The Cool Tools Problem and What to Do about it

Evaluating Online Tools and Resources Colleagues,

You may be following the Integrating Technology CoP  ESL Pro discussion this week on Integrating Technology in ESL Instruction. It's been a great introduction to ESL Pro, professional development for ESL/ESOL teachers, focusing this week on integrating technology. I want to call your attention to a post today by guest presenter and ESL Pro author, Kathy Harris, who wrote in response to an article by Candace Roberts in a recent Hechinger Report: "The four ways we can train teachers to use technology that hasn't been invented yet."

Note: in the cross-posted message below I have underlined the "cool tools" problem description.


Hi Deborah,

Thank you for sharing the article "The four ways we can train teachers to use technology that hasn't been invented yet."  After reading your post I read the article and really enjoyed it.  I especially appreciate the focus on instruction, as opposed to the technology itself.  I think that Roberts does a nice job in the article.  Although she doesn't address it specifically, I think that she points to one of the problems that comes up when talking about technology and teaching. I call it the "cool tools" problem.  It is really easy to focus on a cool new tool and then find ways to use it.  But I don't think that approach helps teachers or students.  Instead, we need to focus on our objectives in the classroom and our students' needs, which Roberts does in her article.  Then we can ask ourselves, what tools make this work better.  In unit 2 of the module I tried to organize resources around an instructional focus to address just this problem.

Since I get excited when I learn about a new cool tool, and immediately think about all of the ways that I can use it, I too am part of the cool tools problem.  It is hard to avoid!

For all:  Just for fun, what "cool tool" are you interested in at the moment? I'm having fun exploring Canva for making infographics :-)


The relevance to this group, as I see it, is for everyone to make sure that the tools and resources you plan to test out with your students and to evaluate are not just cool but can help your students to meet your instructional, and their learning, objectives. There are a couple things you can do now:

1. Check out the Diigo list of tools (If you are having trouble accessing that, Ed can help) to see if there already are tools listed that you think can help your students meet your instructional objectives and/or

2. Tell us what your instructional objectives are, and we may be able to suggest some tools or resources and add them to the Diigo list.

Anyone have other ideas about how to address the "cool tools" problem?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Integrating Technology CoP



David, thank you for highlighting the post and specifically for the underlined quote. I run into teachers all the time that ask me for some "cool" tool they can use in their class and I respond with, "Well, what do you want students to be able to do?". The teachers often look at me with a bewildered look and meekly share, "I was hoping you would be able to help me pick a tool and choose what the kids do with it." At that point I start all over with the teacher and start to focus on learning more about their class, how it is run, what goals he/she has and eventually, I can start getting to prompts that help the teacher choose, "I want students to be able to do ...." I get excited at that point because I can then pull open the proverbial digital tool drawer and start introducing options that can fit that need. Getting some teachers comfortable with this change of focus takes time and many touches filled with positive support. It can be frustrating for both the teacher and the person trying to support the teacher. 

If you find yourself frustrated with picking a focus or developing a goal that might include technology in some way, I would offer this thought. As teachers, we have all had moments where we prepared an educational experience well only to find the actual class experience flopped. These failures are great materials to start with in some ways. You know it could not have got much worse than the previous attempt for instance Image removed.. When you think about why the lesson did not work, think about what the students were saying or doing. Were there other activities that may have helped? Were instructions not adequate in design or delivery? Was the experience way too difficult to track or manage for you or for the student? If your reflection brings ideas to mind like this, share those thoughts with peers to get suggestions and other perspectives. From those discussions, I often get so many ideas that I never would have considered. Armed with some ideas, then it is time to go tool shopping and invest some time into exploration. 

Feel free to share flops and your reflections if you wish here in our discussions. We can often learn so much from each other when we reach out.