise?
Now that we have gone through a range of factors to consider, in the next post we’ll get to the fun part – what cool tools are out there for teachers?
- Charles Sturt University (2017). External Educational Technologies for Learning and Teaching Guidelines.
- Anstey, L. & Watson, G. (2018). A Rubric for Evaluating E-Learning Tools in Higher Education. Educause. Access available: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/9/a-rubric-for-evaluating-e-learning-tools-in-higher-education.