What are your top tools for learning? The Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies collects responses to this question from learning professionals every year. The result is a list of “Top 100 Tools for Learning,” which runs the gamut from Adobe to Zite.
Last month, I posed a modified version of the question during an Inside Online Learning chat (#IOLchat): “What are your top eLearning tools for teaching?” We came up with 24 relevant and diverse suggestions based on our own experiences and use in online education. I’ve categorized them here as tools for communication, collaboration, proctoring, productivity, and content presentation, but many could be listed under multiple categories.
While most of these tools offer free or no-fee account options, some advanced features are only available through a paid subscription. Others on the list are only available through a paid account, but offer free limited trials. Almost all require users to register for an account with a username and password before getting started.
- Google Hangouts: Use this tool to host live meetings with video, screen sharing, and text comment capabilities. Hangouts hold up to 10 people and mobile access is an option. Consider this resource for virtual office hours, small group meetings, and guest speakers. Students can set up their own Hangouts to work on group projects.
- Skype: Skype is an option for video conference calls. It offers screen sharing capabilities and mobile options are coming soon. It is another good tool for one-on-one appointments or small group sessions. Skype recommends a maximum of 5 participants for the best quality connections.
- Collaborate: If you are interested in web conferencing features, two-way audio and video, whiteboards, screen sharing, text chat, and breakout rooms, are a few of the options available. Collaborate is often available through a school-sponsored subscription, and can be integrated with a learning management system. Collaborate handles very large groups (50 and more) and is popular for online conferences and symposiums.
- Oovoo: Oovoo provides free video chat and instant messaging for up to 12 people. The list of features includes screen and file sharing, as well as video voice mail. You can also record a session and upload it to YouTube for students who were unable to attend the live meeting. Instructors can use this tool for exam review sessions, for example, and students can set up small study groups.
- Adobe Connect: Similar to Collaborate, this web conferencing tool can handle large groups and provides a long list of features, including video, screen sharing, text chat, and session recording. Pay-per-use plans are available for individuals if your school doesn’t provide access through an institutional subscription.
- Remind: This text messaging tool provides a helpful way to send out bulk reminders about assignment due dates and other events. It can also be used as an alternative to the learning management system for broadcasting class announcements or last minute changes. Your messages will only be received by those who subscribe to follow your account.
- Email: Despite reports of the end of this kind of communication, it’s still going strong, especially in online courses. From Gmail integration with your school’s email system to in-course messaging systems provided by your learning management system, email makes it easy for students and instructors to connect.
- Telephone: Sometimes a five-minute phone conversation saves hours of email exchange and confusion. Some of the live video tools mentioned above can serve this purpose, but for those students who are more comfortable with the phone this can be a welcome option for virtual office hours or one-on-one appointments.
- Basecamp: Developing a new online class? Working with a committee? This management tool connects those collaborating on projects at a distance. Multiple platforms and devices are supported, and a long list of sophisticated features includes file storage, progress tracking, and to-do lists. There is a free option for teachers who want to use this tool with their students.
- Trello: This management application allows you to coordinate workflow using a visual interface. It features a central “board” with drag and drop components, such as checklists, calendars, and messages. Choose only the tools that work for you and your group. Integration with Google Drive, Dropbox, and other applications is also possible.
- Coggle: Coggle is for collaborative mind mapping. Chat participant @mac_ker1 uses it to help students organize their approach to writing assignments. An intuitive, visually appealing interface, and Google account sign-in, make it easy to get started with your class or colleagues.
- ProctorU: This service uses a student’s computer webcam and microphone to proctor online exams. Partner institutions provide exam details and ProctorU manages the appointment system and monitoring. After logging in the test taker connects to a live proctor via video who verifies the student’s identity and then walks through the technology requirements and exam instructions.
- VProctor: This software application allows for online test proctoring that includes video, audio, and computer screen monitoring. Data is collected while students are taking their exams. This data is then analyzed and a report is provided to the instructor for review, highlighting incidents that might be suspicious.
- ProctorCam: This system provides a “toolkit” of options ranging from live monitoring and interaction to recording and review. These tools are designed for integration within institutional websites.
- Turnitin: Turnitin is widely used to detect plagiarism in student work. Papers are uploaded to the system and compared to existing texts. An “originality report” is generated for instructor review. Additional tools are also available to assist with grading and peer reviews.
This topic was so popular during the chat it was revisited in another live session. Take a look at “How do you verify student identity?” via Storify for more information about student authentication in online learning environments.
- MS Office: Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are tried and true tools in online education. Students use these applications to submit class assignments and we use them to present course content. New mobile access options allow us to create and edit files from our tablets and smartphones.
- Templates: It’s almost always helpful to have a starting point or draft to work from, instead of starting with a blank page. Templates give us a jump start in many ways and can be found in software programs (e.g., PowerPoint’s design templates), as well as in online collections (e.g., Rubistar rubric templates). You can also create and save your own templates for activities or documents you use every semester.
- SpeedGrader: This is a specific tool within the Canvas Learning Management System. The name implies you’ll grade faster, and it’s possible because of the interface this system provides. View student submissions (e.g., Word document), their notes, and details about when the items were uploaded all on one screen, along with space for you to add feedback or record your comments, and enter a grade.
- Evernote: From taking notes and organizing your own research, to sharing resources and collaborating on projects, Evernote has developed a solid following among educators. Use this tool to augment your course site and coordinate with colleagues, or to just synch your notes across devices. You can also explore uses for students.
- Webinars: Often a one-time, single-topic session, these live online events take place in a wide range of contexts. Look for professional development webinars offered by your school or professional organization. And think about how a webinar-style presentation might be used to interact with students at the course or program level. Use one of the video communication tools listed previously (e.g., Skype, Hangouts, Collaborate) to bring in a guest speaker.
- Prezi: An alternative to PowerPoint, this web-based application allows you to create animated presentations with embedded links and multimedia. Students can also use Prezi to create course assignments, present group projects, and develop ePortfolios. Educators and students can request free private accounts.
- Tackk: Need to create a webpage? Tackk is a user-friendly option for instructors and students alike. Consider the possibilities for individual, class, and department pages. Chat participant @jshamsy shared her use of Tackk to create module wrap-up pages in her online course.
- eduClipper: Described by TechCrunch.com as “Pinterest for Education,” eduClipper allows users to create online collections of links with a visually appealing display. Clipboards are organized by topics the user determines, and can be easily shared. Students and teachers can create their own accounts.
- YouTube: This video sharing tool has been a helpful resource for years, and often a first stop for finding out “how to” do something, like create a spreadsheet. Educators can set up their own account “channels” to post lectures, lessons, a video introduction, and more for their online courses.
Thanks to all of our #IOLChat participants for sharing their experiences with these tools! This is a short list of resources available to support online teaching and learning. You can find additional suggestions in lists created by the EdTech Digest Awards and Edudemic.
Not every resource will be right for every situation, or for all online students and teachers. Before committing to any new tool:
- Check with your school. The institution may be able to provide access through an existing subscription or school license.
- Look for free accounts for educators. Free trial options (ranging from a week to sometimes 30 or 60 days) for fee-based systems are also typical. Read the fine print before providing any payment information up front.
- Take a test drive. Ask a few colleagues or students to help you walk through the features in a low-risk practice session.
The Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies project is in its 8th year, and promises to continue the tradition of providing an up-to-date list of the latest and most-loved resources for learning. The deadline to contribute to the 2014 list is September 19th. Consider sharing your favorites with a global audience, and find out what your colleagues in higher education and other learning industries are using.