Choosing the right digital tool for the educational job

DELTA ASTD presentation

Photo illustration designed by Amanda Robertson, DELTA assistant director, for presentation to ASTD.

With so many social media platforms, so many mobile formats, and so many gaming options out there, where does an innovative online instructor begin?

That was the central question I addressed this month along with a team of colleagues at a sold-out event hosted by the Research Triangle Area chapter of the American Society for Training and Development. My division, DELTA at NC State University, was one of three educational developers invited to speak to ASTD’s membership on the topic of games, social, and mobile learning, following up on a well-received presentation during a similar event hosted by the chapter last year.

Our presentation focused on the ever-changing landscape of available tools for instructional technology, identifying the process behind selecting the right tool for each job.

And whether it leads to the customization of a social media platform or the development of a mobile game, the process is remarkably similar.

My team outlined some of the key questions we consider when evaluating the use of social, mobile, or gaming solutions. The questions vary, but they all relate to the student outcomes of the course. In short, what does the instructor want students to be able to do? Examples include:

  • Share and collaborate on assignments

  • Connect subject matter to real world occupations

  • Create their own instructional content

  • Synthesize information from multiple disciplines

  • Remain engaged in the subject after the class concludes

  • Build a sense of community as a class

Once these outcomes are specified, the research begins on existing tools that could meet the goals. For online classes where collaboration and community are essential, it’s best to leverage flexible social media platforms such as VoiceThread, WordPress, and Ning, then customized a space to fit the identify of the course.

For classes that required students to apply knowledge to real world applications, one approach is to create digital instructional content that can be accessed by smart phones via QR codes placed strategically in spaces connected to the material. Or use mobile tools to create rather than consume, empowering students or instructions to film, edit, and share interviews with real-life experts who demonstrate how the lessons of the class apply in the workforce.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by digital tools and start using them just because they’re there. The better approach is to hire them to do the job you need done regardless, thus picking the one solution (or none at all) that fills the need of your course. What questions can we ask to see which tool is qualified for the task at hand?

Note: a version of this post originally appeared in the DELTAwire blog hosted by NCSU.