My Initial Thoughts on Blackboard’s Ultra New Learning Experience LMS

Blackboard Ultra
Over the next several days at BbWorld 2015, Blackboard is announcing and featuring through various venues its overhauled learning management system platform, referred to as Blackboard “Ultra”. While I don’t blog as often as I’d like, I felt this an important opportunity to share my initial thoughts on Ultra, also referred to as the Blackboard “New Learning Experience.”

As a Blackboard MVP and someone who’s both designed and taught award-winning online courses as well as supported Blackboard at my institution for almost 15 years, I feel I have a very well-informed position to offer my perspective. I was privileged to have been invited to participate in the Blackboard Learn Ultra and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Tech Preview programs over the past few months and not only gained firsthand experience of Ultra by using it in a sandbox environment but also had opportunity to provide weekly feedback to developers throughout the latest development stages. It is from this informed position both of the current faculty and student use of the current “Learn” system as well as hands-on use of the new “Ultra” “New Learning Experience” (NLE) that I offer the following reflections.

Sleek, Mobile-First New User Interface

The Ultra user interface is a complete redesign and certainly offers a fresh, easy-to-use user experience. The Bb Learn user interface has seen little change over the past decade and Ultra updates the user experience to be on par with other current web and mobile applications that today’s users are accustomed to.

Simplified Workflows

It is becoming infinitely simpler for faculty to quickly add content to a course and setup discussions. In designing Ultra, Bb focused on some of the most common tasks that lightweight faculty users just getting started using an LMS would seek to include (uploading content files, adding simple discussions, grading student work). For faculty who are using Bb primarily for a digital filing cabinet for their course materials and having basic discussion communications with students, they should find the tools they need and the associated workflows simpler than before.

Loss of Course Structure Choice

The more advanced faculty users who are accustomed to having more control of their course design and tailoring the student experience for their course will be frustrated in loosing control. The New Learning Experience embraces a newsfeed metaphor for displaying content and communications and doesn’t permit any deviation from how information is presented. Course structure is restricted to a Course Content Outline view where folders for each week/module/unit can be created with sub-folders for content and activities. Online courses that utilize a course home page, include in-line HTML content, or use any sort of customized course navigation options will need to be completely redesigned and will not function as currently designed in a migration from Learn 9.1 to Ultra. This loss of choice feels in many ways likeBlackboard taking a page from Apple’s playbook in restricting choice in an attempt to provide what it deems is the best experience for the user.

A Work in Progress, With a Long Way to Go

Many missing features at launch, including groups, blogs/wikis/journals, rubrics, tests/surveys/pools, to name a few. While there may be a few institutions who are already in the SaaS hosting environment and/or using just basic functionality in Learn with no customizations and may be eager to move to Ultra, I suspect that the majority of Blackboard customers will need to wait until many of the currently missing features in Ultra are developed. The good news is with Blackboard’s new continuous delivery cycle new features can potentially be rolled-out much quicker. It still remains to be see at what pace Blackboard will be able to include new features in the new model moving forward.

Requires SaaS Cloud Hosting

This perhaps is the least publicized, yet most significant consideration and requirement for institutions moving forward…to migrate to Blackboard’s Software as a Service (Saas) cloud hosting infrastructure. Many institutions, like mine, have opted to stay with a self-hosted deployment strategy in order to save costs and leverage our own internal IT expertise and retain more control on the timing and release of new features in order to be able to offer the needed faculty training and support. As a result of this approach, my institution has achieved an impressive 92% of faculty and 96% of students using Blackboard. We’ve opted to not be on the “bleeding edge” of Blackboard and are always at least 1 release behind purposely to avoid many of the system bugs that early adopters experience. Our Blackboard system is stable, reliable, and mission-critical. Transitioning to a new deployment model is not something our institution will take lightly and will most certainly result in increased costs.

Learn 9.1 Remains, But for How Long?

Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt was very clear during his keynote presentation at BbWorld 2015 to state the Blackboard Learn 9.1 will continue on and be supported into the future. While I want to believe Jay and take him at his word, the undeniable fact is that Blackboard development can only be spread so thin and at some point, resources will likely be devoted to advancing Ultra at the detriment of Learn 9.1. I hope this isn’t the case, but I am a realist.

Many Unanswered Questions

I have many, MANY unanswered questions at this point with more surfacing the more I ponder the prospect of moving to Ultra, a few of which include:

  • What features will be added to Ultra in the future and in what timeframe?
  • What about tools such as Portfolios, Content System eReserves, Outcomes Assessment, etc.? For institutions just rolling these tools out now, what is their shelf-life and will they ever be included in Ultra?
  • What current Learn 9.1 features and tools likely will never make it into Ultra?
  • What is involved (cost, development time, institutional re-integration) in a migration from self-hosted to SaaS cloud hosting?
  • How will the many, MANY feature-rich, fully online courses that faculty have designed over the years translate into the Ultra environment?
  • How would a faculty setting out today to design and build a course following Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Program Rubric do so within the constraints of Ultra?
  • What about faculty and institutions that have adopted the Quality Matters rubric for online course quality? How would QM-certified courses be built out in Ultra?

Cautiously Optimistic

It’s hard for me at this point to be overly excited about Ultra, given that it will clearly be several years before my institution is even ready to seriously consider a move to Ultra. Little has been shared up to this point (hopefully we’ll hear more at BbWorld in the coming days) on what a move to the SaaS cloud hosting environment will take for self-hosted clients and what the cost increases would be required of institutions to make this transition.

As a client who’s institution is committed to Blackboard for the next 3 years but will likely be engaging in an LMS review in the coming year, I have a number of concerns at this point that stem from the many unanswered questions above that I hope over time and with more information will dissipate. It is my hope that Blackboard will make a major effort to begin reaching out to all self-hosted clients to communicate what the SaaS migration options and associated costs will be so that self-hosted clients can begin to chart a path moving forward.

I encourage you to check-out the Bb Ultra New Learning Experience for yourself by registering for free Blackboard Learn Ultra trial at

What are your thoughts on the Ultra New Learning Experience thus far?

Six Trends for the Future of Faculty Development

Charting a Course for the Future

Having spent the past decade in the support of higher education faculty, I have had an opportunity to observe the evolution of the faculty development ecosystem. Increasingly, institutions are recognizing the value of providing centralized and systematic faculty development support services, programs and workshops. Providing this level of support for faculty seems to be at an all-time high with studies and reports from practitioners in the field confirming the need for such efforts and administrators giving priority on those initiatives.

As we look to the future of higher education faculty development, several trends will persist. Image: MourgeFile

As we look to the future of higher education faculty development, several trends will persist. Image: MourgeFile

In addition to the faculty development programs at their home institutions, there are also more opportunities to participate in a wide range of workshops, webinars, and open courses through other organizations and institutions. The rapid growth of virtual attendance options for faculty, combined with the sheer volume of information and resources available online have resulted in a large selection of programs from which to chose. Faculty are also developing professional learning networks and leveraging social media where they can share their own tips, recommendations and best practices.

As new technologies and pedagogical approaches are continually perfected, there are no shortages of opportunities for experimentation and innovation in today’s college classrooms, both physical and virtual. It is easier than ever for faculty to select a new technology tool or instructional methodology and incorporate it into their teaching repertoire. Adaptations of “traditional” teaching methods in physical and virtual classrooms are just a few of the many forces converging to bring about a significant transformation of higher education in both the short and long term.

Despite all that has changed in the field, many constants remain. Faculty requiring assistance still seek out personalized support and appreciate having someone they can call or email for a prompt response. Many needs are localized to specific technology or academic system configurations making support provided by the institution critical. As we adopt new systems and processes for meeting evolving student requirements, faculty training on new features and workflows are necessary for envisioned outcomes to become fully realized. Institutions must also continue to serve faculty at varying stages in their academic career, from junior to mid-career to senior faculty status. Furthermore, tracking completion of professional development programs and expressed support continues to provide important data points that can inform both administrators and support staff on the progress made and challenges still to be met.

