May 22, 2023

The Art of Choosing the Right EdTech App: A Dive into the RAT Framework

The Art of Choosing the Right EdTech App: A Dive into the RAT Framework

What’s the point? ✏

The Educational Technology market is full. If there’s a problem, someone has tried to solve it with a new app. In fact, even as you’re considering your novel problem, someone is likely trying to solve it with a new tool (especially if it’s you!). That means that when you want to solve a student engagement issue or are considering gamifying something in your class, you are facing a steep challenge in picking the tool that will best serve you and your students.

With the rise of ChatGPT, I might circumvent this entire article and tell you to ask one of the many AI bots out there at the moment. However, as we know with AI, context is key. If you asked ChatGPT to recommend the best app for your student engagement issue, how will it know how to pick? If you search for “the best student engagement” app, your preferred search provider or AI bot is going to respond based on SEO, ad-based marketing, and search frequency.

Here are three questions you can ask yourself while searching for an app to determine if its features meet your needs!

The RAT Race 🐁

We’re all working to prepare and teach efficiently. None of us have enough time to get “it” all done: decorate the classroom, design a new course, grade 250 papers, attend after-school activities, or even chair a program or department. So, when it comes to adopting a tool for your classroom, we know the tool must be excellent, and we must get it implemented quickly.

That’s why the RAT Framework stands out - it’s intentional and thorough, but it’s not a fifteen-step process. RAT stands for Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation, and it comes to us from Hughes, Thomas, and Scharber (2006). Their research emphasizes that solving a problem in the classroom intersects the instructional methods, student learning processes, and curriculum goals (p. 1617). While the article demonstrates how you can use RAT for reframing tools and methodologies, we’re going to keep our race focused on edtech apps.

For instance, when you want to address plagiarism issues in your course, the RAT framework would encourage you to process whether or not plagiarism should be addressed by you, your students, or your curriculum design. Sometimes, the issue needs to be addressed at all three layers of the teaching and learning process. Sometimes, you can address the issue by just changing something in your instructional process. Of course, the students are eventually engaged in your process so it implicitly impacts your students, but the initial change might need to start with you.

Let’s think through a few examples of how you can apply the RAT framework to some common classroom challenges.

How would you replace the current tool?

Here’s a typical classroom example: a sorting activity requiring learners to take note cards with the names of Presidents from the United States and arrange them in chronological order. If you want to do this activity digitally, there is a simple replacement that will help you: digital whiteboards. Any of the big-name tools (Google Jamboard, Miro, Mural, whiteboard in Zoom) will do the trick. Students create digital postcards and then sort them on a digital line. You could replace this physical activity with a digital one with few barriers and even for free.

How would you amplify the current tool?

Many of us have already made one of the primary amplifications needed for modern teaching and learning. Using a word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs amplifies our ability to generate learning materials for our learners. I had a professor, in the 21st century, who still hand-drew all of her mathematics worksheets and handouts (and used an overhead projector). However, besides that example, I think we can all relate to how mobile phones are beginning to amplify our ability to generate and capture materials for learning purposes. Taking photos of notes, for instance, is a great amplification of the previous method of hand-copying or even photo-copying materials. Now, they’re digital from the start as you share from person to person.

How would you transform the current tool?

How do you teach learners how an engine works? There would likely be a lot of diagrams, instructional videos, and hopefully a few classroom experiments. What if they got the chance to actually build an engine in a virtual and manipulatable world? Virtual Reality is an easy target for “transforming” teaching and learning, but even tools like Minecraft and the Unreal Engine provide learners spaces where they can create and generate in new ways without having to put on a VR headset. One of the real-life experiences we’ve seen was during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Previously, a professor took her learners out to a river to explore the natural habitats. In 2020, she got on a kayak and filmed a trip down the river. Then, she went home, uploaded her film to a ThingLink subscription, and created an interactive tour that learners could click through as they watched her trip down the river. Talk about awesome!

Getting Started 🏁

You’re nearly ready. If you keep those three questions in mind, about how you would replace, amplify, or transform an existing learning experience, the only piece you need is tools to decide between. It’s okay if you’ve already got one tool in mind, but reflect on what that tool will do for you: will it replace, amplify, or transform your practices?

Keep it up, always ask questions, and good luck with your race!

For more thoughts like these, check out Episode 6 of the HiTech Podcast where Josh and I talk about RAT and other experiences in picking an app.

Works Cited:

Hughes, J. E., Thomas, R., & Scharber, C. (2006). Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation - Framework. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2006, 1616–1620.

Guest Author: William Illingworth, co-host HiTech Podcast