Good Stuff for Instructors
This page started out as a way for me to quickly share a handful of online tools with fellow instructors, but it has now taken on a life of its own. Before long I will need to break it up into multiple pages and possibly write more extensive descriptions and reviews. For now, there is a lot of good stuff here and any instructor will probably find something they can use.
Quizzing, Assessment, Surveys, and Polling:
Quizlet – Flashcards, memorization games and quizzes via app or browser. Both free and paid levels are available.
Socrative – Great alternative to “clicker” systems. Participants use the student app on a smartphone or tablet. Apps are available for both teacher and students, so it is possible to create and serve formative quizzes from your phone or tablet. In addition to the standard quiz mode, there is also an option for “quick questions” which do not require the quiz to be pre-made, and a space race game which tests to see which team can answer the quickest. Both free and paid levels are available. Paid subscriptions cost $59.99 per year for K-12 or $99.99 per year for higher ed/corporate. Subscriptions allow (in addition to the standard features) up to 10 rooms (public or private) vs 1 public room in the free edition, roster import, higher student counts, shareable links, silent student hand-raise, restricted access via student ID, a personalized header for students, and instant quiz sharing. Additional features are added periodically. All in all, this is an excellent tool for handling surveys and for formative tests. I use it to create quizzes that aid my students in preparing for exams. Highly recommended.
Kahoot – Nice, free online “clicker” quizzing system. More colorful that Socrative (designed for younger students). Requires that students be able to see the instructor’s screen to read the question (which could be seen as a positive or a negative). Though originally completely browser-based, Kahoot has recently added student apps for iOS and Android in addition to being able to use it from any browser. Kahoot allows you to create quizzes, surveys, discussions (pretty much just a limited survey) and a “jumble” where students are asked to put items in order. You can integrate portions of YouTube videos in the question (Kahoot allows you to choose the entry and exit points for the video). I like Kahoot better than Socrative for in-class quizzing the format just seems to work better for generating discussions. Check it out and decide for yourself.
Active Prompt – Allows you to upload an image and then allow students to drag a dot or other screen image to where they believe the answer is. An unusual teaching application, all online and completely free to use.
Poll Everywhere – A fairly nice polling service. The free level allows up to 25 respondents to participate. There are plugins that allow Poll Everywhere to be integrated into PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Sheets. Poles can be multiple choice, word cloud, rank order, clickable image or about 18 other types. Students can participate via the app or by text message. The only downside is that if you need more features or want more participants the price of the service jumps to anywhere from $120 per year for 50 responses per poll and grading options to $2,400 or more per year to access all options. Caveats aside, the free version is worth a look and paid levels may be worthwhile for some organizations.
Formative – Formative is a really nice service that allows instructors to create and deliver quizzes or other (presumably formative) assessments online, observe what students are doing in real time, and remotely intervene when students are struggling. The instructor can set up multiple classes, each with its own student roster. Once the quiz is created, it can be assigned to one or more classes. Formative has tools to track student progress and growth based on Common Core and numerous State standards (Premium Plan). A basic level is available to use free of charge, the premium teacher plan is $12 per month, institutional plans are custom priced.
Flubaroo – Flubaroo is an add-on that is used to automatically grade and generate statistics on quizzes created in Google Forms. If you are using Google Forms for quizzing, you will probably like Flubaroo. Flubaroo is free and it works. Lots to like and if you don’t like it, no biggie.
TedEd – Very cool way to make a lesson out of any YouTube video. Lets you choose a video, write an introduction, include supplementary information, and create online quizzes. Very nice way to create content for a “flipped” lesson. Completely free and easy to use.
EDPuzzle – The EDPuzzle interface allows you to quickly search video content from YouTube, Khan Academy, National Geographic, TED Talks, Veritasium, Numberphile, Crash Couse and Vimeo. Once you choose a video, you can add an audio track, audio notes or written comments or questions scattered throughout the video. Once it is complete, you invite students to view and their answers are recorded for grading. EDPuzzle is free for teachers to use, but premium features such as an integrated grade book and collaboration tools must be purchased. This is a nice tool that you can use for free. In some ways it is an expansion of TedEd, but definitely a different tool. Its free, so give it a try.
Perusall – Perusall allows reading to be assigned, read and annotated by groups of students. Text can be in the form of an e-book purchased through one of Perusall’s publishing partners, or instructors can simply upload their own PDF files to the system. One nice feature is that you can upload a large PDF and then assign reading from specific pages. There is also an option to automatically grade submissions. Perusall combines features from Google Docs, forums, and LMS into a compelling offering. If you already have an LMS system, Perusall can be integrated into Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, Sakai, Desire2Learn/Brightspace, and Schoolology. Perusall is completely free (it appears to be supported by textbook sales), but if you teach in an institution that they do not have in their system you will have to email them and request that they add your school before you can set up a class.