As I look to the future of higher education faculty development, I see several trends that I believe will persist in the coming years:

1. More ‘Just-In-Time’ Training and Resources

As technology for easily creating and sharing information and learning artifacts becomes even more commonplace, the number of training aids and resources will continue to grow. Faculty are becoming quite comfortable searching online for quick answers to technical and/or pedagogical questions as they arise and likely will not wait for a formalized training session. Educators are seeking training materials and resources made available in bite-sized pieces; easy to find and readily at hand.

2. Curation of Available Professional Development Resources

As the vast number of resources expand, so will the necessity for curating and help options that highlight the most applicable and relevant needs for a given scenario. While we are beginning to see the use of bookmarking and other social sharing tools with surface resources that a mass of users have viewed, liked, etc., there is room for continued tool improvement and systems to augment manual curation approaches. I envision an Amazon-style recommendation paradigm to become commonplace; where after accessing a resource, faculty are advised on other helpful alternatives. In the meantime, collections of links, tutorials, and other resources curated by faculty development staff will continue to be sought.

3. Flexible Participation Options for Live Programs and Workshops

With workloads continuing to increase for a growing number of part-time and adjunct faculty in face-to-face and online programs, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a large number of faculty to attend live programs and workshops. Flexible participation options for live programs and workshops will go on to flourish and may cover a wide range of possibilities: such as live/online simulcast workshops and archiving programs for on demand access.

4. Recognition of Prior Learning

Given the availability of resources and a move toward credentialing prior learning experiences, faculty will continue to seek credentialing and reporting of their professional development activities for career advancement. This emphasis toward recognition will likely involve badges and other digital certification, but will certainly rely on institutions embracing faculty development initiatives completed while at other institutions, or through alternate organizations like the Sloan Consortium. It will be up to institutions to decide how they will accept and recognize certifications and trainings procured through other establishments while simultaneously ensuring that faculty possess skills deemed necessary.

5. Data-Driven Decision-Making

As it becomes easier to gather a wide range of data on faculty development outcomes, ever-increasing opportunities exist for this information to be used in guiding future offerings. As data is purposefully collected and analyzed, resulting trends can provide valuable insight into the utility of offerings and inform future decisions on prioritization of finite efforts and resources.

6. Renewed Focus on Mission and Offering Programming and Services to Meet Stated

Higher education is facing a time of unprecedented change and those leading faculty development initiatives will be well-served to sharpen their focus on their mission and offer programs and services to meet designated objectives. Initiatives that once met stated needs or requirements may need to be revamped, renewed, or perhaps in some cases discarded so that available resources can be best utilized.

Looking Ahead

What trends would you add to this list? What will shape the future of faculty development? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

Orignally posted 2/4/2014 on Sloan Consortium blog

Trends in Online Learning – April 2014

I was recently invited to participate as a panelist in a Blackboard webinar discussing results of study of 200 senior education leaders from universities across the U.S. exploring trends in learning management systems and online learning and engagement strategies. The webinar archive is available here via Blackboard Collaborate as well as YouTube.

In addition to commenting on the findings from the study, I was asked to try forecasting the future of online learning at my institution, in which I briefly touched on a few trends related to online teaching and learning at NIU (discussed below) that I see continuing.

Growth in online learning plateau

It’s unrealistic to expect the exponential growth that we’ve seen over the past decade nationally in students taking online courses to continue indefinitely. Rather, I believe we are going to begin seeing a plateau and stabilization in the growth of online learning in the coming years as online modes of learning become commonplace and are no longer perceived as “new” but are rather just part of the fabric of higher education.

New niche programs to meet student demand, targeted at students in region

I anticipate that we’ll see our institution develop new niche programs to meet student demand as well as market demand, targeted at students in our region. With the majority of our current online students currently within the Northern Illinois region and trends toward students preferring to enroll in online programs from institutions within a 100 radius, I envision that new programs that we develop will be tailored to students in our Midwest area.

