From improved efficiency to increased accessibility, web browser extensions and add-ons can be quite helpful to teachers and students. That said, we should be thoughtful about the add-ons we install and what we recommend for our students to install. Here’s what I look for when trying browser extensions and add-ons.
Date of Last Update
Modern browsers are updated on a fairly frequently. Sometimes those updates are minor and other times they’re significant. The extensions and add-ons that I use should also be updated regularly. Generally, if an extension or add-on hasn’t been updated in more than six months I get concerned and probably won’t install it or keep it installed. The date of last update is published for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge extensions on their respective landing pages.
Reviews and Responses
The reviews on an extension’s landing page can tell you a little bit about it. What I find more informative is whether or not the developer(s) respond to reviews. A developer that never responds or doesn’t address concerns in an update is a red flag for me.
At the most basic level you should read the permissions that an extension or add-on asks you for. However, if you read those permissions on their own without the context of why the permissions are requested it can be easy to freak out over how much permission is requested. For example tools like Read & Write for Chrome and Grackle Docs (both I like and I recommend) ask for permissions to access your Google Docs because they need them in order to perform their respective functions in Google Docs. Likewise, Screencastify asks for permission to “read, add, and modify files” in Google Drive so that you can save your videos in your Google Drive account.
I get concerned when an add-on or extension asks for permissions that aren’t related to its stated purpose. For example, a PDF annotation tool that asks for permission to access my Google Drive or OneDrive would be red flag if didn’t offer the option to back-up my PDF to one of those accounts.
I also look to see whether or not the extension or add-on anonymizes data that it collects. That’s not always easy to find, but generally speaking the companies that do that advertise it.
Finally, if the add-on or extension is one that you’re going to have students install take a good look at CIPPA compliance statements from the developer (if you’re outside of the U.S. there is probably similar legislation about use and protection of student data).
Do I Actually Need It?
There are thousands of extensions that we can install. I always ask myself if I’ll actually use the extension on a regular basis in a meaningful way. Sure, it might be nice to have a “fun fact of the day” pop-up when I sign into Chrome for the first time each day, but it won’t actually make my day or work better so I won’t install that extension.
If you do install an extension or add-on then find that you don’t like it or need it, uninstall it. There’s no point in having unused extensions or add-ons accessing your browser.