In addition to choosing the appropriate hardware for your educational technology needs, it’s important to take a careful approach to software selection. Trying to figure out which digital content curriculum and providers are right for your school or district can be difficult. The market is already diverse and complex enough to overwhelm many teachers or school leaders who are trying to decide which products to choose.
Faced with the prospect of selecting content from a market in which new companies crop up every month and each product promises great results, school leaders wonder: Where should we begin? How can we narrow down a short list of content providers from the many that are available? How do we know if a provider will work for our group of students?
To help navigate this arena successfully, work on answering the following questions before beginning to search the digital content market:
- What role do you want digital content to play in the learning process?
To select content that will work for your school, you must have a good understanding of what role or purpose you want the digital content to play in your classrooms. Do you want the content to introduce new concepts to students? Allow them to practice skills the teacher introduces during direct instruction? Test students and identify skill gaps? Use it to remediate or accelerate student learning?
Blended learning can be used for any one or all of these scenarios, and there are products that target each. The more specific you can be about what you want the content to do before you start looking at potential providers, the easier it will be to narrow down which options are right for your school.
- What role do you envision the teacher playing in the management of the digital content?
Schools that are new to blended learning may want to start with a more adaptive program designed to automatically find and assign content to each student. These work well for new teachers because students get lessons that target their skill gaps with minimal input from the instructor. The caveat with adaptive programs is that the content will not be as tightly aligned to what is being taught in class on a particular day.
Teachers who want to take a more hands-on role with their digital content should consider assignable products that allow teachers to align what students are seeing on the computer to what is being taught in class. The tradeoff with assignable products is that they usually take more time for the teacher to manage, as they have to push content out to students on a regular basis.
There are also more flexible programs that allow teachers to choose whether to assign specific lesson modules to students or let the program adapt and administer content tailored to each student. It’s important for schools leaders to honestly assess their teachers’ bandwidth and desire to manage content in a hands-on manner.
- What are the unique needs of your student population?
Outline any trends or special needs of your student population, and think about how these factors may affect the content you will ultimately choose. All too often, schools purchase a product because they heard it worked for another school. However, it is important to remember that what might have worked for one group of students may not work for your own.
Before deciding on content, think over the strengths and weaknesses of your student population. Are the majority of your students reading below grade level? Do you have a significant ELL population? Are there a cohort of students who need accelerated subject matter? Outlining your student body’s weaknesses (and strengths) will help you identify the product offerings that are most finely tailored to the needs of your kids.
ST Math is an example of a program that uses a spatial temporal approach and presents mathematical concepts visually. While this approach works well for the general student population, it works especially well for English Language Learners because it does not rely on words, but rather visual representations of mathematical concepts.
- Are you leveraging data to drive decisions around digital content and curriculum?
Data-driven decision-making is a foundation of personalized learning. From the grouping of students and the strategic assignment of content to the tracking of each student’s personalized learning paths, data is essential for making every decision along the way. Therefore, teachers must be able to collect and review formative data to identify trends and areas that need
improvement. Through such analysis, teachers can modify their instruction to meet the specific needs of students.