In part 2 of this 4-part interview, Class Tech Tips founder Monica Burns gives tips for how to choose the right class tech for your classroom.

Watch the video on class tech, or read the transcript below.

Tasks before apps … what to consider when choosing class tech

– Welcome to another “PLtogether Lounge Talk.” I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. The platform for streamlining feedback to teachers. Today, we’re talking with Monica Burns. She is the author of the very popular website, classtechtips.com, also a popular Twitter and I think Instagram channel as well, handle as well. And also the author of “Ed Tech Essentials,” a new book published in 2021 by ASCD. But today we’re talking with Monica about another book that she wrote, which is about doing tasks instead of apps and asking that question. Monica, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you so much for having me today.

– Well, I kind of jumped into my first question there, which is we know that new book is out, but I wanna go back in time to this question of defining your tasks instead of defining your apps, give us the high level. What do you mean when you tell teachers tasks before apps?

– So that phrase, tasks before apps is one that really came naturally as my gut check when having conversations with educators. What are we really trying to accomplish here? Are we truly putting the learning front and center as opposed to forcing something into a bright and flashy tool, just for the sake of it. So I use that phrase to bring our conversations back together when I’m doing professional development or working with a school leadership team or working with a group of teachers, just to really get us together, to prioritize what it is we want students to know and be able to do, the experiences we want them to have in a classroom setting, and then look for the technology and the digital tools that will help them get to that place.

– So I have a feeling that they’re gonna let us all down right in this moment and tell us that no, there is not going to be the like magic list of apps we should have in our classroom. That’s a right guess on my part, right? No easy answer here.

– No easy answer. Right? And when I talk about that or someone asks me, what should I add to my tool belt? Or what should I figure out next? I often bring it back to categories or to overarching goals or buckets or whatever you wanna call it, right? So, you know, do you have something in your tool belt that will help students share their learning? And I often call it an open-ended creation tool, something you could use for different projects, different subject areas, and maybe even different grade levels, if you’re a media specialist or digital learning coach. So something that’s very flexible that almost has a choose your own adventure or blank canvas feel. I’ll often recommend looking at a formative assessment tool, so something that’s going to help a teacher figure out what everyone understands, and it’s going to let them hear from everyone in real time. And that can look different in different learning environments and kind of bringing it back to that idea of tasks before apps, I’ll sometimes use the phrase, embrace your place. Like what’s your LMS, what have you been asked to use from a district or school level? And if you’re choosing other tools or adding other things into your tool belt, it, does it work with that other platform? Does it work within that space, really embracing that place that you’re in or being asked to be a part of, even if it wasn’t your first choice, I can definitely make your life easier.

– It probably also makes the students’ lives easier because hopefully they’re using those same tools in other contexts. I’m curious, you mentioned the idea of the categories. Have you found, you know, that before you present those, those kind of overarching and organizing categories that teachers end up with, you know, two and three tools that essentially do the same thing? I mean, is that a common kind of situation?

– Yeah. And you know, I do a lot of profession development and writing around education technology and especially when I’m speaking to a group and I might share a tool, I’ll say here’s three other tools that could get the job done. Right? I’m sharing this to you with you because I wanna demonstrate a concept. Not because I want you to know exactly what button to press, necessarily. You know, sometimes that’s part of it. We need to understand how things work. But when I show something or demo something and then I give people a chance to go out and try it, I’m really bringing it back to the strategy as opposed to using that particular tool. So even in a professional development setting, especially say I’m at a conference or people coming from lots of different districts. So they’ve got experience with lots of different things, you know, I’ll encourage them yes, you can use what I just did for this hands-on or interactive activity but if you have another tool in your back pocket and you want to apply these ideas within that thing that you’re using with students already, please, please go into that direction just to make the time that we have together more useful, cause you’re absolutely right. There are a handful of tools that can accomplish the same goals. And it often comes down to just a couple of little features that one person in one school might decide it’s a better fit for them or someone else in another spot might decide that this other tool has something that they really need.

– Well, maybe let’s kind of dive into one of these category areas and I’m gonna pick a different one than the two that you just provided. I’m curious, walk us through some of the questions we could be asking if we were exploring different apps, sorry, different, I guess, apps or the solution for that for the task area, the task area is differentiation. So how can apps help us with differentiation and what should we be thinking about when we’re looking for, you know, technology solutions to help differentiate?

– Yeah. So one of the big things that I’m looking at is for the ability to find different content within a space. So is that tool allow me to sort, to search for things, to potentially find one thing that I can then toggle between to make sure it fits the needs of different students, perhaps changing level or word count, or having an audio option as opposed to just a text option. So I’m often looking at the content itself, right? So those features, but then the other angle from a differentiation standpoint is, is it easy for me to distribute different types of content to different individual or different groups of students? And is it easy for students to then share their work back with me in the way that they created it, which might be different than the other pieces. So it comes back to some of that differentiation of content, of process, of product, right? That we’re familiar with when talking about differentiated instruction. So from the content themes, I wanna be able to search and sort for appropriate content for the group that could include the leveling component and interest piece. I wanna be able to then take that and distribute it to the just right students. And some tools allow you to do that right from within, build a collection, build a playlist and push it out to the students you check off on, right from within that platform. And others might be in tandem or working within LMS or learning management system. And once you find that great thing, then you can push it out to students through that extra, or I mentioned in a bad way, but just an additional step, right? That might really fall into using your typical workflow.

– I like how you added in the kind of like, don’t forget feature, if you will, of the differentiating, the types of output students will create and remembering that different students will create different types of output and maybe picking tools that that accommodate for those differences. That was a really a different angle on that area. Monica, we need to take a break. If you’re interested in learning more from Monica, head to classtechtips.com or grab a copy of one of her books, like the one that’s ever over her shoulder there “Et Tech Essentials” out this year. And if you’re interested in what we’re about to talk about or who else I’ve talked to head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation and many more. Monica, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you for having me.

For more interviews with education leaders about class tech and other insights, check out all of our PLtogether Lounge Talks

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