Faculty Club / Technology & AI / Practices in Digital Pedagogy: Evaluating Digital Tools [Free Ebook]

Practices in Digital Pedagogy: Evaluating Digital Tools [Free Ebook]

Jesse Stommel, PhD, provides practical guidance on evaluating the accessibility of digital tools, and how to make informed decisions when selecting tools for use in the classroom.

Pedagogy is praxis, the intersection between the philosophy and the practice of teaching.

Critical Pedagogy is focused on helping students become “readers of their world,” in the words of Paulo Freire, able to critically interpret their material and political circumstances in order to make effective change. This puts education right at the heart of questions of citizenship.

Critical Digital Pedagogy asks how and to what extent this work can happen in digital space:

  • Can the necessary reflective dialogue flourish within web-based tools, within social media platforms, within learning management systems?
  • What is digital agency?
  • How can we build platforms that support learning across age, race, culture, gender, ability, geography?
  • What are the specific affordances and limitations of technology toward these ends?

Educational technologies give students and teachers the chance to approach learning in new ways. But knowing how to meaningfully and carefully engage with these tools requires that we ask hard questions – and that we develop new digital literacies.

Developing these critical literacies is vital if we want students to understand how to use them wisely: to develop and maintain agency over their intellectual property, their data, their privacy, their ideas, their voices.

Even the tools we love that have potential to do good work in the world need careful scrutiny. It is, in fact, part of our care for those tools and students who use them that demands we approach educational technology critically.

There is no good use in tool fidelity. For example, uncritical belief in the superiority of the Mac OS over Windows or Linux may lead us to overlook how single-platform solutions exclude those without access to them.

This ebook will outline a simple, clear exercise for evaluating the digital tools you use in your classroom.

Learning Objectives for Faculty

This exercise will help teachers and students understand that using educational technology is about asking what, why, how, and sometimes whether, not just how.

By thinking through the questions below, educators and learners will see beyond the default configurations presented by various tools, wondering at the deeper ethical and also practical questions that one might consider when adopting a tool (or asking students to use a tool for their learning).

We should question this myth of the speed of technological change and adoption…if it’s going to work us into a frenzy of bad decision- making. Into injustice. Inequality. We have time – when it comes to technological change – to be thoughtful.

Audrey Watters

Assessing Educational Technology

Begin by examining what the tools claim to do and comparing it to what they actually do.

This work requires educators to do more than simply look at the platform’s own website, which frequently says only the best (and sometimes misleading) things about the company and its tool.

However, you can start there and see what rabbit holes it sends you down. If the tool says, “we have the biggest…database in the world,” ask what is being collected, how it’s being presented, what permissions users have granted, what privacy they’ve sacrificed. Ask also what the potential future for the tool might be, not just what it’s doing now, but what it might do in the future.

Conduct research, such as finding forums, articles, and blog posts about the platform, reading the tool’s terms of service, and even using social media to ask questions directly of the CEO of the company (or someone else in a leadership role).

Learning to be a critical consumer of Web info is not rocket science. It’s not even algebra. Becoming acquainted with the fundamentals of Web credibility testing is easier than learning the multiplication tables. The hard part, as always, is the exercise of flabby think-for- yourself muscles.

Howard Rheingold

Getting Started

You can do this activity on your own, but if you’re a faculty member, consider doing it with a colleague or a group of students. If you’re an instructional designer, you might consider adapting this activity for a workshop. If you’re an administrator, ask these questions when adopting a new tool.

Choose two tools that are used for similar purposes. Ideally, you’d pick one open-source tool and one more traditional corporate platform. Here are some suggestions:

  • Discourse vs. Yellowdig
  • Canvas vs. Moodle
  • Twitter vs. Mastodon
  • WordPress vs. Medium

As you research and compare tools, consider the following questions:

🔵 Who owns the tool? Who is the CEO? What are their politics? Do those politics influence platform development? What does the tool say it does? What does it actually do?

🔵 What data are we required to provide in order to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthdate, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous, or to protect our data? Where is data housed; who owns the data? What are the implications for in-class use? Will others be able to use/ copy/own our work there?

🔵 How does this tool act or not act as a mediator for our pedagogies? Does the tool attempt to dictate our pedagogies? How is its design pedagogical? Or exactly not pedagogical? (For example, putting participants in rows of neat and tidy boxes in a Zoom room is a choice. How does that choice influence what we can do, or are likely to do in that space? How does it change how we engage?)

🔵 How accessible is the tool? For a blind student? For a hearing-impaired student? For a neurodivergent student? For introverts? For extroverts?

If you don’t immediately have answers for these questions, who at your school might you reach out to better understand how the tool functions for different kinds of users? Or can you find reports or feedback from users online?

Final Reflections

Ultimately, this is a critical thinking exercise aimed at asking questions, setting boundaries, empowering relationships, encouraging new digital literacies.

Students and others who participate in this activity should come away with various perspectives and facts about the technology… and recommendations about its adoption and/ or use.

This is ethical, activist work. Because so much of educational technology runs on the labor of students and teachers, profiting off the work they do in the course of a day, quarter, or semester, it’s imperative that we understand deeply our relationships to that technology.

Download the Ebook

What’s Inside:

  • Guidance for choosing EdTech tools in the classroom.
  • Questions to reflect on when choosing between similar EdTech tools.
  • Additional resources to further evaluate EdTech tools.

Additional Resources

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