Online programs to attract new students, increase revenue, and improve retention

Online programs will be one means for attracting new students, increasing revenue, and improving retention. Given the heavy competition in the online learning space, institutions will be well-served to identify their competitive advantages and clearly communicate these advantages to prospective and current students. I see some fantastic opportunities for institutions to leverage emerging learning analytics and outcomes data combined with new models of student support services online to see retention rates among online programs be equal to or even superior to traditional face-to-face retention rates.

Coherent online strategy and financial model is critical for buy-in from institutional leaders

In conversations that I’ve had with chief online learning officers and leaders at institutions that have vibrant online programs, it’s clear to me that a coherent institutional online strategy and financial model is critical for gaining buy-in from institutional leaders. Our institution is currently in the midst of a significant internal budgeting overhaul as we look to maximize our available resources to make academically responsive and fiscally responsible budgeting decisions.

Investment in central support infrastructure needed to scale current offerings

As we look to scale our current offerings, investment in centralized support infrastructure is needed. Our institution has taken a very decentralized approach to this point and left majority of development and support of online programs to individual colleges and departments. While this has provided a great deal of autonomy, duplication of efforts and inconsistency often results when each separate college or department tries to build their own infrastructure. For many aspects of online program development and support, we can be more efficient institutionally and offer a better online learning experience to our students by centralizing many aspects of the online program infrastructure to maximize expertise and resources. What specific support is centralized varies by institution.

Focus on student career success

With our current institutional keystone goal of student career success, we are aligning all our resources and efforts in focusing on this goal of ensuring that students leave NIU prepared to make and impact and be successful in their career. I forsee online learning as being one avenue by which we are able to make available to students high quality, engaging, and flexible learning opportunities that fit their busy lives. Especially for adult learners who have families, jobs, etc. and are seeking to improve their career or perhaps change careers, I see online programs as being a key component of our full complement of program offerings.

Articulation agreements with other institutions

We are continuing to focus on developing articulation agreements with other institutions that bring added value to the NIU education. An example of such an agreement is a recent reverse transfer pact that NIU signed with a local community college that was hailed by Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon as, “a student-centered reform that should be implemented at campuses across the state.” Basically, this agreement allows eligible NIU students who transferred from nearby Kishwaukee Community College without associate’s degrees to earn the two-year degree using credit from NIU courses. If for any reason a student then must stop-out for a period of time while finishing their undergraduate degree, they will have an associates degree credential. Students want a hassle-free transfer process and to receive credit for the work they do. Agreements like this and others will make it even easier for students to incorporate educational opportunities from multiple institutions.

Mix of online and blended/hybrid programs

I see a mix of fully-online as well as blended/hybrid programs to be offered in the future at NIU, where the benefits of a synchronous, face-to-face experience can be coupled with the flexibility of online delivery. An example is a new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Health Sciences recently approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education that is scheduled to launch in 2015. This program will be a hybrid program, consisting of fully-online courses with several on-campus face-to-face intensives each year. This blended/hybrid approach provides many benefits for faculty as well as students.

Accelerated courses (8-week terms)

I also envision growth in the number of accelerated online courses (those of different lengths then the traditional 16-week semester). From market research that we’ve done, many fully-online programs geared toward adult learners have taken an accelerated course model with students taking fewer courses at a time of shorter duration. For example, instead of a part-time student of taking 2 courses each lasting 16 weeks, students take 2 8-week courses back-to-back, focusing solely one 1 course at a time. There are some obvious benefits as well as challenges when moving to an accelerated course model, but studies are beginning to be published reporting student learning outcomes in accelerated courses as comparable, and in some cases superior, to the semester-long course.

Faculty continue to develop own content for individual courses, instructional designers to assist with online course development in programs

We will continue to see the lines blurring between online courses and those web-enhanced and blended courses where faculty are utilizing online technologies in the delivery of their courses. In many cases faculty at NIU will continue to development their own content for individual online courses, but I see instructional designers skilled in advanced technical and development skills as assisting with online course development for online courses that are part of a cohesive online program.

