Knowing how to assess educational content is a foundational skill, especially because the technical aspects often change in our fast-paced world.
As an educational technology leader, I was often asked to evaluate educational content to help principals, teachers and other educators fill out district software request forms or decide on purchases. This involved talking to them about compliance, data privacy, interoperability, standards alignment, and, of course, costs.
While these factors are certainly important to making smart district-wide decisions around ed tech adoption, integration and use, I realized that they mostly hit on the logistics — the what and how aspects of educational content. By simply focusing on these factors, educators and administrators fail to address the basics: the purpose of a specific product, the expected outcomes from using it, and the educational experience they’re trying to create for their students.
Educators should be intentional about what content or product they introduce in their classrooms. Before they suggest or implement a new tool, they should ensure that it aligns with their instructional practices and consider how it might play out in a real classroom scenario with their actual students, staff, or lesson plans.
To better assist teachers and administrators going through this process, I came up with a strategy for evaluating educational content. Assessing Content in Education Systems, or ACES, is a great jumping-off point for discussing content and the role it plays in the curriculum. It helps educators look at content as if it were on a spectrum — not a diametrically opposed world of good and evil, but one that is flexible and focused on the student experience.
ACES is based on four key spectrums: active or anchored, creation or consumption, educational or entertainment, and social or solo. I’ve outlined them as questions below for educators to reflect on and use to drive conversations around a specific piece of content.
1. DOES THE CONTENT REQUIRE A STUDENT TO BE ACTIVE OR ANCHORED?
This question is all about the physical aspect of the experience you’re trying to build. As you’re planning your lesson and thinking about learning objectives, consider whether it would make the most sense to have a motion-packed or stationery activity. Which one would enhance the learning experience for your students? Which would best help them grasp the concepts you’re teaching?
2. DOES THE CONTENT PROMOTE CREATION OR CONSUMPTION?
Think about the different ways a tool might encourage students to create something from scratch or passively absorb knowledge. There are plenty of educational tools that are flexible enough for students to do both. For instance, Nearpod is a great online tool that enables teachers to present information to students in an engaging way. However, Nearpod can also be used to foster creativity; some educators have had students produce and present their own Nearpod lessons, allowing for a completely different learning experience.
It’s also important to remember that even though helping students become active creators is a crucial goal, especially with creativity being a 21st-century skill, consuming content is still necessary. Being a smart consumer of information is critical to developing a deep understanding of a specific subject and taking that understanding to the next level: innovation.
3. DOES THE CONTENT FOCUS ON EDUCATION OR ENTERTAINMENT?
This question will get you thinking about the primary purpose behind the content or product you’re evaluating. However, the answers aren’t always so clear. As educators continue to look for ways to motivate students and keep them engaged, the line between education and entertainment gets blurrier. Today, there’s content that’s clearly based around education with entertainment as an add-on and vice versa. Take educational apps that gamify learning, such as Kahoot, which can really bring learning to life. Again, there is no right or wrong when it comes to this spectrum; it all depends on what kind of experience you’re trying to create for your students.
4. DOES THE CONTENT REQUIRE SOCIAL INTERACTION OR IS IT COMPLETED SOLO?
Last but not least, ask yourself whether there’s an aspect of the content or product you’re evaluating that will require students to work by themselves or with others. Some classes or lessons may benefit more from one tactic than the other. It’s also important to think about learning objectives here; for example, if the goal is to get students to gain independence in problem-solving and practice self-reflection, basing an activity on a Zoom breakout room may not be the way to go. Introducing the use of a digital notebook may be the better option.
Knowing how to evaluate educational content is a foundational skill, especially because the technical side changes often in our fast-paced world. Before getting down into the nitty-gritty of data sharing or platform access, it’s crucial for educators to prioritize and reflect on the learning experience they want their students to have — from what kind of interactions they want their students to have to how they should feel when using that content or product in the classroom.