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Instructional Design

Tools for Teachers

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By Scott Winstead

Tools for Teachers

Educators are reputed to be conservative folk, yet the number – and quality – of new learning tools and services is growing at an astonishing pace. Call it a generation shift or call it the 21st century, anyhow education in general and teachers in particular are facing the world of technology and getting the utmost of what it has to offer. There is a host of web resources that save educators’ time so they can focus on what really matters: new approaches, methodologies and exciting content. Lesson planning, sharing and collaboration, timelines and other learning features have migrated onto the web – or more precisely, into the cloud, leaving behind bulky gradebooks and blackboards.

Since we are witnessing a boom in teacher-oriented web services, it’s becoming a daunting task to keep up with the novelties and updates of prominent software. This article provides a few shortcuts for educators to pinpoint useful resources. We recommend several services of choice in each popular category. This is, by no means, a complete list. My goal here is to give educators a brief overview of available solutions, so you can start digging deeper into the subject and, eventually, brighten up your daily routine and make content authoring more convenient.

1. Lesson planning

An indispensable part of the learning process, lesson planning may seem a tedious experience, even more so when you have a long-term prospect in mind. How about planning in advance for next week, semester, year? Under normal circumstances, you’ll probably have to pull data from previous materials, consult siloed older records, or even start orchestrating your plan from scratch.

How can the Internet help? Use these resources to easily arrange your course materials for tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and many days to come:

Planboard (Chalk.com): Keep your lessons in order and make sure your daily course runs without a single glitch. Planboard is an online tool designed specifically for teachers. It includes nifty features such as re-usable lesson plans, printable schedules and calendar sharing. Planboard is a SaaS solution, no software installation required. Chalk.com also ships a native iPad application so you can keep track of your curriculums any time, any place.

Core Planner: Core Planner is a web portal that enables educators to develop lesson plans in compliance with Common Core Standards. Create plans and prioritize objectives for each class.

Plan Book Edu: Another great tool for teachers, Plan Book Edu lets you create lesson plans, and make sure they are available in most popular formats and easy to distribute to all stakeholders. The tool allows you to attach files, print, export content to Word or PDF, apply Common Core Standards, and share the plans with colleagues or supervisors.

2. Course authoring software

It’s sad to admit the days of ink pen and notebook have long passed. Educators are expected to provide engaging interactive content that doesn’t make students dizzy at the very least. Although outstanding old school lecturers still tread the ground and do without any frills, there is nothing wrong with extending your technology arsenal. In this regard, course authoring software seems to be gradually replacing the metaphorical ink pens and chalk.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Yes, it’s definitely the feature-packed Microsoft PowerPoint. It remains the pillar of the e-Learning edifice, regardless of numerous learning management systems and tailored add-ons. PowerPoint has all it takes to create a full-fledged e-Learning course: authoring features, bells and whistles, interactivity elements, and compatibility options. PowerPoint sharing as an online course is super easy.

Leaving PowerPoint’s eLearning benefits aside, I’d mention a few tools:

Easygenerator: Cloud-based e-Learning authoring software. The tool enables educators and instructional designers to create engaging courses at an affordable price and with no significant learning curve. Easygenerator boasts a customer base of 5000+ users across the globe in enterprises and colleges alike.

SmartBuilder: An award-winning authoring tool to develop rich Flash-based courses with an easy-to-use interface.

QuickLessons: This is another web-based authoring solution equipped with quizzes, characters, gamification elements, out-of-the-box animations and many other custom content types.

3. In-class materials

Check out professional community-generated materials to enrich your courses in a traditional classroom, or exploit the flipped classroom concept to see how your students respond to the change. Being the central focus of the class and channeling all information flows, you may be missing out on open discussion and learners’ feedback. Some online resources may help you give way to innovation and evaluate new approaches.

Khan Academy: A somewhat revolutionary resource in education, Khan Academy enables learners to watch video lectures, test their acquired knowledge and review material ahead of assessment milestones. This way, learners can keep their own pace, and instructors can keep track of the learners’ performance. A nifty tool for differentiated instruction or flipped classroom.

