Saturday, 16 August 2014

Evaluating digital tools for education: make use of checklists

Take time to evaluate digital tools 

As an English language teacher, who primarily teaches via Skype, I'm used to integrating diverse tools into the learning contexts that I create. However, before I integrate any tools I always consider the  needs of my students. As they are private students this means I'm often catering to diverse needs at any one time. Naturally, this also applies to the classroom situation but I've experienced with paying students that the demand for personalised learning and consequently the design and delivery of customised lessons is very high. Therefore, it's up to me to optimise lessons to meet their expectations, providing they're realistic! Besides designing suitable content this also entails choosing tools that enable reading, writing, speaking and listening skills to be practised anytime and anywhere.

In my context, besides carrying out a needs analysis with each student to determine their present level of English, their learning priorities, their learning behaviour and learning strategies, some practical questions need to be answered in relation to technology. How digitally literate are they, what devices will they be using to access and learn English and what tools are they presently using? The latter is significant because I might be able to take what they are already using on board rather than introducing something new that may later become superfluous. Nevertheless, I always take the time to evaluate their choice of tools for relevance and appropriateness before agreeing to use them, unless of course the tools are familiar to me. This brings me to the point of implementing checklists to aid in evaluating tools before integrating them into your teaching / learning context.

Checklists: a useful resource

I recently attended a webinar by David Deubelbeiss and he generously provided a 'Checklist For Evaluating Language Learning Technology Materials' as a pdf and encouraged participants to share it with others. I've uploaded the link to the pdf and his webinar below. His proposed checklist isn't meant to be a complete list for evaluating tools and certainly not all the criteria outlined will be relevant for each tool that you have in mind. It's also possible that the criteria used to evaluate tools for learning will vary depending on the learning environment.  As an example, if a school is thinking about introducing a one-to-one iPad scheme then of course the criteria they use to evaluate this scenario, before buying devices and implementing staff training programmes, will be completely different to my context where I'm perhaps searching for a collaborative writing space, or a useful audio tool for  several private students. Nevertheless, whatever the context we should take time to create and utilise checklists that are relevant to our own teaching and learning contexts. 

Adapting David's Checklist for Evaluating Language Learning Technology Materials to suit your context might be a helpful place to commence. For further information his webinar and powerpoint presentation can be accessed from the English Central blog.

Here are some other tips to assist you through the evaluation process:

  • utilise your professional learning networks by speaking to fellow teachers 
  • research online and read reviews, but with a critical eye. Promotional material will be biased  
  • use social media such as Twitter or Facebook. Reach out to appropriate educational communities and associations and ask for opinions
  • write a blog post and request comments through your preferred portal

Don't be afraid to ask. We can learn so much through listening to what other practitioners and users have already experienced. When you've accumulated enough data, do a bit of comparative analysis before making any final decisions. The time taken for reflection can help avoid wasting money and causing frustration for all concerned.


English Central (2014)' Webinar:Evaluating language learning technology', 29 July [online]. Available at (Accessed 16 August 2014)

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