Determining the Best Technology for Your Students, Your Course, and You

The number of technologies available to both higher education institutions and individual instructors seems to grow each day. With tools that promise to increase engagement, communication, interaction, efficiencies, and learning, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s also easy to make bad choices — choices that could result in wasted money, time, or learning opportunities, all the while causing undue frustration for students and faculty alike.

During the recent online seminar Selecting and Using Technologies in Online & Blended Courses, Tony Bates, an elearning and distance education planning and management consultant, offered some insights on what to consider when making technology decisions.

Bates, author of Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning, recommends the SECTIONS model, which examines a variety of factors for determining the most appropriate technology to bring into a classroom. Some of the larger questions you need to ask are, “How will this technology benefit the students? Does it make learning more accessible for the students? Does it increase their flexibility? What kind of students are you reaching—or, more importantly, could you reach who you’re not reaching already—with this technology?,” Bates said.

The SECTIONS decision-making model
Students – What are the demographics of the students in your course? Do they work? Do they live on or near campus? What is their preferred learning style? Are they motivated learners?

Ease of use; portability – There’s nothing more frustrating than technology that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, so whatever technologies you choose, they must be easy to use, easy to maintain and reliable. Training should be available for anyone who needs it.

Costs – The costs involved could be fixed or variable, and go beyond the actual cost of the product to include instructor time, instructional support, media production, and maintenance.

Teaching – What is your teaching style? Some technologies lend themselves more to didactic or direct teaching; others to student participation. What are the intended learning outcomes? How will students be assessed?

Interaction – What technologies will engage and motivate your students? What technologies will enhance interaction between you and your students, between students, and between the students and the course material?

Organization – Does the institution support the use of learning technologies? Can you and your students get help if you need it? If you try to do something different will you be rewarded or punished?

Novelty – New technologies are a double-edged sword, Bates said. Because they are new, they might attract positive attention and support. However, new technologies also carry more risk because they’re largely untested, and may never reach broad adoption or maturation.

Speed and Security – Security and privacy issues are becoming increasingly important. Is the technology secure or can it be ‘hacked’? Is student information protected? Is the data stored on a secure server and is it backed up in case of an emergency?

“The key is, whatever model you choose, think about the technology choice before designing the course,” said Bates. “Too often instructors get halfway through the course and then start making decisions about the technology when that should have been thought about at the beginning so that it can be properly integrated.”