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CAREER ADVICE

Five (plus one!) web resources to inspire your teaching

Emerging technologies librarian and BiblioTech podcaster Rochelle Mazar gives you the scoop on the top online tools to inspire your next course.

By ROCHELLE MAZAR | JAN 30 2013

Looking to try something new with your courses? Need to communicate with students in different ways? Not sure where to start? Here are six websites that can be invaluable tools in teaching your next class – and all of them are available for free.

Google Drive

At first glance, Google Drive is simply a place to store documents. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see it’s far more interesting. Google Drive allows you to create shareable documents. When I say shareable, I really mean it: you can have 38 people in a document at once, each with their own cursor, all editing text at the same time. It’s hard to overestimate how useful this is in an educational context; there’s so much you can do with a document that can be edited and viewed by a group. Collaborative note-taking, shared translations, peer editing, group assignments; anything you could do with Word or Excel you can do as a group, in real time or iteratively. It even comes with a built-in chat interface, so collaborators can talk to each other within their document. Google Drive saves every edit and iteration by default, so you can see its entire history, revert it to a previous version, and see who did what, when.

YouTube

Known primarily as a place to watch videos, YouTube has a little-known feature that comes in handy: you can record video directly into it, no software required. Every user with an account can use their laptop’s built-in webcam to create video. This means you can ask students to do oral presentations, close readings of documents, language practice, or anything else relevant to your course, through video rather than text. The simple “press go” approach to recording means no files, no downloads, no software, and no confusion. While privacy remains an issue, each video on YouTube can be set to “unlisted”, which essentially means it will be unfindable without a direct link.

Screenr

Sometimes you need to show your class something on your screen, and walk them through a few steps. You can do it on a screen in class, or you can record yourself and share the video. Screenr lets you do this with no software, right through your browser. Login, load up the recorder, and press record; it will capture whatever part of your screen you like (or the whole thing) and records you talking at the same time. When you’re done, you’ll have a simple link to share, or you can embed the video directly into your course webpage. Screenr will only allow you to record up to ten minutes, so this is best used for short bits of guidance and instruction.

Prezi

Tired of PowerPoint? Prezi is a web-based alternative that uses an entirely different metaphor. Rather than a deck of slides, Prezi is an endless canvas. Pin your content onto it (text, video, images, PDFs), arrange it as you like, frame the pieces based on where you’d like to zoom in and focus, and then choose your path through it. It’s a more flexible and open structure to work from, let’s you construct a lecture without knowing for sure where you want to start, and looks slick. It embeds videos from YouTube like a dream. Introduce your students to Prezi and expect some mind-blowing presentations from them!

AIM AV

Sometimes face-to-face meetings are too hard to schedule; that’s where web-conferencing tools come in. Skype is great, but before you can start your call, you have to download software, find userids, remember passwords, and troubleshoot a range of tech issues, leaving you only a few scant minutes to actually talk to anyone. AIM AV eases the process. Just go to the site, start your video chat, and send the link to up to three others. It works for a quick one-on-one with a student, a conference call with TAs or even virtual office hours.

Wikipedia

Everyone’s heard of Wikipedia; it’s hard to avoid if you spend any amount of time on the internet. As much as we bemoan it’s accuracy (or lack thereof), Wikipedia is the third most visited website in the world and it needs our help. Since last year, Wikipedia has been actively encouraging Canadian faculty to include course assignments based around editing Wikipedia. If it’s not accurate in your subject area now, why not make it accurate! While students have access to all kinds of great resources today, that access will cease when they leave university. Making Wikipedia a great source for accurate information benefits everyone. Much like an academic source, Wikipedia demands that all claims be properly cited, has rules around what constitutes a good source (not the course textbook), and provides nearly instant feedback to editors. It could also serve as an engaging, open access course project that can be tailored to any discipline or academic level.

Rochelle Mazar is an emerging technologies librarian at the University of Toronto Mississauga and the host of University Affairs’ BiblioTech podcast, a podcast about emerging technologies for academics. To learn more about what’s new in technology and what academics should be paying attention to, check out the previous BiblioTech episodes or subscribe on iTunes.

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  1. Ernie / January 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks for the interesting list.

    One thing to mention about Prezi – it can also be a really good way to make people nauseous, especially if they are prone to motion sickness in the first place.

  2. Eric / January 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I’m surprised there is no mention of privacy concerns in this article. The use of third party web sites outside of Canada raises many privacy issues, and faculty who use them in their course must collect written consent from their students to use these sites.

    See, for example

    http://solr.bccampus.ca:8001/bcc/items/d7cb3b64-ec73-7cd1-3be7-aa8a6b289ca1/2/

  3. Rochelle / February 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Eric: faculty who use external sources aren’t universally required to collect written consent from students…actually, I’ve never seen that requirement before, that’s pretty extreme.

    At my institution, faculty cannot make using external services mandatory, and need to be ready to provide an alternative for any student who isn’t comfortable. But there is no requirement to get written consent. Turinitin is an external website, and I suspect most institutions don’t require written consent from students for it (though they probably should!). If your institution has outsourced student email to google or microsoft, the same issues apply. The key to any external source is to manage the risk thoughtfully. To reduce the engagement of a class because of a conservative reading of a policy is a tragedy.

    Whether a system is inside or outside of Canada has very little impact on privacy issues, as it turns out. Though there is certainly a lot of discussion about it, and no small amount of fear-mongering.

    Privacy is a very large topic, and I’m happy to go into detail about risk management with any technology specifically. This is a quick-hit article, without a lengthy discussion of too many best practices or privacy issues. Much more could be written! Anyone interested in using new tools should have a conversation about them and what privacy issues it brings, definitely. But all of these tools can and have been used by faculty with students very successfully, with everyone’s eyes wide open to the issues involved.

  4. Rochelle / February 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Ernie: absolutely true! There are really good Prezis, and really bad ones; it’s all in the design! Recently Prezi has provided a substantial set of templates to start from, which I suspect is a direct reaction to that very complaint. I think I could write a whole article (or 5) about the woes of bad prezis, but that wouldn’t be in the most optimistic or generous spririt. 😉

    When teaching prezi to students, I’ve been blown away by the beautiful presentations they’ve produced. I mean, really stunned. I like the giant canvas myself, but what really made me want to tell others about it was the enthusiasm and creativity of the students I’ve worked with. It seems as though a lot of them were hungry for something like this.

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