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Monday, December 8, 2014

ACE Test

In the previous entry, I mentioned my ACE Test in passing.  But since I hadn't yet explained the ACE Test in more detail on my blog, I thought I would take today's entry to do so.

As a Technology Integration Coach, I peruse a good amount of edtech tools.  The struggle, however, is to find tools that are pragmatic enough for actual "in the field" teachers.  To me, there are three main areas of consideration:

  • Is the tool device agnostic?  In other words, will it work on any device that has Internet access, regardless of the device's OS?  Or is it limited? (For example, an app only available on iPads.)
  • How much does it cost?  Free is obviously best for schools and/or individual teachers.
  • How easy is it to learn?  Time is precious for a classroom teacher, and a tool that requires a large investment of operational practice may be a concern.
Taking the first letter of a key word from each area -- Agnostic, Cost, Easy -- I came up with ACE.  By rating the tool on a scale of 1 to 4 in each area (4 being best), we can determine an overall pragmatic score.

I have used the word "pragmatic" twice so far in this entry, and the emphasis is important.  The ACE Test is only meant to judge how easy or burdensome it may be to incorporate that tool into a classroom.  It is NOT meant to assess how the tool meets specific learning objectives, which of course should be the primary consideration of any edtech tool; no standardized test could determine such a unique need.  (Only the teacher can judge if a tool would help meet the objective of her third lesson in Unit Two of her 7th grade math class.)  Also, if the teacher feels an edtech tool would have a unique and significant impact on learning, it may still be worth it despite a low ACE score.  I think of Shakespeare in Bits as an example. I loved integrating SIB when we read a Shakespeare text in my classroom; it allowed for personalized learning and self-directed pacing, tons of explanatory resources, and most students highly enjoyed it.   However, even though it met my learning objectives well, it would have scored low in the ACE test.  I needed to check out an iPad class cart for a few weeks to use SIB, and the app costs $14.99 per device. (It should be noted that SIB now has a Windows and Mac desktop solution, but the cost could still be considered prohibitive for some.)

Let's take Evernote as an ACE Test example.
  • Is it device agnostic?  Yes! You can access Evernote from any browser with an Internet connection, as well as iOS, Android, and even Windows mobile apps.  It definitely earns a 4.
  • How much does it cost?  Technically it's free, but if you are someone that plans to use it often, you will probably want a premium account that allows you 1 GB of uploads a month (versus 100 MB) and many other useful features, such as allowing Skitch to annotate PDFs.  Cost for premium is $45 annually, which would rate it a 3.
  • Is it easy to use?  Evernote's basic features -- making Notes or Notebooks, attaching files -- take little to no time to figure out, though you would benefit watching or reading a tutorial or two to understand other functions.  Let's rate it a 3.
Adding up the individual scores and dividing by 3 gets us a 3.33 overall score.  That puts Evernote as a 3 ACES: Strongly Recommended.  (If you scored the cost as "free" it would be even better, a "Highly Recommended" tool.)  This makes Evernote very pragmatic, but can it help your students meet their learning objectives?  If you have a lesson like this one, yes!  But again, the teacher should always view the objective first before determining what tools to integrate.

As an example on the other side of the scale, let's take a typical "clickers" system.
  • Is it device agnostic?  It is the very opposite.  Clickers can only do one thing, and they only work inside of its own branded system (in other words, Brand X clickers won't work with Brand Y's system).  (1)
  • How much does it cost?  Prices vary, but most run well over $120 for a class set. (1)
  • Is it easy to use?  I tried to use clickers once in my classroom -- just once.  Even with the LMS's help, it still took most of the period to just register the devices, and there were still clickers that didn't work.  It was overly complicated and a pain to set up. (1)
Not only do we have a 1 ACE "Not Recommended" overall score, but common sense tells you that with any set of Internet-capable devices, there are plenty of free and much more powerful alternatives to clickers, such as Poll Everywhere, Socrative, and Kahoot.

I hope the ACE Test gives you a way of objectively quantifying the utility of edtech tools.   Teaching can be hard enough -- don't burden teachers with tools that are difficult or expensive if you can avoid it or find a better alternative.

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