Ongoing faculty training and support is essential for success

Finally, ongoing faculty training and support will continue to be essential for successful online program offerings. No matter whether faculty are developing the content and building courses themselves or if instructional designers are building courses, faculty still need to be trained not only on pedagogical best practices for teaching online, but also need to keep current in their technology skills. LMS features change rapidly as do the software and technical processes that institutions employ in their online offerings. We need to be equipping faculty for continued success.

What trends do you see in online learning at your institution? Your comments are welcome!

Hierarchy of Instructional Design

I drafted the following comparison of instructional design theory versus instructional design models and developed the accompanying hierarchy of instructional design back in 2006 as part of one of my comprehensive examination responses for my Ph.D. I’m sharing here it on my blog at this time for my students and others who may find the commentary and diagram comparing ID theory versus ID models helpful.

Brief Overview of Instructional Design Theory

Analysis of a complex concept such as instructional design theory begins with defining key terms used. Instruction can refer to “any activity that is intended to foster learning” (Goodyear, 1997, p. 86), whereas design focuses on improving the quality of subsequent creations (Smith & Ragan, 2005) while considering the many factors that may affect or be affected by the implementation.

A theory is simply “an organized set of statements that allow us to explain, predict, or control events” (Smith & Ragan, 2005, p. 23). Another, more expansive definition of a theory is “an organized set of propositions that are syntactically and semantically integrated” (Snelbecker, 1999, p. 33). Instructional design theory is drawn from an assortment of abstract communication, systems, and learning theories (Richey, 1986) which form a basis for practical models for instructional design and development.

Many scholars have attempted at providing succinct definitions of instructional design theory (Merrill, Drake, Lacy, & Pratt, 1996; Reigeluth, 1999; Richey, 1986). Reigeluth (1999) defines instructional design theory broadly as, “A theory that offers explicit guidance on how to better help people learn and develop” (p. 5). In its most basic form, ID theory is simply a collection of assumptions that specific approaches to ID are built upon. ID theories describe instructional methods and situations for proper use and define how complex methods can be broken into component methods (Reigeluth, 1999).

Hierarchy of Instructional Design
Hierarchy of Instructional Design

ID theory is build upon the adoption of one or more procedural and conceptual models (Richey, 1986). The resulting theory enfolds the beliefs concerning general systems theory, communication theory, and learning theory. Conceptual models of instruction are built upon such theoretical foundations, upon which specific ID models are applied to real-life educational challenges. The figure above depicts this hierarchy of ID formation as described by Richey (1986) and Smith and Ragan (2005).

As Reigeluth (1999) notes, ID theory is not synonymous with learning theory, ID process, or curriculum theory. However, ID theory is inextricably connected to each. Learning theory is predominantly descriptive, serving to describe how learning takes place. ID process details the procedures that the instructional designer or educator ought to use when planning and preparing the instruction. Curriculum theory is based on a set of values and offers suggestions for methods of instruction. ID theory surpasses all of these individual viewpoints and aims to answer the questions of both “what” and “how” in a proposed educational experience.

Numerous working definitions of ID exist, many of which exude similar connotations. ID is defined as, “The development of learning experiences and environments which promote the acquisition of specific knowledge and skill by students” (Merrill et al., 1996). In a similar vein, Smith and Ragan (2005) define ID as, “The systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation” (p. 4). Richey’s definition (1986) is quite detailed, referring to ID as “The science of creating detailed specifications for the development, evaluation, and maintenance of situations which facilitate the learning of both large and small units of subject matter” (p. 9).

Recently, even the term “instructional design” is being examined and compared to an alternative of “learning design” (Gibson, 2006; Ip, 2006; Taylor, 2006). While some consider the terms to be synonymous, the latter more closely aligns with contemporary constructivist views of the roles of the instructor and learners. Throughout this paper the term “instructional design” (ID) will be used inclusively to refer to the processes of creating a blueprint for successful learning experiences, whether they be more self-paced and instructivist or student-centered and constructivist.

