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Evaluating Virtual Manipulatives

A research-based framework for evaluating virtual manipulatives

In order to assess virtual manipulatives in a consistent and meaningful way I developed the framework below using research along with personal insights from the classroom. The articles “Evaluating Technology for Teaching Mathematics” by Shin, Smith, and Kim (2018) and “Tech-Knowledgy and Diverse Learners” by Suh (2010) provided the foundation, as they both explored considerations that should be taken into account when choosing to use technology in the classroom. Not all of the topics that were presented in these articles were incorporated, as some depend greatly on the way lessons are implemented, and this is beyond my intended purpose for these pages. These articles also focused on the use of technology in general, so the points that they provided were adapted to better suit the particular affordances of virtual manipulatives.

The Process
I started by first learning about the framework that Shin et al. (2018) developed for evaluating technological tools for the classroom. They centered their efforts around the need for pedagogical, mathematical, and cognitive fidelity, focusing on how different tools can present students with meaningful opportunities to develop understanding. In each of these areas the researchers considered the ways in which the tools could either support learning or distract from the content, as well as the misconceptions that they could potentially introduce.
Using additional considerations presented by Suh (2010), who focused on the benefits of technology for learners with diverse backgrounds, I then combined insights from both sets of researchers and began to define my own framework. Throughout this process I endeavored to maintain the spirit of the various considerations that the authors presented, while forming categories and guiding questions that would be more suitable for examining virtual manipulatives without knowing what their specific use will be.  

The Results
The completed framework at the top of this page incorporates all three fidelities presented by Shin et al. (2018), though not all of the guiding questions they presented are reflected due to the narrow focus here. The framework also contains elements of all five abilities of technological tools highlighted by Suh (2010), along with questions guided by insights from Suh’s planning guide, which examined different affordances that technological tools can provide to students with varying needs. My hope is this new framework will enable me to evaluate the different virtual manipulatives in a way that is meaningful for others, leaving more time to focus on planning lessons, rather than worrying about researching all of the available options.

Shin, D., Smith, R. C., & Kim, S. (2018). Evaluating technology for teaching mathematics. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 24(3), 156–163. 

Suh, J. M. (2010). Tech-knowledgy & diverse learners. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 15(8), 440–447.

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