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3 things to consider when selecting digital tools: an ASCD recap

3 things to consider when selecting digital tools: an ASCD recap

Personalized Learning  |  Curriculum Strategy & Adoption

3 Things to consider when selecting digital tools

Selecting the right digital content for your blended or personalized learning initiative can be a daunting task. With literally hundreds of digital tools available, how can school and district leaders successfully navigate the digital content landscape?

In our presentation last week at ASCD in Atlanta, Jaraun Dennis*, Angela Chubb, and I set out to tackle this question in our presentation titled “How to Pick the Right Digital Content for Your Students.”

According to Jaraun, schools and districts often struggle to select digital tools because they treat the selection process “...like a trip to the candy store. Teachers and administrators go to a conference, see rows and rows of shiny new digital tools, and make a purchase simply based on what they see.” Jaraun continues, “Using this approach, districts end up with lots of digital tools that sit on their shelves without being used and the blended or personalized initiative never reaches its full potential.”

Rather than visit a candy store, we encourage school districts to develop a comprehensive process for selecting and purchasing digital tools. While this process certainly looks different in each district, it should include three main components:

  1. an evaluation to identify the reason for hiring the digital tool
  2. a process for obtaining teacher and student input, and
  3. a method for “firing” digital tools.

With such a process, schools and districts can avoid the allure of the “bright and shiny” to instead focus on the needs of students.

Identify Your Reason for “Hiring” Digital Tools

Schools and districts should begin the process of selecting digital tools by first identifying the need they are trying to address. This can be compared to the diagnosis process a patient would undergo at a doctor’s office. Just as a doctor would not write a prescription without first identifying a patient’s ailment, schools and districts should first carefully consider the “ailments” they face before “prescribing” a solution. This process is essential to ensure that an ailment is not misdiagnosed or treated poorly. After all, a prescription for a bandage would do little to treat a bacterial infection.

For example, one district may see a need to support its ELL population while another may see an opportunity for advanced students to learn new concepts. In each situation, the digital tool hired would vary greatly based on the identified need.

At Education Elements, we assist schools and districts to identify their need(s) by ranking themselves on the spectrums below. By using these spectrums, schools and districts are able to ask themselves key questions, such as, “Are we looking for a tool for remediation or to introduce new concepts?” and, “Do we want a tool that teachers can assign, or are we looking for a tool that is adaptive?”

With identified needs in hand, schools and districts are prepared to begin the selection of digital tools.

A Framework for thinking about digital content

Obtain Teacher & Student Input

Far too often, schools and district administrators purchase digital tools without obtaining input from those who will actually be using the digital tool: teachers and students. Several benefits can stem from this input:

  • Teachers can identify how the digital tool will work alongside their curriculum and standards.
  • Teachers can evaluate the reporting functionality and features as well as the remediation and scaffolding structures in the digital tools Students can answer a simple but important question: is the digital tool engaging?

This input can be obtained from events such as digital tool pilots or demos and should include a formalized method to record this input. For example, below is a feedback form from the Enlarged City School District of Middletown in New York. Once this data is compiled and analyzed, schools and districts are one step closer to purchasing their digital tools.

Rubrics Completed by Teachers

Know How to “Fire” Digital Tools

Knowing when and how to “fire” digital tools that are not meeting student needs adequately can be just as important as hiring the right digital tool. Schools and districts should have a formal process in place for students, teachers, and administrators to provide feedback on digital tools on a periodic basis.

This feedback can include a variety of questions deemed most important in identifying the best digital tools (which may be best ascertained through a platform that can track data). What is the usage rate of the tool? How engaged are students? Has the tool boosted student growth? Does the tool provide adequate scaffolding and remediation? Is the tool essential to your curriculum?

By aggregating such feedback, schools and districts can identify the tools that best fit their needs and prevent the dedication of financial resources and time on unnecessary tools.

Still have questions? Feel free to check out the agenda from our presentation at ASCD! In the meantime, steer clear of that candy store!

*Jaraun Dennis is the Director of Technology at Uinta County School District #1 in Evanston, Wyoming. A member of the League of Innovative Schools, UCSD #1 has been recognized nationwide for its thoughtful approach to blended learning.


Digital Content Selection How-To


About Scott Johns - Guest Author

Scott is a former Associate Partner at Education Elements, who led our Personalized Learning Consulting Services in Houston ISD, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Weld County School District 6, Uinta County School District 1, and several other projects. Scott holds a B.S. and M.S. in accountancy from Brigham Young University and an M.S. in education from Johns Hopkins University, and left Education Elements to pursue a graduate degree at Northwestern University.

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