February 2, 2015
We use apps and programs to organize our schedules, locate new restaurants, complete banking transactions, and keep in touch with loved ones. So, why shouldn’t we use them to make our teaching more effective? Luckily, developers also know what a crucial market education is and they are developing tools with educators in mind. Here’s a top-five list of free tools that can help you enhance content delivery and engage students in the learning process. All of the tools are free, and some offer education-specific accounts with features designed for the classroom.
genius.com: For reading-focused classes, Genius offers a platform for students to cooperatively annotate and discuss content. Using an educator account, you can upload readings or course assignments and dictate whether your pages are public or private. Then, students can add annotations that comment or ask questions on specific parts of the material you posted.
Why you should use it: We talk a lot about critical reading skills in higher education, but reading is often a solitary act. There are several ways to measure what students gained from the reading after the fact, but very few to track their experience while reading. Genius allows your students to provide you a clearer picture of their reading experience, and allows them to collaborate in the process by reading and responding to one another’s annotations. They can comment on annotations, and vote up annotations they find useful. Also, if you post assignment prompts on Genius, students can ask questions publicly within the prompt. You can respond to a comment and provide clarification for anyone viewing the document.
pbworks.com: Wikis are collaborative web spaces where students and instructors can create content and curate resources. Pbworks is a user-friendly wiki tool that allows you to create a private or public wiki space, give students varying degrees of editing privileges, and host a wide variety of material (including text, sound, videos, and files for downloading).
Why you should use it: Wikis allow you to make students stakeholders in the learning experience. Unlike discussion boards, which present student commentary as discrete threads, a wiki encourages students to see their class contributions collectively. You can use the wiki to house discussion questions and background information on class readings, or revise the classic research paper as a wiki page where students synthesize their reading and understanding. Because PBworks uses a very straightforward interface, it’s also a good tool for students to practice design skills and writing for the web.
piktochart.com: Infographics are visualizations that synthesize and simplify information. Piktochart offers a user-friendly platform with templates, icons, and a gallery of examples to help you create and present your infographics. It also integrates with Google Docs to help you migrate your data directly into its graphing feature.
Why you should use it: For instructors, infographics can be a great tool for simplifying the key components to a lesson or explain the multiple parts of an assignment. For students, infographics can be useful way to outline projects or papers or a user-friendly tool for creating poster presentations and presenting research. Asking students to map out their plan visually helps them to see and understand the different moving parts in their work.
thinglink.com: Thinglink works similarly to Genius, but allows you to annotate images. Instead of highlighting a word, you can create a small pinpoint on the image and when users scroll over the icon a textbox appears with the annotation. The education account allows you to create separate “channels,” or groups, for different classes or topics. Students can upload their own images to your channels, or annotate images that you provide.
Why you should use it: Thinglink gives you the freedom to work with images, including charts, specs, maps, blueprints, or photographs. By creating your own Thinglink image, instructors can walk students through the recognizable features of certain class of images. The tool also provides students a great scaffolding strategy for larger papers or projects requiring an argument about an image. Students can gather their evidence by making annotations, and then build an argument based on their findings.
jing.com: Jing is a free tool that allows you to record your computer screen and audio input. This allows you to create short, no-edit videos. After recording, the video is uploaded to screencast.com and you receive a link to share with viewers.
Why you should use it: For smaller classes, these short videos can be used instead of hand-written responses to student work (there’s a recent article in the Chronicle about a new study recommending these kinds of videos). In hybrid or online classes, these videos are a great way to help students feel connected to the classroom and the material. You can develop weekly “updates” or use them to go over assignment prompts. In larger classes, these short videos can be used to come up with troubleshooting tutorials. If a lot of students don’t understand a specific concept, or display a certain shortcoming in their work, recording a few topic specific videos allows you to provide support for several students at once.
If you have questions about these tools, or would like help brainstorming ways to use them in your classroom feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).