The Best App for Your Coursework Isn’t a Single App
Which app is best for coursework depends on the tasks students will perform and the skills you want them to develop.
A few years ago, I wrote about creating an edtech ecosystem. Each ecosystem contains different tools and apps, and deciding which is best depends on your devices and infrastructure as well as what best supports your students. Within this ecosystem concept, each piece of technology provides a different functionality. A given piece might allow teachers and students to transport information, create new learning artifacts, or communicate, collaborate, and share.
As educators, we often seek out not only one ecosystem but also one app to solve all of our problems and meet all of our needs. For example, over the past several months, I have engaged in a number of conversations about technology with educators that began with an either/or question:
- Should I use Google Drive, Google Sites, or Padlet?
- Should I use OneNote or Google Classroom?
- Should I use SeeSaw or Office365?
My reaction to each line of questioning is: What do you want your students to do?
Although I understand these teachers’ concerns that they not overwhelm their students (or their colleagues) with too many tools, that single solution does not really exist. Depending on the tasks that students may need to complete, and the skills that you may want them to gain, a variety of options may be required. Choosing the best options can seem daunting. To start figuring out which tools to bring into your ecosystem, consider these essential questions to guide your thinking.
Where Do I Want My Students to Save Their Work?
This may be the most fundamental question, as well as the most critical: When students share devices, storage becomes a significant challenge. Your school may choose Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s iCloud Drive (especially now that iOS 9.3 supports Apple Classroom), or the new Dropbox for Education as a storage option. Students can then access their files from anywhere and any device. As an added benefit, providing a central platform across all grade levels and classes helps to give students some organizational consistency.
Additionally, when schools supply Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and Google Drive, Office 365 and OneDrive, or iCloud and iWork, teachers can share resources with students and/or colleagues, encourage real-time collaboration on documents, and support students as they compile learning artifacts.
Do I Need to Streamline Workflow for My Students?
Getting content to students and collecting it from them poses a significant challenge to teachers in a digital environment. Over the past few years, teachers have designed a number of creative solutions ranging from posting content to class websites to using learning management systems like Edmodo, Schoology, or Canvas. However, two platforms have emerged that have significantly streamlined the process for educators in Microsoft or Google environments.
When teachers use Google Classroom, it essentially creates a virtual inbox/outbox system for students. As teachers create assignments in Google Classroom, it automatically names and distributes files, organizes content, and provides students with an assignment calendar. Google Classroom can also provide them with a single location to find information, links to online resources, and digital conversations with their classmates.
On the other hand, OneNote and Class Notebook solve many of these challenges as well as support students with digital note-taking. From any device, students can organize virtual binders and also access shared resources from the teacher. Older students might use both Classroom and OneNote.
Do I Want My Students to Share the Story of Their Learning?
To develop their critical thinking and creativity skills, students need an opportunity to share not only what they have learned but also how they learned it and why. To meet this need, many schools have looked to tools such as Google Sites, Seesaw, and Kidblog.
Consider these blogging and journaling tools as an opportunity to reflect, share, and co-create understanding among students. They can also be viewed as a portfolio of work as students choose what they want to share with their classmates or a broader audience from their storage solution while simultaneously adding to the collective knowledge of the class.
What Else Do I Need?
Do students need to collaboratively create a gallery of projects to share with parents? In this case, a web-based tool like Padlet might be perfect. Would they benefit from a digital canvas to support their brainstorming and planning for a large research project? RealtimeBoard can provide them with a host of tools and allow them to easily insert documents from Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox.
Depending on what your students need and what you would like for them to be able to do, it may be time to consider a both/and mindset when it comes to digital tools instead of engaging in an either/or debate.