When I started tutoring the online version of the Certificate for Teaching Languages with Technology for The Consultants-E in 2010, it was fairly simple in terms of tool choice. For each digital task there were two or three mainstream tools to choose from and they were PC-based.
Wiki/ Wikispaces, Pbwiki, WetPaint
Blog/ Blogger, WordPress, Edublogs
Podcast/ Podomatic, Posterous
Asynchronous audio forum/ Voxopop
But now we are at several tipping points and the choice has become much harder and much less obvious.
- From PC to tablet or Chromebook
- From local to cloud
- From few to many
- From specific to multi-purpose
- From complex to simple
PC to tablet
The iPad classroom is gaining traction mainly due to school and district-wide adoption. The main attraction of tablets in general and iPads in particular is that you get a simplified interface with additional capabilities related to touch and location. The simplification is also a weakness as it means that for technical tasks you still need your PC. So this two track approach doubles the number of tools you need to be familiar with. A compromise seems to be the Chromebook which is cheap, includes a keyboard and performs well technically. But both the Chromebook and tablet option require a constant and reliable Internet connection which is far from ubiquitous even within Europe where I am based but also globally since the CertICT attracts participants from all corners of the world.
Local to cloud
Working in the cloud is becoming very attractive mainly due to low cost and the convenience of being able to access your work from anywhere. Google Apps for Education is a prime example with a zero cost as against paying for Microsoft Office on every computer in the school. But there are privacy issues, especially relating to minors and it does mean that you have to be online almost constantly (see above).
Few to many
In the age of the rockstar start-up there are new apps and tools popping up every day. Especially in the area of virtual learning environments (VLE) I have noticed an explosion of tools vying for my attention. There are still market leaders in every field but they are having to improve continuously in order to maintain their dominance. And people are re-purposing existing tools in ways which were never imagined by their developers. A prime example of that is the touting of Facebook as a VLE. Conversely there have also been many casualties along the way with the demise of Posterous and certain beloved tools turning into legacy software such as Voxopop.
Specific to multi-purpose
Many digital tools are converging. So, whereas before the distinction between a blog, a wiki and a website was pretty clear-cut, the distinction is not so sharp any more. WordPress for example was built as a blog but is now used to function as a website with built-in blog function. It even has wiki qualities with the possibility to have several authors and to revert to previous versions. And website creators such as Google Sites and Weebly include a blog with no difficulty. Multi-function tools used to be pretty variable. For example the Moodle wiki has always caused problems and never been as good as a tailor-made wiki tool. We are now seeing convergence across the whole spectrum of tools so that it is difficult to define them. In theory this should cut down on the number of tools to be mastered.
I used the word mastery in the last paragraph but another marked trend has been the simplification of the tools so that there is a low cognitive cost to trying them out. Although I had a brief former life as a programmer and systems analyst I have only ever have had a rudimentary skill in building online spaces. A bit of basic html and the ability to embed goes a long way. But even that is becoming redundant as tools present you with big buttons to click, behind which all manner of clever stuff is going on. The upside of this simplification is that the focus can be where it should always have been, and that is on the pedagogy. And the flipside is that you get tempted to try out dozens more tools before making a decision simply because you can.
So the task of the CertICT tutor has become a more difficult one as the choice of recommended tools becomes much less obvious.