That said, the endless stream of new tools and resources do present new opportunities, efficiencies and teaching/learning affordances. With this in mind, each year I try to focus on a collection of new tools to test out and try to understand how they might or might not fit into my work and teaching. Sometimes new tools really fit for me. Other times they don’t. Of the five tools I mention in the blog post above, only two have really stuck with me.
What I look for in a technology tool
When I’m considering whether to try out a new tool, I try to determine if it helps to solve a problem or make something I do easier. For example, a colleague recently got me to try out Zotero to manage my research references. I had tried a number of these before, but always found them to be more trouble than they were worth. With Zotero, though, it is so easy to pull the reference in from either a library database (e.g., JSTOR) or even a Web resource. I haven’t used the bibliography creator much yet, but just storing and sharing resources is a tremendous advantage over how I have done it in the past.
When I’m considering a new tool for my teaching, I think it’s important to make sure it’s a good fit for what I’m teaching and how I want to teach it. For example, while Poll Everywhere is a great tool, it doesn’t lend itself really seamlessly for the smaller, discussion-oriented classes I typically teach. I’m sure there are ways I could integrate it, but I never want to force a new tool into my repertoire.
Finally, I think the design, interface and feel of a tool is really important. I’m a bit of a snob with how things look and work. I’ve been known to delete apps from my phone based solely on the look of the logo. I think this is important, because you have to enjoy using a tool to get the most out of it and integrate it in your daily routine. This is a particular strength of the five tools I suggest trying below.
Five tools worth taking for a test drive
Full disclosure – some of these tools I have used more than others. That said, the ones I’m less familiar with come highly recommended from colleagues I trust.
- OneNote – After having tried several other note-taking tools, I keep coming back to OneNote. It is a very flexible, powerful, and easy-to-use tool. It’s particularly good on the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, there are apps for Mac, Windows, IOS, Android, Windows, and probably anything else you can think of. Your notes are stored in the cloud and thus automatically backed up and accessible across all your devices. If you need a powerful, flexible note-taking tool, I highly recommend it.
- Canvas – On our campus, BlackBoard is the learning management system for academic courses. For years though, I’ve wanted to experiment with Canvas, an alternate LMS option. Last year, a colleague and I designed a short course using Canvas and we had a great experience. So this year, I’ve designed one course in it completely to offer a hybrid learning experience for my students. What’s great is that you can create a free account and use it right away. So, if you’re designing an online or hybrid course, I’d encourage you to check out Canvas.
- Zoom – Zoom is a free and powerful web conferencing tool. With Zoom, you can schedule a virtual room, share the link, and then interact with one or more students or colleagues using a powerful web conferencing platform. You can use it like a webinar, or in a more interactive way with audio or video. While I haven’t used this yet, I plan to use it for a couple of different experiences in my course this fall. Based on the recommendation of colleagues and my experience in setting up the rooms, I think it will be a great choice.
- Zaption – Zaption is a tool that allows you to create an interactive learning experience from a YouTube video. After you create an account and paste the URL of the video from YouTube, you can add annotations, provide prompts for students to stop and consider, or create quiz questions time-stamped to different parts of the video. This is another tool that I haven’t yet used substantively, but I’m really looking forward to trying it out with a couple videos for my course this fall.
- Eas.ly – Eas.ly is a Web tool that enables you to design infographics to create a visual representation of data. There are a number of these tools available, some for free and some paid, but Eas.ly looks very user-friendly and slick. I’ve begun creating an infographic on findings from research on educational technology in classrooms, and found it very intuitive and user-friendly. In fact, I’ve enjoyed it so much that I plan to require my students to create their own infographics for a class project.
What technology tool are you interested in trying out this year?
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