Choosing the right tool
Factors for consideration
Privacy and security
At a fundamental level you may not want course content and student contributions to be publicly available. You may also require tighter restrictions to specific module participants or individuals, especially if personal data or sensitive information is being shared. In these cases, you will need to use a University system. If student work forms part of their assessment, it will be essential to be able to lock and preserve their contributions.
If using third-party tools, students may need a separate user account and could object to the data sharing terms and conditions for that platform or not wish to have a public-facing profile on that platform. For some students mixing informal, social spaces with formal, academic spaces may be uncomfortable. Indeed, as a lecturer you may find the blurring of these boundaries difficult to adjust to. As such you should not devise an approach that excludes students on this basis.
Some tools are easier to use than others and depending on the IT skills of your students, you may need to factor this into your activity design. Difficult tools often offer more complex learning opportunities, however clear guidance and support needs to be available in the use of these tools. Your chosen tool and online space should not raise artificial barriers to participation.
If you are using a tool for an activity that contributes to student grades, it needs to be robust and reliable. Be cautious using ‘beta’ labelled tools as these are often in development and may have functional or security flaws.
Some tools and services are not available on all computer devices or everywhere in the world. Mobile devices do not play Flash-based content and the interaction is through tapping via touch screen, therefore certain functionality may be limited. For distance learning students, accessing sites such as YouTube may be an issue due to local restrictions.
Any tool you choose to use will need to be accessible by your disabled students, in that it is perceivable, operable, understandable and robust to work with assistive technologies. Most tools will have a clear accessibility statement, but if you have any concerns you can contact the ELDT for advice.
If online activities contribute to the student work for a module, you will need to consider how this will be retained for auditing and appeals. This may mean making an offline copy at the end of the module.