3 Easy-to-Use Digital Tools That Engage Learners

Ben Hommerding provides insights into free and low-cost technologies for creating recordings and videos and enhancing online discussions.

July 12, 2017
 

Teaching and learning in the open can seem like a daunting task and many instructors may feel overwhelmed by what is possible. Some digital tools are free and open, while others are simply worth paying for because they are easy to learn and fun to use.

With that information in mind, here are three tools I find to be indispensable in my classrooms.

1. Screencastify

Screencastify is a web-based tool that allows instructors to quickly create screen recordings. Screencastify allows you to be in charge of your content unlike many other video platforms. You choose where and how you share the content. It is very easy to use and works on any computer. Being able to upload your content to YouTube or just share a link to it makes learning in the open easier, too.

Using Screencastify, you can create small, bite-sized talks or lectures for your students. Students can learn quickly, take a break and then learn again. They can also go back and reference the material as many students just-in-time learners. This type of learning is more on-demand and active. Screencastify is a great tool to help save instructors precious time in creating material for this type of learning.

What is fantastic about Screencastify? 

  • Very easy to use
  • Has alternate login options (Google OAuth)
  • Saves content directly to Google Drive or your computer
  • Has editing, annotation and mouse highlighting tools
  • Can record using your webcam and computer screen at the same time
  • Records system audio on PCs in Windows and Chromebook (sorry, not on Macs)
  • Records tab audio on all platforms
  • Allows licenses to be reassigned (paid version)

In terms of cost, the free tier allows up to 10-minute recordings with a watermark, and there are multiple paid tiers. Screencastify is similar to Snagit and Camtasia, but is more cost effective if you need to purchase it because it has re-assignable licenses. This is a huge deal as we can easily add and remove users at St. Norbert College, where I work, thereby saving the college money.

 2. WeVideo

WeVideo is a completely online video editor that allows you to edit professional-looking videos from your web browser on any laptop. There is even an app for Android and iOS! WeVideo is a tool you should look at integrating into any course where you want to use video. Again, the content is controlled by the user and can be placed anywhere.

I have been using WeVideo in my classes for about four years. At St. Norbert, we have several courses that are using WeVideo for video projects and it gets exceptional feedback from both students and instructors.

A quick side note on video in the classroom: Using video projects with short time requirements (less than five minutes) is an outstanding way to find out what students really understand. It is often better than other summative assessments as it requires planning, analyzing and synthesizing to create a good video in a limited amount of time. You can try WeVideo for free and get five minutes per month of published videos. 

What is amazing about WeVideo?

  • Works on every device (I recommend Google Chrome)
  • Can do screen recordings or webcam recordings (paid version only)
  • Has a basic mode and an advanced mode 
  • Can save content directly to Google Drive, YouTube and other cloud-based services
  • Can create green screen videos and use slow/fast motion (paid version only)
  • Has many great built-in titles, transitions, motion backgrounds and music
  • Can handle almost any video format
  • Can grab content directly from Google Drive and other sources
  • Has alternate login options (Google OAuth/Facebook)
  • Allows licenses to be reassigned (paid version)

3. Google+ Communities

Google+ Communities is a terrific place to have online, open discussions. I have used Communities in my courses for several years, and the most important thing I have learned by using Google+ is that a great discussion tool breeds great discussion. When instructors take the time to be active participants in their assigned discussions, students get a great value out of the discussions as well.

One tip: give students a very basic rubric to follow.

0 -- Didn’t post.
5 -- Posted, but didn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion.
10 -- Posted and did contribute in a meaningful way.

Lastly, Google+ is free. All you need is a Google account to sign up. 

Why is it a terrific tool?

  • Can control who can see and/or post into your Community
  • Can be completely open, completely closed or somewhere in between
  • Easy to engage students with each other and in the material
  • Can post links, images, videos, polls or text as posts or in comments
  • Users control notifications
  • Has a great mobile app.
  • Is free to join (you just need a Google account)

I have found that by using Google+ Communities, my discussions have grown organically and therefore have often been cited as one of the best parts of the course. Give it a try. There are thousands of communities you can join to test it out.

Bio

Ben Hommerding is an instructional technologist at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. He previously was an adjunct instructor and K-12 educator.

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