How many Web 2.0 websites are out there that cater to the needs of educators? 50? 500? 5000? And how many are being created every year? I very much doubt that anyone knows the answers to these questions, and in a world where web and mobile apps are popping up all over the place, only a fool would try and quantify.
Given this question, and my interest in spreading the gospel of educational technology to all teachers and educators, I tried to research the answer. In fact, I did more than that, and actually started creating a database of educational technology tools.
Before I did this, I obviously tried to find out if someone had already created one, as I didn't want to waste my time, but my search proved negative. So I got myself a few software tools, and attached it to a mySQL database, and started searching and adding and searching and adding. The idea was to get it large enough for other people to find it useful, and then ask other people to add, and I got to about 100 tools, when @edshelf started following me on twitter. Low and behold, this was what I had been searching for the whole time. Edshelf, "a socially-curated discovery engine of websites, mobile apps, desktop programs and electronic products for teaching and learning", was that database, and it had been in existance far longer than mine!
OK, I must admit, I didn't search as hard as I should have (embarassing for a PhD student), but I should have pulled up something! Mike had told me that there were 2 others (Graphite and Edsurge) that were similar and a bunch of other smaller competitors, But why was it so hard for me to find something that was clearly and obviously needed? Or was it that I was the only one that thought it was needed? Let me pause here and explain my reasons for why this is so important, now more than ever.
Lets look at the benefit:
Having a central place where you can search for any and every classroom tech tool out there would be awesome. And even if not every tool was on there, even if it featured only a fraction of the tech tools, it would still give the general teacher a brilliant choice of tools to use for their classroom. It is choice that's the key here. It's not just about knowing whether something exists that can make your teaching and the students' learning much more effective, which is important in itself. It's about knowing which tool is perfect for your circumstance, your environment and more importantly, your students. Let's take VLEs for example. You have Moodle, Schoology, Edmodo, Google Classroom, eFront, OLAT, Sakai, ILIAS, ATutor, Fedena, Openelms, Claroline and Dokeos. I'm guessing many of you would have heard of the first 4. But the others, I hadn't even heard of before doing my research for this article. And this list does not include the commercial ones either. So which one would be the best for your learning environment? How would you know if you didn't even know what existed? And these are just the VLEs. You also have language tools, quiz creators, touch typing aids, programming websites, geography web apps and the list goes on.
The problem is, and it's the usual problem which has occured more in this data explosion age of ours, information overload. There is just too much out there, making it difficult to sift through, and know what's actually worth looking at. We can't tell our VLEs from our CMSs.
The idea of a database will allow the regular teacher to at least narrow down the options to what they want be looking for. To narrow it down to free french language tutorial websites, or adaptable and easily controllable blogging environments for primary pupils.
Now ultimately, this is a database for teachers to see what to use to make their teaching more effective, and more efficient. It can be a nightmare trauling through the millions and sometimes billions of google search links, to find what you are looking for, as most of them are irrelevent. And for the teacher who is not tech savvy anyway, forget it! This database would not just be for those that already use tools and want to find better ones. The database would be for those who would not know where to look. Even though there are a lot of educators using or moving towards the use of technology in their classrooms, there are infinitely more teachers that are not. It seems like a majority of teachers using technology in the classroom are teachers of technology, computer science, ICT, design technology. Whereas the French, history or geography teachers are using it less.
Maybe it's my environment, but I have never been to a school where more than a small handful of teachers have actively and meaningfully used technology in their classrooms, where those teachers have not been the ICT, or computer science teachers. And by technology, I don't mean just an interactive whiteboard, and a PowerPoint presentation.
I'm not new to teaching either. I qualified as a teacher 10 years ago , and before then had taught in the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors in Japan, Israel and Ghana, and since then had taught and trained teachers in the UK and the US. Apart from my stint in university course administration and management, where there was a bit more use of educational technology (but only marginally more), very few of the vast array of amazing resources where ever used. I wonder, was it because, no one knew what was out there?
After contacting the creator of EdShelf, Mike Lee, he told me that his database had about 5000 resources, of the possibly 50,000 that are out there. This is more than a lot of the other databases, so you get great choice. And his database is growing all the time. Just like the idea I had, teachers and educators could add to the database and leave reviews on what was worthy, helping the community of users sift through all the junk, which would probably be a large proportion of that 50,000 in existance.
In Mike's own words
"In terms of trends, one interesting one that I like to share is: while I see more searches for iOS apps, the number of searches for Chromebook apps is growing faster than iOS. If it keeps up, it will overtake iOS apps. Also, Math and English Language Arts are the two most sought-after subjects on edshelf."
Check out his blog post for more interesting stats, and the actual EdShelf site too.
So Mike saved me a whole lot of time, and there is something for you to use also, unless you use this or something else already.
What are your experiences with edtech tools, and did you know about this or any other databases already?