It seems as if every time we turn around another new tech tool has become available. Knowing about these tools and getting an opinion on how they work can be overwhelming. I am sure all of us use a variety of tech tools in our classes but we may not realize that others do not know about them. AND some of us may feel technologically challenged. Today I would like to share three tech tools I have been using over the last year that even a novice can feel comfortable using. You may want to consider trying them out.
Flipgrid is a program I used this past summer for an online course. I have had students post picture in their classroom management system profile so when they are participating in a discussion they see their fellow discussants’ faces next to the posts. Flipgrid takes this one step forth. It is short video responses to prompts – all of 90 seconds each. For my class this summer I only used Flipgrid for the students to introduce themselves but have a colleague who has used it for the actual class discussions. You can get a free Flipgrid demo account for 30 days. During that time you can have up to 5 different “grids.” Even when your demo account ends, you can still access the grids. This helped me this summer as the students could post their introductions, view those of others, and be able to return to them to refresh their memory on who was who as the semester went on even though the account was no longer active. For information on Flipgrid go to https://info.flipgrid.com/.
Have any of you ever used Skype in your classes? I have but it is limited as to how many can participate in a video-conference, at least visually. Zoom goes a step beyond. With Zoom you can have up to 50 people on the video-conference and you can see all of them! With the free version, you can have as many meetings as you want. The only stipulation is that none of the meetings can be more than 40 minutes. If you plan to have longer meetings (I have my online classes meet via Zoom to share their projects and those usually last more than 40 minutes), you can pay $14.99/month. You only need to pay for the month you will be using it for the longer times. Logistically you will need to have your students mute themselves until they have something to say in order to reduce background noise but you can see everyone and everyone can participate at once. Find out more about Zoom at https://www.zoom.us/.
The course I taught this past summer was a graduate level course on Family and Community Engagement. A major focus of the course was how to use technology to connect with families. Students had the option of using any number of apps or programs in developing relationships with the families of their students. These graduate students even taught me about some new ones I did not know! Well, communication between teacher and families is not all that different from communication between faculty and students so I decided to use an app from the course and apply it to my courses this fall. This app was Remind. Remind allows you to set up communication with your classes and students. There are a number of ways you can do this. I decided to set up my classes and then send my students the code for each class. They then went to the Remind website, joined, and typed in the code. Once they were part of the class, they could choose to get notices by text message or email. I, as the instructor, could send those messages via an app on my phone or via the website on my computer. What was nice about the way I set it up was that both my phone number and the students’ phone numbers were “invisible,” neither of us could see the other’s number. Like Twitter, Remind is limited to 140 characters but I have found that has not been much of a limitation. I can send out announcements to the entire class or just individuals. I can start conversations with the class or individuals where they can reply to my post. Posts can even be scheduled to be sent at a later time. When I plan my lessons each week, I set up Remind notices about such things as upcoming exams, assignments, or requests to bring tablets or laptops to class. These I usually schedule to be sent out two days before the date of the exam, etc. I also use Remind on the day of an exam. Because two of the classes I teach this fall meet for 3 1/2 hours at a time and because my students prefer to take the exam at the beginning of the class time, I let the students go into the hall or wherever when they have completed the exam. Once everyone has turned in their exam, I send out a Remind notice “Class will reconvene at …” so they know when to return to class. I do not want to give up as much as 2 hours of class time by not keeping them for the fully scheduled time allotment. You can find out about Remind at www.remind.com. It is free!
These are just three of the apps/programs I know are easy to use. There are MANY more out there. Take a moment to share what you use and have found to be beneficial by putting the information in the Comments of this blog!
Debbie Lee is an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level. Her particular interest at the moment is the pedagogy of college teaching.