Choosing Technology Tools to Fit Your Pedagogical and Logistical Needs

Elaine B. Bohórquez, Ph.D.

Each year, new technologies are released and marketed as the next big thing in digital teaching. But just because a new technology has interesting and creative features, it does not mean that it will suit the needs of your course. So, how do you decide which tools will move your course forward?

There are many things to consider when deciding to use any new product in the classroom. Is there a cost for faculty or students to use the technology? Is it accessible to all students? Does it have the necessary privacy tools? And perhaps more importantly, how does the technology fit with your teaching approach?

As many classes moved online for the first time due to the pandemic, some of these technology needs have also changed. Although it can be daunting, the many options for teaching technologies have one key benefit: technologies can be changed as the needs of courses change.

When it came to choosing which technologies to use for my courses for the first time, I was a bit overwhelmed by the variety of options. My first goal was to promote student engagement during lectures through a classroom response system, but I was looking for an option that did not require students to purchase a clicker. Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, and Top Hat were at the top of my list due to the variety of questions that could be posed to engage students during class. I settled on Top Hat because my specific subject matter of physiology is very image-heavy. Top Hat not only allowed me to ask interactive questions during class but also allowed me to annotate lecture slides. These annotations show up on student devices in real-time and are saved within Top Hat for students to review after class.

For strictly online courses, cultivating a sense of community among the students can be a challenge, especially if the course is run asynchronously. For example, you may have group projects as part of your course structure that are presented during a Gallery Walk at the end of the semester. How would that translate to a fully online format? One option would be to use Flipgrid or VoiceThread. Instead of a strictly text discussion forum, these platforms allow students to use images, videos, and text to present their ideas and comment on their classmates’ works. By employing audio and visual components, the online environment can feel a bit more personal and engaging for both the students and the instructor.

Similarly, small collaborative assignments can be conducted with Google Jamboard, which functions as an online whiteboard to which text, images, and sticky notes can be added. Content can be organized spatially in a way that a Moodle discussion forum or Google Doc cannot.

If an on-time submission is your goal, Google Forms not only documents the time and date of a student’s submission but can also ensure that each student receives an email with their responses for their own records. Grading can be blinded as well, allowing you to grade each response to a particular question without seeing the student’s name during the grading process. Then, grades can be easily exported, and the feedback can be returned to all students individually with a single click!

A multitude of technology tools can be used to stimulate engagement and enhance comprehension in a course. Choosing the one that best suits your needs can feel intimidating with the seemingly limitless options that are out there. We can narrow down the options by first identifying the primary function you want the tool to perform (e.g., student engagement, comprehension, keeping to a schedule, accessibility, accountability, etc.) and then exploring the details of the available technologies that can accomplish that task. 

It’s also important to remember that each course is different, so you may find that a tool that is perfect for one of your courses does not work well for the needs of another, and that’s okay! If you can be intentional in your selections and utilize only those tools that are necessary to achieve your course goals, then incorporating teaching technologies can transform not only your students’ experience in your course but yours as well.