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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.