By Mark Winegar on Wed, 10/31/2012
"The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor. " - Vince Lombardi
Let's assume you identified your objective and decided how you will measure your progress in meeting it. Now it's time to gather and assess candidate technologies to help you meet that objective.
What criteria should you use? Here's a short list to get you started.
Does the candidate product perform the function(s) you need to achieve your objective(s)? Expert opinions are useful in identifying candidates but take a test drive and decide for yourself. If the product fails to function as needed discard it otherwise continue onto the next question.
Is it user-friendly?
Technology today ought to be intuitively obvious. When necessary, software should guide you through complex procedures. Is there internal documentation? Is it easy to understand? Is the documentation context sensitive? Does it will take you directly to the information you need when you need it? You can assess user-friendliness during your test drive.
How accessible is it?
How do you want your students and/or employees to access this technology? For instance, Google Drive provides word processing on the cloud which is usually good but not if your policies prohibit Internet access or you have no Internet access. On the otherhand, your team may be "road warriors" armed with a vast array of mobile devices and starved for cloud computing. Decide where you are, or want to be, between these two points. Does your candidate meet your accessibility needs?
Computing environments are more diverse than ever. Today's applications need to be able to run at each point on a two-dimensional matrix of diverse operating systems and hardware platforms. This is what we call "portability" and a good way to get there is to use applications designed to be run on the web (AKA the cloud). Many developers like Blackboard write special user interfaces or "front-ends" for tablets and smartphones too. Portability is a critical factor if you are teaching in a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) environment.
Function, user-friendliness, accessibility, and portability are good measures of quality but sometimes unexpected issues arise and it's good to have an idea of how vendors deal with them. Do they provide free tech support? When is it available? You might skip these questions for free personal use apps but not when you plan to ask employees or students to use them.
If you are lucky you'll still have multiple candidates to choose from. You still need to select the best alternative but at least you have a choice! We'll discuss making a final selection in our next installment.