Tools I Use


In this section, I will share some of the tools that I use to create engaging content for the online classroom. I'll preface this with an acknowledgment that, just as students have some very real limits when it comes to technology use, so do instructors. What follows may look and feel overwhelming. Several of these tools are used to created one element visible to the students (i.e., audio and video tools are used to create podcasts for iTunesU). My goal in their use: increasing interactivity and content richness for the student without overwhelming them. That sometimes is a very fine line. These tools work for me. They may or may not be useful for you. Similarly, while I have many other tools I'd love to incorporate, I also know the pretty clear boundaries of what my particular mix of students will accept. "Technology" should never be a barrier to learning.

Audacity - a simple, free, user-friendly audio recording and editing tool.

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I use this to create podcasts - on a range of topics - that I share with my students. An example of an audio podcast created in Audacity:



Screenr - A free screencasting tool that I use to create quick (5 minutes or less) videos on the fly. I most frequently use this to create brief tutorials addressing common technical problems that students are encountering. I use another tool (more in a moment) for longer videos. An example of a tutorial created with Screenr:

SnapzPro - A downloadable (fee-based) screencasting program that allows me to record whatever I'm showing on the screen. Most of my friends use Camtasia, which offers Mac and Windows versions. Also fee-based. Finished product resembles the Screenr example above. Either tool will record anything appearing on your desktop.

iTunesU - For the last several years, my UW classes have had space on the university's site within iTunes. Original feedback was highly positive (with an occasional challenge for one or two students). Not only did students (especially adults) like being able to hear my voice and experience content that wasn't text-based, they also appreciated being able to download and listen/watch at their leisure. Lately, I've found more resistance to having to take that extra step. I'm still debating what to do about that. Many of your home institutions have iTunesU accounts; check with your IT folks to see about setting up space for your class(es).

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Social bookmarking - An essential part of my personal learning toolbox, social bookmarks are used in at least three ways in my classes. First, they offer quick access to all of the web-based course readings. Second, I will occasionally include a discussion question asking students to explore a subset of my bookmarks, related to the unit topic, and bring back an example that they find interesting/valuable. They also need to explain why they think it is worthy of sharing with the group. It engages students, encourages them to explore and share, and creates a different kind of learning experience that they usually seem to enjoy. Third, when a student wants more information about a topic that is beyond the scope of the unit (a common challenge in a survey class), I can share resources to support their interests. I have two bookmarking accounts (Second created when Yahoo threatened to shut down delicious a few years ago). Bookmarking to Diigo automatically saves to delicious. Diigo is more full-featured, including tools that allow for highlighting and annotation. It also has a groups function that I have not yet tried in class.

Group blog - New in fall 2012, this tool is intended to further deepen the group's collective reflection and learning. Currently, students volunteer to write closing reflections for each unit (extra credit attached). As I continue to revise my course structures, I anticipate placing more emphasis on this assignment. I used Blogger (easy connection to students' other Google tools) to create a private site accessible only to the current class.
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Wikispaces - Online collaborative tool used for group projects. Not without challenges. My online handout, created for the 2012 Wyoming Technology Boot Camp, shares the good, bad and (occasionally very, very) ugly of wiki-based group projects.

Pinterest - I've tippy-toed into Pinterest for the classroom with one board, "Nonprofits at a Glance." My goal: offer a perpetually updated resource for basic information about the sector, primarily for my UW courses. I found myself opening each course with a unit introducing the sector - necessary, since students frequently take only one, but ultimately duplication for those who enroll in both. Rather than completely duplicate that content, I offer this interactive overview and begin each class on related but not identical grounds.