How do you analyse and select an educational technology

The ICTs for Learning Design course I’m taking has at least four weeks structured around looking at 4 different groups of technologies where each group is made up of multiple examples. For example, the first group is “Online spaces” and includes blogs, wikis and “websites” (e.g. Weebly). We are meant to explore and experiment with these technologies and then select one to analyse. The analysis is intended to

contextualise theoretical knowledge into individual teaching areas/subjects.

The examples of analyses given include SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and PMI (plus, minus, interesting) analysis.

A tweet-sourced insight on analysis

Last Friday, I was thinking about this assignment and it got me thinking. Given the huge number of online tools and services out there, how could I “rationally” analyse and select a tool that’s right for my class. I tweeted the following!/djplaner/status/53698939962146816

I got a couple of responses from this

@marksmithers identified perhaps the most common analysis technique, I’ll call it “Keeping up with the Joneses”

@s_palm identified this area as a hole

And @sthcrft identified what I think most people use, and what I use in most cases

I know this approach sounds like a bit of a joke, especially to the uber-“rationals” in IT departments, but it strikes me as the one we all use. We use our understandings of the technology and the task to evaluate how well there is a fit. The problem is that our understandings are universally accepted, the perspective of others will differ. So we have to have some sort of “rational” written down analysis to show we’re being logical and objective.

You can’t analyse just the technology

It also highlights how you just can’t analyse the technology. You need to know/specify the task. A wiki might be ok for one task and Google docs might be better for another.

The problem with this analysis

For my situation, I’m analysing how well a technology is going to work in a high-school context, either IT or mathematics. One of the big problems I have is that I have no first-hand experience of that context. I don’t really know the task, beyond assumptions and prejudices. Hence, any analysis, regardless of the rigour will be flawed. Any analysis I do know is going to be significantly different from one I’ll perform in 6 months time.

And here’s one I prepared earlier

As it happens, I actually did prepare one earlier (Jones, Jamieson and Clark, 2003). It made such an impression, I only remembered it this morning.

Here’s the abstract

Due to the constantly evolving nature of Web-based Education (WBE) it is often difficult for educators to understand the issues, challenges, impact, and effort required to introduce WBE innovations. This lack of knowledge can contribute to the limited adoption and less than successful implementation of WBE innovations. This paper draws on an aspect of innovation diffusion theory to propose a model through which educators can evaluate potential WBE innovations. It is proposed that this model can aid educators increase their awareness of potential implementation issues, estimate the likelihood of reinvention, and predict the amount and type of effort required to achieve successful implementation of specific WBE innovations. The worth of the model is demonstrated by drawing on past experience.

The model is essentially a re-structure of some of the insights from Roger’s diffusion theory. A slightly rejigged version is shown below. The basic idea is that if you evaluate the technology, the context and the problem within the ideas of diffusion theory you can get some idea of the types of problems you will get (e.g. an authority based decision in a social system which values freedom will lead to fairly rapid adoption with high levels of reinvention), some idea of how hard you have to work and what types of work to get adoption, and some suggestion of how fast adoption might be.

Rejigged "choice" framework

It was meant to be used in more of a sense-making role than plug in correct answers. It has some problems, not the least of which is some limitations or problems with Rogers’ work as seen by some. For example, people do not form one-off pictures of technologies, they evolve over time.

That said, I found it a particular useful way of weighing up different technologies within a university context. A school setting will be a little different.

Will I use it? Might be overkill.


Jones, D., Jamieson, K., & Clark, D. (2003). A model for evaluating potential Web-based education innovations. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 154-161). Hawaii: IEEE. Retrieved from

Making and using an OPML feed of student blogs

The ICTs for Learning Design course requires each student to create a blog. The blog is then a key part of the assessment, it’s actually how we’re meant to submit assignments. The public nature of the blogs has caused some concern, but we are now being encouraged to read and comment on our peer’s blogs.

With the number of students approaching 100, this is not simple. Especially given that the main method of sharing blogs is via a Moodle wiki page. Most other students have used Blogger’s/Blogspot’s “follow” button (Blogger is the recommended platform), but I use WordPress and like RSS/newsreaders. So the following documents the setting up of an OPML file with all the students’ blogs and a brief bit about using it.

The plan is to let the other students in the course know about this and see if any make use of it. Given time constraints, the apparently novelty of RSS/newsreaders, and the fact that we’re about to start our placements, I imagine uptake might be limited.

What is this RSS/OPML thing and why?

The folk at Commoncraft have a good video that gives the idea of RSS. The Youtube version is embedded below

OPML is a way of gathering a large collection of feeds into one place. It’s just a text file with a special format.

But when you import an OPML file into a news reader, you get a single place to observe and track what is going on. The following image shows the OPML file generated here imported into my news reader (a Mac application called NetNewsWire). Click on the image to see it larger. The smudged areas represent where I’ve applied a bit of privacy to the blog URLs for other students.


I find this a useful way to keep track of who is posting what. I’m guessing that most of the other students in the course will probably use Google reader as their news reader.

So, now to generate the OPML file.

Generate the OPML file

I could have generated the OPML file by hand, but that would have been painful. A quick Google and I found OPML Builder. You give it a list of URLs for RSS feeds and it generates the OPML file for you.

So, the process was

  • Copy and paste the student blog URLs from the Moodle Wiki.
  • Remove all the extra content.
  • Modify the blog URLs so they point to RSS/Atom feeds.
  • Feed it into OPML Builder.

One of the blog URLs was password protected, so I’ve removed it from the final feed. I’ll share a copy of the file on the course Moodle site.

Of course, if the course had been designed so that students used BIM to register their blogs, the academic staff could have just shared the OPML file that BIM generates.

Use the OPML file

To use the OPML file you have to import it into your news reader. This means your newsreader will examine the OPML file, extract all the URLs for blog feeds, retrieve them and analyse them to see what’s been posted. The results of that analysis shows up the news reader interface.

There are some instructions for importing an OPML file into Google reader. If I follow those instructions I get an image like the following.

Google reader and EDED20491 feeds

Further possibilities

Feeds provide a standardised way of sharing information. Using them simply to keep track of people posting to a bunch of different blogs is only a start to what can be done.

For example, Google reader allows people to share items they think are interesting in someway. The shared items are available, to some, as an RSS feed. One application of this would be for all the EDED20491 students to share all the posts (by other students) that they find interesting or good. A collection of all the students “shared” feeds could then be gathered. One way to see what is interesting.

The Google sharing also allows the adding of comments and tags, so explanations about why it is interesting or good etc could be added.

And that’s only scratching the surface.