Teaching online can seem like wading through a super store of technological innovation when it comes to the amount of technological aids available. There are a bevy of tools that can brought to bear when enhancing and equipping student learning.  The challenge comes in deciding which of these tools to use when putting together a course plan.  It is very easy to be mesmerized by the shiny object with all the bells and whistles when browing through available tech tools. The instructor is immediately assailed with questions.  Which tool works best? Which tool will the students like?  Is it too new?  Is it too old?

Making ChoicesWhen picking technologies to use in an online course, keep these four things in mind:

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Know The Audience
  3. Logistical Considerations
  4. Instructor Comfort Level

Learning Objectives

Learning ObjectivesOnline instructors seem to have more options than ever when it comes to technology choices for their courses.  Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are inundated by technology products that claim to work with big ideas and catchy concepts like gamification of learning and the ability to disrupt the status quo.  The pressure of keeping up with the Dr. Joneses alone can make a teacher’s technology tool belt feel more like a burden than an aid.

It is during this maelstrom of keywords and catchphrases that it is important to ask if the chosen tool will assist in completing learning objectives.  Hold firm to the mantra that it’s the method, not the medium. If the tool assists in completing learning objectives, then it is the right tool for the job.

Know The Audience

Know the AudienceWalking into a situation already knowing how the audience will react is a tremendous benefit for anyone and even more so for an online instructor.  Knowing the student audience in an online course greatly influences the technology choices that are made.

Knowing the audience isn’t some innate psychic power that online instructors are born with.  Some of this knowledge comes from past teaching experience and some comes from working through activities as a course progresses.  One of the best ways to know the audience of an online course is to take a technology literacy survey early on in the course.  This helps to establish a basic comfort level for participants and helps the instructor know which tools fill a learning need without raising anxiety levels.

Logistical Considerations

Logistical ConsiderationsChoosing the right technology can be seriously impacted by logistical considerations.  These considerations can be student-centric like a lack of high-speed Internet or a total lack of technology all together at certain periods of time.  Military service members in particular may have stretches of time where they do not have access to high-def technology, so scheduling a web conference may not be a good idea.

There is another side of logistics that must also be thought about.  The support structure for online instructors is a huge logistical consideration when choosing technology.    If a technology in use by instructors and students stops working during the course of a term, who is responsible for fixing it?  If students need help getting the technology to work, is there a support number, web or e-mail address that they can use? Do the online instructor and students have access to a help desk?  Do the help desk hours coincide with times that the technology will be used? All of these logistical considerations need to be taken into account when picking technology to use in an online course.

Instructor Comfort Level

This last part was almost not included in that it should be an understood value when it comes to tech tool selection.  The online instructor needs to be comfortable with the technology tools they choose.  It does the online students no good if the instructor’s anxiety level is up.  Students take their behavioral queues from the teacher.  If the instructor seems like they have a firm grasp of the technology and can calmly relate appropriate usage, then the student will feel the same way.  Conversely, if the instructor is flustered and communicates stress when trying to use the tool, the students will reflect that stress and frustration right back.

Comfort with technology is gained by practice.  Before introducing a tool to students, the online instructor should work with the tool on and off line to ensure that it works and that he or she is familiar with all of the technological “bumps in the road” that may arise.   Where possible the instructor should use the tool in a current class where the students can passively view the results before trying it themselves.  For example, he or she can use a presentation software like Prezi for lecture materials BEFORE asking the students to create a presentation of their own.

Choosing Technology

These 4 items can be of assistance when deciding which technologies to use. Working through them will save time and frustration before the online course begins.

Remember, the technologies out there might seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if they don’t help meet learning objectives, if the audience isn’t taken into account, if logistical considerations aren’t thought about and if the instructor isn’t comfortable with the technologies then they are much like the bard wrote, “full of sound and fury and signifying nothing”.