Tools for Teaching

NB: I will update this as time passes. [Current version updated 11 May 2016]

I’ve recently done a bunch of research to help me find good tools for some teaching tasks, and I wanted to share what I found. Note that I am a devoted PC user; some of these tools are likely available on the Mac, but I can’t comment as to their effectiveness.

For recording screencasts (where you talk and show something on your computer at the same time), I found this blog post, which was extremely helpful. After some additional searching and reading of reviews, I decided to give Screencast-o-matic a try, and I love it. The tool lets me select only the region of the screen I want to make visible (so I don’t have to hide personal stuff or worry about what tabs I have open), and recording was an absolute breeze. And the free version allows recordings of up to fifteen minutes, which is considerably longer than some free programs. Highly recommended.

I also want to recommend Brackets. If you’re like me (and that’s not very likely) you sometimes need to edit HTML code, and the WordPress interface ain’t all that. Brackets is free, open source, and powerful. It made search and replace easy, sped up some basic repetitive tasks, and I expect is a fantastic tool for more serious coding as well. YMMV.

I also found myself struggling with Movie Maker, which is extremely limited, while editing and adding credits and title screens to short videos. If you want additional editing options, you simply need a better tool. After a fair bit of searching, I selected Lightworks, which is free but pretty complex. I haven’t used it much yet, so bear with me. A more detailed report will be forthcoming.

Some other tools I’ve worked with include Doodle, which I’ve worked with fairly often and love for scheduling; I and my students have used Survey Monkey for short surveys (up to 10 questions is free); and I recently used appear.in for a video conference, and was impressed by how ridiculously easy it was to use. My colleague, Ryan Cales, has also used it and likes it a lot. Note, however, that further use has not been without hiccups.

For tools that allow quizzing in class, I found and loved Kahoot. A high-schooler I know told me she’s used it in school and really likes it. Sadly, the answers to quizzes can’t be more than 60 characters, thus making it unusable for me. (I wanted to use it for punctuation quizzes, but the sentences students needed to chose from are sometimes much longer than 60 characters.) What I found and am using instead is Socrative, which is less attractive but quite powerful. See this blog post for more details. Ultimately, I believe VCU should get a site license for one or two similar tools. I’ll be here holding my breath on that one.

I have also recently needed to do some stuff with PDFs, but I don’t have Adobe Acrobat. There are many tools and options for tasks like saving webpages as PDFs, converting PDFs to Word (and vice versa, plus other formats), and combining two or more PDFs into one file.

Lastly, I would like to recommend this site for downloading either video or audio versions of YouTube videos. The site isn’t terribly intuitive, but it works quite well. I used it to make a local copy of my favorite sounds for studying, so I can listen to it even if the Internet is down–and without the added overhead of video. But it’s also great for having local copies of videos for classes, getting clips from those videos, and so forth.

Hope this is useful!

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