Critically Evaluating Digital Tools


First, to acknowledge credit: Jesse Stommel created this activity many years ago, and it is remixed here with his permission.

This project is best completed in small groups. Work with other people and take a “divide and conquer” approach. An easy way to do this involves partnering with folks interested in the same set of tools. Each person selects one tool from the set, researches it, and reports findings back to the group. The group then collaboratively creates an overall assessment of the set of tools. This evaluation may take the form of a ranking system, or it may simply be a review of the collection.

This activity is designed to encourage a deep dive into the kinds of analysis we could (should?) do with any tool before using it in our classes. Immediately below, I list suggested tools/topics to investigate. Below that list, you’ll find the questions to consider when performing your investigation.

As with everything this week, do only what makes sense for you, given your available energy level and the value you expect to get from the activity. While we present a list of questions below, we do so in the spirit of a menu of options, rather than a full set to be completed in its entirety.


  1. Annotation Tools
  2. Publication Platforms
    1. Medium
    2. WordPress (.com)
    3. Ghost
  3. Learning Management Systems
    1. Instructure’s Canvas
    2. Blackboard
    3. D2L’s Brightspace
    4. Moodle
  4. Hosting Providers
    1. Reclaim Hosting
    2. GoDaddy
    3. Squarespace
  5. Productivity Suites
    1. Google Workspace (Docs, Drive, etc.)
    2. Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, etc.)
    3. Apple iWork (Pages, Keynote, etc.)
    4. OpenOffice
    5. CryptPad/CryptDrive
    6. Zoho Workplace
  6. Search Engines
    1. Google
    2. DuckDuckGo
    3. Yahoo!
  7. Web Browsers
    1. Mozilla Firefox
    2. Tor Browser
    3. Google Chrome
    4. Apple Safari
    5. Microsoft Edge
  8. Messaging Platforms
    1. Facebook/Meta WhatsApp
    2. Facebook/Meta Messenger
    3. Apple iMessage
    4. Signal
  9. Payment Processing Platforms
    1. PayPal
    2. Venmo
    3. Zelle
    4. Cash App

Questions to Consider


  1. What functions does the tool reportedly perform? 
What does it actually do?
  2. What personal data is required to use the tool (login, email address, birthdate, etc.), where is it housed, and who owns it? How anonymous can someone be while using it?
  3. How accessible is the tool? For a blind person? For a hearing-impaired user? For a person with a learning disability? For introverts? For extroverts? Etc. What statements does the company make about accessibility?
  4. What are the costs involved in the use of this tool? Who pays those costs? Do they recur, scale with the institution size, etc? What costs are saved or incurred beyond the price tag — for instance, does the use of this tool replace a person’s job?


  1. What company owns the tool, and what are its politics (perceived or stated)? Who is the company’s CEO, and how are they perceived?
  2. How can this tool be used to demonstrate care of, and compassion for, other people?
  3. 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?


  1. How does the tool constrain or reinforce our pedagogies?
  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. 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?