Today, we'll tinker with tools and also tinker with raising our eyebrow at tools.

For the last 6 years or so, I have led a workshop called a "Tool Parade." The goal of a tool parade is to introduce a large number of tools in a very short period of time. The goal is to get our feet wet -- to consider what’s possible, and perhaps to come away with just a few tools we might want to explore more deeply. The sheer number of tools I cover in these workshops shows how arbitrary the selection of a tool can sometimes be. For the purposes of today's activities, I've revised the notes I use for these workshops to create an organized takeaway. My document can be found at Feel free to use (or share) this document however you find useful.

I've highlighted some of the tools I'm most likely to point to in face-to-face versions of the tool parade. I will also say that I try to privilege open-source and free software in this list (or software with a robust free version), but there are some exceptions. I've recently checked to be sure that all the links work, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of these tools have disappeared in the time between my revising this list and your using it. This is one of the reasons I remain tool agnostic and usually, not always, ask students to do work for my classes without dictating what tools they might use.

As you get lost in the sea of links, and all the things these tools can do, it’s important also to consider what digital tools can’t do, or can’t do well, which is a lot of stuff. Ultimately, how we do or don’t engage digital tools is a pedagogical choice, not a technological one. That’s why the list doesn’t start with tools at all, but with a short selection of readings that explores digital pedagogy more broadly and considers the whens, whys, and whethers of teaching with technology.

For one of our discussions we'll be talking specifically about two of those readings and two types of tools that are not on the Tool Parade list, plagiarism-detection and proctoring software. From the tone of these readings, you'll recognize almost immediately that Sean and I are not fans of these tools – and, in fact, see plagiarism-detection and proctoring software as counterproductive and sometimes even insidious. But we also recognize that many are mandated to use these tools.


Activity: Evaluating Digital Tools

Choose a tool, and work on your own or in a group (by just starting a new thread in the "Evaluating Digital Tools" topic in Discourse). Sometimes, when we do this activity, we ask folks to choose two similar tools, like Canvas and Blackboard, or Slack and Microsoft Teams, but approach this activity in whatever way feels useful to you. Start by just playing around with the tool(s) and thinking about how you might find it (or them) useful, joyful, etc. Then, consider the questions below.

Machinery with questions overlayed (questions duplicated below)
  1. What assumptions does the tool make about its users? What kind of relationships does it set up between teachers / students? School / the world? Humans / technology?
  2. What assumptions does the tool make about learning and education? Does the tool attempt to dictate how our learning and teaching happen? How is this reflected in specific design and/or marketing choices?
  3. What data must we provide in order to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthdate, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous? Who owns the data? Will others be able to use/copy/own our work there?
  4. In an educational context, how could the tool be used in a way that puts the learning into student’s hands? Does the tool leave students agency or choice in how they use it? Does the tool offer a way that (in the words of bell hooks) "learning can most deeply and intimately begin”?

And one especially important set of questions to consider: How accessible is the tool? For a blind student? For a hearing-impaired student? For a student with a learning disability? For introverts? For extroverts? Etc. What statements does the company make about accessibility?

In other versions of this activity, we sometimes ask: Who owns the tool? What is the name of the company, the CEO? What are their politics? What does the tool say it does? What does it actually do?

Use any or all of these questions as you consider the tool(s) you've chosen.


1) Join one or both of the new threads for today:

  • Evaluating digital tools. Share some of the results of your investigation into one or more tools from the Tool Parade list.
  • Remote proctoring and plagiarism detection. Respond to the piece about Turnitin by me and Sean or the piece by Shea Swauger about proctoring software. How are your institutions choosing to use or not use these tools? What concerns do they raise for you? When we're required to use tools like these, how can we work to subvert them, using unethical tools in ethical ways? Is that even possible? And, if you aren't convinced these tools are insidious, tell us how and when you find them useful?

2) Join Sean and Jesse for an informal live chat in Zoom today at 12:0opm EDT (UTC -4). Register for this and all our chats this week here.

~ Read next post in Critical Digital Pedagogy ~

Friday: Social Justice and the Curriculum

Posted by Jesse Stommel

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