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Saturday, 16 December 2017

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Working to Deliver Free EdTech Support to Teachers

By Todd Cherner


It was a typical Tuesday night class. I was teaching a group of graduate students from a 1:1 school district ways to use different spelling apps with their students when I was asked a question that changed how I viewed my teaching. My student simply asked me, “How do you know to use that app that way?” Surprised by her question, I asked her, “What do you mean?” She and her classmates went on to explain to me that, though the district had provided both teachers and students with tablets for use classroom use, it had provided no professional development to help them learn how to use these devices. That’s when I realized there was a fundamental contradiction plaguing EdTech, and what I could do to resolve it.

Schools across the globe are infusing their classrooms with technology—tablets, laptops, 3D printers, virtual reality apps… you name it. Daniel Menelly, Chief Science Officer from the Rochester Museum and Science Center in New York, reflected that “During my time teaching in international schools in France and in the United States, I observed the pace of change in teaching and learning. At teaching conferences and in the professional development community, teachers commonly sought greater support for the integration of mobile technologies for learning into their day-to-day planning and instruction.”

Though the availability of educational technologies is growing, teacher training in this area has not kept pace in many regions with these emerging technologies or begun to lessen the Digital Divide. Broader access to professional learning networks and better infrastructure for technology-intensive lesson structures meant, for many teachers in the international teaching community, an urgent planning priority to apply these newly accessible tools for learning in the most impactful ways. For many teachers, the “spike” in education media presented an onslaught of mobile applications and cyber-enabled teaching tools and models, yet the quality, reliability, and utility of the support systems for these technologies has been inconsistent.

If teachers seek support online, they will find three types: (1) Blogs, (2) Top Tech Lists, and (3) Website Databases. The blogs essentially offer information about one element or category of EdTech, but they seldom provide enough ideas for how to use it. The Tech Lists give rankings of the best EdTech for movie-making apps, presentation software, learning community websites, and more, yet they only summarize or repackage ratings that were presented by other online communities. That leaves website databases. With them, teachers can search for edtech using different filters, and they mostly give generic ratings with general descriptions. After realizing all this, I worked with my colleague, Dr. Corey Lee, to develop App Ed Review.

App Ed Review ( is a website database that provides information for using educational apps and websites to promote student learning at no cost. For each piece of EdTech we review, we include an original description that explains what teachers and students will experience, between three and five ways the EdTech can be used to promote student learning, and a comprehensive evaluation. For that evaluation, Lee and I wrote and published two articles in international peer-reviewed journals that explain and share the rubrics. Finally, Lee and I designed a method for indexing the EdTech by its functionality, and we published that index in another journal. We felt that resources such as the one we created should be validated by research. Teachers and school leaders require a synthesis of research evidence of efficacy before embedding resources into their curricula and planning models. This presents an opportunity to streamline that process, to guide educators in their adoption of emerging technologies for learning, and to optimize the investment of planning time in that process.

Teachers in the 21st century need support when it comes to using the ever-evolving EdTech currently being released. Teachers need to be informed consumers of knowledge when they use blogs, top tech lists, and website databases to learn about EdTech. The indiscriminate use of learning technologies results in what can be considered decorative learning, a term used for lesson structures that look to be engaging, but offer little in terms of deep understanding and global competencies, as in students’ abilities to transfer knowledge to new settings, to evaluate and revise research and project models, or to support their thinking with evidence. If not, we risk using technology for technology’s sake with our students, and that’s not good for anyone.

Todd Cherner is an instructor of instructional technology at Portland State University.

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