When considering ID theory, one must acknowledge the personnel who take theory and apply it to the design of learning: the instructional designers. The role of the instructional designer is crucial to student success (Liu et al., 2005). Yet, what is the role of the instructional designer? This is a question that has been raised in many professional and collegial venues, with the debate as divided today as ever before (Klein, 2006; Spector, 2006a, 2006b; Wissing, 2006). The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (IBSTPI) has taken on the monumental task of identifying and compiling the competencies for someone involved in the many diverse tasks of ID (“Instructional design competencies”, n.d.).

In reality, the role of instructional designer is multifaceted, requiring a unique and varied skill set. The instructional designer has been referred to as an engineer (Smith & Ragan, 2005), creative scientist (Richey, 1986), and project manager (Mager, 1997), making every effort to create a blueprint for the further development and implementation of the learning initiative. The instructional designer recognizes the difference between the design processes and products (Glaser, 1971), forming a structure that future development and implementation to be built upon.

Yet, even with the tasks of an instructional designer defined, because ID is such a complex practice, there are countless ways whereby a learning program can come to fruition. Hence the need for ID models!

Instructional Design Models versus Theory

Instructional design (ID), also referred to in the literature as “systematic instructional planning” (Kemp, 1985) is an umbrella phrase used to refer to many differing aspects of the design of educational experiences. ID is often used to refer in general terms instructional systems development (ISD). Numerous ISD models exist, all of which typically refer to the phases of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of instruction. Today much indeterminism and ambiguity exists with regards to the use of the terms ID and ISD. Yet, a clear distinction does exist between ID and ISD. Whereas ISD models include a “major emphasis on front-end analysis, implementation strategies including train-the-trainer, maintenance of the instruction, and external or summative evaluation” (Dick, 1997, p. 364), ID models generally focus upon the steps necessary to transform a goal statement to instruction that is ready for development and implementation. Models are valuable because they serve as a visual representation of the relationships among various components of the ISD process.

Instructional design endeavors to guarantee that a learning activity is developed according to specifications. It culminates in a framework outlining how instruction should be developed given the outputs of various design tasks (K. A. Conrad & TrainingLinks, 2000). A number of principles underlie this framework (Spector, 2001), which accounts for the varied and increasing approaches being used to design instruction today.

A host of ID models exist that aid in depicting the complex and interwoven tasks necessary in order to design quality learning experiences. The true value of an ID model is not in providing a concrete order whereby effective instructional development takes place, but rather in providing a “meaningful organizing framework within which development activities can be described, discussed, actualized, and assessed” (Spector & Muraida, 1997, p. 61). ID models generally tend to simply modify and elaborate upon a basic problem-solving model tailored to meet the needs of the educational endeavor (Smith & Ragan, 2005).


Conrad, K. A., & TrainingLinks. (2000). Instructional design for web-based training. Amherst, MA: HRD Press.

Dick, W. (1997). A model for the systematic design of instruction. In R. D. Tennyson, F. Schott, N. Steel & S. Dykstra (Eds.), Instructional design: International perspectives. Volume 1: Theory, research, and models. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Dick, W., & Carey, L. (1996). The systematic design of instruction (4th ed.). New York: Harper Collins.

Gibson, D. (2006, April 10). Instruction design verse learning design [Msg 11]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

Glaser, R. (1971). The design of instruction. In M. D. Merrill (Ed.), Instructional design: Readings (pp. 18-37). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Goodyear, P. (1997). Instructional design environments: Methods and tools for the design of complex instructional systems. In S. Dijkstra, N. Seel, F. Schott & R. D. Tennyson (Eds.), Instructional design: International perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 83-111). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Instructional design competencies. International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2006, from

Ip, A. (2006, April 10). Instruction design verse learning design [Msg 6]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

Kemp, J. E. (1985). The instructional design process. New York: Harper & Row.

Klein, J. D. (2006, April 20). You’re an instructional tech, yes [Msg 12]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

Liu, X., Bonk, C. J., Magjuka, R. J., Lee, S.-h., & Su, B. (2005). Exploring four dimensions of online instructor roles: A program level case study. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(4), 29-48.

