Because of my training in educational technologies and instructional design, I tend to look at technology options with somewhat of a critical eye. I'm mindful that to really take advantage of the affordances of any technology, you really have to understand how it works, including its potential benefits and drawbacks. Like of all of us, I'm too busy to use a tool for the tool's sake. It has to provide me with some tangible benefits for me to invest my time and energy into it.
Selecting tools to explore
When I consider which tools I want to dive into, I try to make sure they either solve some problem for me or provide a relative advantage over other digital or non-digital tools that I already use. I also try to identify tools that have some history of development and updating. It can be really frustrating to invest time and energy into a tool only to find that the company has stopped development or folded altogether. I know this limits my exploration of the most cutting edge tools, but I think the time and energy saved by focusing on more proven tools is worth the trade off.
I also try to make sure they fit into my professional and digital life. Tools that might support my teaching need to fit into the kinds of pedagogies I typically employ. Again, while I may miss some interesting opportunities this way, I'm a firm believer that the tools should not drive instruction. I'm also primarily an Apple guy, so I prefer either Web-based tools or those that have native Mac OS software client. Aesthetics are also important to me. I've got to like how a tool looks and operates to integrate into my day-to-day routines.
So, what technology tools will I explore in the new year?
Tools for exploration in 2016
Occasionally in my teaching and more often in my presenting, I rely on slides for presentations. I'm always cognizant, though, of how this can lead to a passive and disengaged audience. So I'm always looking for new ways to make presentations more active. PowerPoint/Keynote alternatives like Prezi and eMaze can be engaging, but I'm looking for more intellectual than affective engagement. So this year, I'm going to try two new tools to integrate with my presentations. Nearpod (https://www.nearpod.com/) is an application that enables presenters to share their slides with their students/audience via a client application that works on any digital device. In this way, the participants can see the slides, makes notes, and annotate them on their own device during the presentation. The presenter has the opportunity to control what and how information/questions are presented on the client applications. This works well for encouraging note taking, question-and-answer activities, and formative assessment of understanding.
Poll Everywhere (https://www.polleverywhere.com/) is another tool that works well for encouraging interactivity and formative assessment during class or conference presentations. The presenter can use the tool by itself or integrated with presentation software to ask a variety of different types of questions. You can then access a real-time report of the results to use to guide the presentation/discussion or assess students’ understanding throughout a class session.
When I attend conference presentations these days, I like to share what I’m learning via Twitter (I’m @markhofer). By incorporating conference and/or presenter hashtags in my tweets, I’ve made some really helpful connections. What I’ve never mastered, however, is how to integrate Twitter as I’m presenting. Backdraft (http://www.itap.purdue.edu/studio/backdraft/) looks like an interesting tool to help me change this. Using Backdraft, a presenter can pre-create some tweets to send during the presentation. It has a really easy to use iPad interface that allows you to easily post the tweets while presenting.
I’ve always liked Evernote as a note taking tool. It has excellent capabilities for storing all kinds of digital media in notebooks. The search is really powerful as well. I’ve never liked either the desktop or Web apps, though. There’s just something about the look and feel that doesn’t work for me. I recently learned about Alternote (http://alternoteapp.com/), which essentially creates a new “skin” for your Evernote account. While I haven’t worked with it in depth yet, it looks like a great interface alternative and I’m looking forward to trying it out more fully.
Finally, I’ve been creating screencasts recently for a number of different classes and projects. In the past, I’ve used Office Mix, Camtasia, and more recently, Screenflow. This year I want to spend some time to learn about more of the features of my favorite app, Screenflow (http://www.telestream.net/screenflow/overview.htm). I know to this point I’ve only scratched the surface on what you can do with it, so I’m eager to learn more about how to create more professional and helpful screencasts.
What technology tools and resources would you like to explore this year?
Please post your comments below.