It’s a fact. We are barraged by tools. If you created a google alert for just about any sort of online tool your inbox would be full within hours. The next thing since sliced bread is always right at hand. And it’s often what trips us up.
As integrators we naturally see possibilities. Because of our problem solving skills and our propensity for tech savvy, we sometimes overlook the moat while leaping across to the castle. It’s a fatal mistake that often finds us swimming quickly away from angry crocodiles.
Teachers exist on a different plane from us. They have an unrelenting schedule, parents and principals at bay (sometimes with swords drawn), and students who are in varying states of armor. They need tools that just WORK. These tools need to seamlessly integrate into their world and require no time for password retrieval or versions that are not compatible.
In one of my earliest posts I suggested 10 Tips for New Integrators. I danced around the subject but here’s the truth- in order for a tool to be worthwhile, it has to have a large “valued added” component. This means that it can’t be an impediment to progress. It has to provide traction for learning. If it just does the same thing as what you’ve been doing but in a different way, let it float past.
How do you vet a tool through this lens? Simple. Start with these two elements:
1. The login. At our school, students have a multitude of logins. They have to remember their Educate (our CMS system), Discovery Ed, GoogleDocs, Edmodo, Apple ID, and logins for any number of other tools that they use. These kids are KIDS! Sometimes they forget to brush their teeth- and we want them to remember another login? There are a plethora of tools that allow you to use a student’s google login to access a tool. Students that use GoogleDocs as a part of their daily learning rarely forget their login- which means that the tools that are connected to GoogleDocs also will be easy to access. Look for tools that allow a student to combine accounts – but use the opportunity as a teachable moment for password safety and digital footprint issues. Single login systems have their drawbacks security-wise. You should also be sure you know what information the tool takes from their google account. This is a perfect example of the “no free lunch” theory.
2. Password safety- I can’t tell you how many hours each week I spend either retrieving or changing passwords for students. It’s not the best use of my time or talents. To that end, I’ve found a solution. I have to credit my colleague Dan Tompkins with this idea. Like most of us, he vets many tools each month. He’s come up with a good password convention that’s worth passing on to students. When he creates an account for a tool, he uses a common username- often with a “junk” email address in case the relationship doesn’t work out. The password always begins with the name of the tool- for example, “Evernote” followed by an underscore and the password. It might look like this: Evernote_1234, Edmodo_1234, Socrative_1234. Again, it’s important to talk about strong passwords at this point. Once someone knows your strategy, your security could be compromised.
3. Find the tools where they congregate. One good place to look is the Chrome Web Store. If you aren’t familiar with it, get acquainted. It’s a treasure trove of tools. The link gives you an easy to follow tutorial to get you started.
Your google docs account also has a way to link you to many other tools. From your google drive, click CREATE. You’ll see “more apps” at the bottom of the menu. This will lead you to tools that integrate with GoogleDocs and will, once installed, create an easy way to access them.
There. Ready? Get to it- vet the tools your students need. Or better yet, ask THEM to do it. Evaluate the workflow and determine their usability through the eyes of your students and colleages. Share what you learn- and move forward.