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Teaching Tools and Technology: Things to Consider

Online Education Sevices is here to help you with your online, hybrid, and technology-enhanced ground course needs. We are aware that you want the best experiences for your students and that is why we are available to help you find the right tool that will work for your students, your course, and you. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether or not to look for a new tool to achieve an instructional objective. 

You may be recreating the wheel

It’s possible that you’re spending time identifying a solution to a problem that can be solved by specific application of existing Doane tools. Many of our tools, including Canvas and Zoom, have a depth of features and flexibility that may not be immediately apparent.

Doane employs experts in the use of these tools who can help you solve instructional problems in creative ways. It’s a good idea to check with Online Education Services for a solution before spending time and energy identifying new tools. 

We have also developed a request process for integration of new tools into Canvas

You become the Service Center

When you choose a tool for your course that isn’t supported by Doane, you take responsibility for supporting that tool onto yourself. If a student is having problems, the Service Center really can’t help them. The technician may not even know what the student is talking about. They’ll likely just send the student to you for help. 

If the technician does try to help, they’ll have to spend time hunting down documentation and becoming familiar with the tool. And after that work, they still may not be able to do anything. 

The tool you choose may directly disadvantage your students

Technology tools can both reduce and create barriers. Doane has an obligation to provide accessible instruction to students with disabilities. If the tool you choose isn’t accessible for students with sensory and mobility impairments, and you don’t realize the potential problems, you won’t have any way to prepare alternatives for students with disabilities. 

These disabilities can range from color blindness to the inability to use a mouse, to disabilities that require the use of assistive technology. 

While you may be familiar with the basics of accessibility, much of the underlying structure of an application that supports assistive technology is invisible or incomprehensible to the average internet user. 

Doane employs staff who have the skills and experience to evaluate tools for accessibility. A good analogy here is computer networking. Most internet users can join a WiFi network, or even set up a router; however, most of us don’t have the skills to deploy and maintain a university wide information network. 

You’re contributing to app overload

One of the benefits of using a consistent suite of university-supported tools is that your students will gain progressive facility with those tools. The more familiar the technology, the less likely they are to struggle with it. This makes it easier for students to engage with your discipline, rather than how to format a title in Prezi, or how to join Kahoot. 

Additionally, your course and your chosen tools don’t exist in isolation. They’re part of the larger educational fabric of the University and the curriculum of each student. One new or different tool in each class a student is taking in a semester can add up quickly. 

Credentials...Credentials everywhere...

At Doane, we try to link most tools to our single sign-on processes. This way, a student only has to remember one username and password to access all of their resources at Doane. 

Some external tools allow students to login with Google, but some don’t. Some require links or join codes to integrate the student into your instructional environment within that tool. These additional accounts may be overwhelming for students. 

And, the app providers may send regular ad messaging to the student’s email, which adds additional management overhead to the student’s use of the app.  

You may be putting student privacy and data security at risk 

It’s no surprise that the internet is full of unscrupulous actors. An app’s allowable use of user data is frequently buried in their licensing agreement, sometimes in nebulous terms like “to improve the service.” While most apps and software really do use the data in a de-identified way to improve service, service improvement may be relative and not have your students’ best interests at heart. 

Add in potential problems with unencrypted transmission of identifiable user data and less-than-robust server-side security, and protecting student privacy and data becomes something of a quagmire. 

You may create legal liabilities for yourself and the University

Because Doane is legally obligated to protect student privacy and to insure accessibility for all students, your choice of tool creates a situation in which Doane becomes at least partially responsible for your instructional choices. 

If a student files a complaint about the tool you have chosen, you may find yourself in the middle of an instructional term being required to completely change your instructional plans to something that complies with the law. If you refuse to adapt your instructional plans, you may open yourself to legal liability. 

Free is never really free

The Association of College and Research Libraries addresses the value of user-created data in its Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. They recommend that students should “understand how the commodification of their personal information and online interactions affects the information they receive and the information they produce or disseminate online.”

Student data, even when it is de-identified, has value to the app vendor. At minimum, it allows the vendor to create user experiences and refine marketing that is more likely to occupy the attention of users. Even when students aren’t paying in money, they’re still paying for the tool.