Mager, R. F. (1997). Making instruction work (2nd ed.). Atlanta, GA: CEP Press.

Merrill, M. D., Drake, L., Lacy, M. J., & Pratt, J. (1996). Reclaiming instructional design. Educational Technology & Society, 36(5), 5-7.

Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). What is instructional-design theory and how is it changing? In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Richey, R. C. (1986). The theoretical and conceptual bases of instructional design. New York: Nichols.

Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (2005). Instructional design (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Snelbecker, G. E. (1999). Some thoughts about theories, perfection, and instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2, pp. 31-50). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Spector, J. M. (2006a, April 20). You’re an instructional tech, yes [Msg 3]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

Spector, J. M. (2006b, April 20). You’re an instructional tech, yes [Msg 15]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

Spector, J. M., & Muraida, D. J. (1997). Automating instructional design. In S. Dijkstra, N. Seel, F. Schott & R. D. Tennyson (Eds.), Instructional design: International perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 59-81). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Taylor, M. (2006, April 11). Instruction design verse learning design [Msg 16]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

Wissing, G. (2006, April 20). You’re an instructional tech, yes [Msg 11]. Message posted to ITFORUM, archived at

7 Steps for Choosing the Best Technology Tools for Your Teaching

In the decade now that I have spent supporting educators in the endeavors to teach using technology, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by faculty for advice on how to choose the best technology tools for their teaching. With the seemingly endless selection of technology tools available, how do educators choose the right technology tools to incorporate into their teaching? If you are in the situation of considering a new technology tool in your teaching, here are 7 steps to take as you choose which tool may be best for you:

Step 1: Start with your objectives

It’s important to always start any conversation about technology selection with objectives. What is it that you and/or your students should be able to do? There are some great models available, such as Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy and SAMR, that can offer guidance as your craft and/or revise objectives that will form the basis for any decisions regarding technology decisions. Are you seeking to substitute, augment, modify, or redefine an existing teaching or learning activity? Make sure that it is clear from reviewing your objectives what your intended goals are.

Step 2: Survey your “tech landscape”

Once you have your goals and objectives clearly in mind, the next step is to take an inventory of your current technology use as well as look at your environment for incorporating the new technology. What tools are you and/or your students already using? What are you comfortable with? What is working? Keep in mind the adaage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” and don’t discard an existing technology if it is the meeting your needs. What tools are already at your fingertips and/or perhaps provided/supported by your institution? What tools are frowned upon and/or blocked at your institution?

Step 3: Set your budget

How much are you and/or your students willing to spend on a tool? Do you need to stick with a free solution? Or, are you able to spend some money? Many tools take a “freemium” approach, meaning that they are available for use on a limited basis for free with additional features available for a fee.

Step 4: Sample available tools

Pick a few (5 or less) available options and try the tools yourself to see which you and/or your students like best, are easiest to use, and meet your needs. What are the pros & cons of each? What support is available? How does each integrate into the existing workflow and/or lesson?

Step 5: Select your tool

Eventually, you finally need to take the plunge and pick a tool to use. Don’t aren’t stuck using the tool forever 🙂 If you eventually change your mind down the road, you can always change the tool.

Step 6: Set parameters for use

Clarify for yourself and/or your students how the tool will and won’t be used. It’s at this point you may want to revisit your objectives to ensure that your plan for use meets your stated learning objectives. Are you using the right tool for the right problem?

Step 7: Scrutinize your choice

After you’ve thoroughly used the tool for a specified period of time (term, semester, etc.) reflect on your use of the tool? Did it meet your needs? What unexpected issues did you and/or your students encounter? Is it working well enough that you want to stick with it, or is it time to try something else? You’re not locked-in to continuing to use the tool if it isn’t meeting your needs.

There you have it…a seven-step approach to selecting a technology tool for your teaching. Leave a comment if you found these steps helpful or if you perhaps have additional suggestions to share with educators as they choose technology tools.