EdX: An offspring of the world’s top universities, this OpenCourseWare site provides learning material for college and high school students backed with video lectures for test preparation and much more.

TED-Ed: Another flipped classroom resource that offers hundreds of customizable lessons that can be supplemented with your own questions or other content. To start from scratch, upload a video presentation on YouTube and use TED-Ed to add written material.

Edmodo: This site resembles Facebook or Twitter so you may think of it as a social tool tailored to education. Edmodo helps you pick material for a course, reach out to fellow teachers, and manage student groups for collaborative learning. Learners can get quick feedback from their instructors or peers using Edmodo’s communication features.

4. Online testing in class or at home

There are a bunch of quiz making resources out there, free and paid. This type of software can really facilitate student assessment by providing free test templates, automatic grading (save time grading assignments!) and granular reports. You do deserve some quality leisure time. Spend it on manual grading or indulge yourself to a nice dinner or a theater piece – it’s up to you. Feel free to consult my article on free quiz making solutions. A couple of decent options outside my previous selection include:

FunnelBrain: Allows learners to form study teams, play games, take quizzes and share their achievements.

QuizSlides: Another great tool to create stylish, interactive online tests and quizzes.

5. Miscellaneous tools for remote learning

This category is kind of an Irish stew. Here I’m trying to bridge distant learning aids with general sharing services and idea storage tools. These solutions can help you stay connected and organized at any given time or place, build multimedia courses or create assignments from any available device.

Google Apps: For instance, check out classroom.google.com (requires a Google account). Yes, Google has it all! Classroom is a new service in Google Apps for Education that allows teachers to generate assignments, provide feedback and communicate with their audience. Google Education itself offers a number of quality edtech resources for educators, including collaborative apps, videos, lesson plan search, and even educational grants.

Evernote: Makes you remember things. This service helps to capture ideas, pictures, recordings or pretty much any content on your Evernote account. Coincidentally, it’s a great tool for lesson planning.

Dropbox: Needs no introduction. Easily store, share and access any data any time.

Popplet: Students and educators alike can use Popplet to brainstorm, do mindmapping or share ideas. Available on the web or as an iPad app.

SlideShare: This web-based service is always worth mentioning when it comes to sharing your courses with a broader audience. Upload your presentations and documents and reach out easily to your learners.

Audext: This transcription software makes it easy to turn your audio and video lectures into text transcripts your students can easily access. It’s a fantastic audio to text converter worth checking out.

6. Performance tracking

Online gradebooks come into play here, as they allow instructors, students and parents to receive granular performance reports on a regular basis. Another marvelous tool to remove extra paperwork and wipe out inconsistencies, easy-to-share web-based statistics save time and trouble for all involved. This functionality is covered by some LMSs ,but I’d like to focus on some specific web-based tools. Here are a few samples:

LearnBoost: It’s basically an e-Learning suite for classroom management. LearnBoost offers an online gradebook as well as lesson planning features – and more.

Schoology: A comprehensive solution that allows instructors to manage classes and gradebooks, share learning content, and communicate with other educators.

Dedicated grading tools include ActiveGrade, Crowdmark, Goalbook Toolkit and other great solutions.

7. Social tools to connect teachers and students

This category overlaps with some of the previous units, however the message deserves repetition. Talk to your students! Do it in a way that works for both sides. Whereas connecting on Facebook might be off limits and even considered creepy, you are free to use dedicated environments for communication.

Here are some tool suggestions:

Wikispaces: Share courses, media and other materials online with learners, or urge them to cooperate and build their own educational wiki.

Quora: A multi-purpose resource that can be a great tool for educators. Connect with other professionals or engage students in open discussion outside the class.

OpenStudy: A social study portal that enables student collaboration throughout the learning process. It’s definitely more fun to process class material in a group of peers.

Bottom line

This short article doesn’t even start to describe the plethora of resources that can be used in the modern learning process. There is no one-size-fits-all here, and different instructors will pick different tools to build their custom e-Learning “suite.” My advice is, keep your eyes open for new technology and booming edu sites. That’s how you broaden your horizons, save time and probably money that could be wasted on underperforming low-rated tools. Stay tuned for more e-Learning reviews, and make sure you leave your feedback!

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