Productivity and Presentation:
Send Anywhere – Send Anywhere allows the user to quickly and easily transfer files between devices. To use, simply install the app on your devices — Windows, MacOS, Linux, Apple iOS, Android, and Kindle are all supported — then simply choose the files you want to send. The app generates a 6-digit code. Enter this code into the app on the receiving machine and the files transfer and are ready for download. Or, if you prefer, you can create a link to the file for multiple user downloads. It is fast and easy. The free version supports files up to 10 GB and total linked files also limited to 10 GB and The free version is supported by inline advertisements. The Plus version costs $5.99 per month, allows files up to 50 GB total linked files up to 1 TB, has features to manage and safeguard the files, and removes advertising. Access codes expire after 10 minutes, links created with the free version are good for 48 hours on the Plus version link expiration is configurable. Send Anywhere is faster and easier than uploading to cloud storage and can easily be used to share file between friends or colleagues.
LibreOffice – Need a powerful office suite, but don’t have the budget for MS Office? LibreOffice to the rescue. If you are accustomed to MS Office, LibreOffice will take a little getting used to, but it is absolutely as powerful as its more famous brother. The suite includes Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, Math, and Charts. The first 4 applications are roughly equivalent to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access; while Math is a formula creator and Charts is a (surprise) chart generator module. Math and Chart can work within other applications in the suite or as stand-alone applications. They are free to download and use, so there is nothing to lose and a lot to gain.
Google Docs – Included with Google Drive, Docs allows the user to create documents, spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, surveys and more all for free. Even better, teams can share and simultaneously edit these documents. Overall, this suite is very capable and can take care of the needs of 99% of users.
Microsoft Office – Ok, you’ve probably heard of this one. MS Office has been king for quite a while but has recently lost ground to open source alternatives like LibreOffice or online services like Google Docs. Nevertheless, MS Office is still the de facto standard by which all other office suites are measured. A few years ago, Microsoft added online versions of several Office applications to compete with Google Docs. These are more limited than their desktop cousins but are still very functional and free to use.
Grammarly – Grammarly is a grammar and spelling checker that works in Google Chrome, MS Office, and Windows. The free version does an excellent job finding problems with word usage, punctuation, and, of course, spelling. The paid version adds additional grammar checks, can be optimized for specific document types and has a plagiarism checker. I have used the free version for a while with generally good results. I’m sure the premium version is even better, but I find the $139.95 per year (can also be purchased for $59.95 per quarter or $29.95 per month) price tag to be a little steep. For now, I am content with the free version.
Prezi – Tired of PowerPoint? Prezi is a different way to present information. Everything is put on one screen and you simply zoom and fly around to each point. It can be extremely effective for some types of presentations. If you like mind maps, you will like probably like Prezi. There is no software to download, everything is done online, though the Pro and Pro Plus levels allow offline editing. Completed presentations can be downloaded, so a network connection is not required to present unless the Prezi includes online elements, like YouTube videos. Educational subscriptions start at free (a .edu email address is required), standard subscriptions start at $59/year. A free 14-day trial is available.
Wordle – Quickly create a word cloud from any text. Honestly, this is not something that I use, but I was in a class where student responses were entered as they were given and a word cloud generated in real time and displayed as a visual for the closing discussion. The online version is barely workable since it relies on Java applets, but there are also free Windows and Mac versions available for download.
Illustration and Photo Editing:
Adobe Creative Cloud – Adobe is now selling its applications by subscription. The most popular version gives you all apps for $49.99 per month and includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Lightroom, Audition, DreamWeaver, Acrobat Pro and more. This is top flight stuff capable of producing professional class documents, illustrations, and videos. If you have a qualifying institutional affiliation, there is a student/teacher deal for only $29.99 per month. A subscription allows installation on 2 computers.
SmoothDraw – A very nice, totally free drawing/painting program made famous by Khan Academy as the primary tool used to do most of the “digital blackboard” work for its videos.
Photopea – A nice online photo editor. Photopea looks and feels a lot like Photoshop and files can even be saved in Photoshop PSD format as well as PNG, JPG, SVG, GIF, PDF, TIF, and several others. The ad-supported version is free. The paid version costs $40 per year which removes ads and allows more steps in the drawing history.
GIMP – GNU Image Manipulation Program is an Open Source alternative to Photoshop. Very powerful, but it has a strange interface that I find a little confusing. Personal preference aside, GIMP is very capable and more than powerful enough for professional quality results.
Paint.NET – A simple, but reasonably powerful image and photo editor. If you are looking to go beyond MS Paint, but still want a simple, intuitive interface, Paint.NET may be for you. Paint.NET also has a number of plugins available to extend its capabilities. Free, give it a go.
Krita – A very capable Open Source painting and illustration program. Definitely geared toward the artist market offering a range of highly expressive tools. The interface reminds me of the old Fractal Design Painter back before Corel acquired it. At this point, I don’t think Krita is quite as capable as Painter or Photoshop, but it is pretty awesome and it is free. Unleash your inner digital artist and give it a try. Versions are available for Windows, MacOS, and GNULinux.
InkScape – InkScape is a capable vector illustration tool. While not as refined, InkScape is a nice, free alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
CodeCogs – Creates graphics of math formulas. If you have ever wanted to include a properly formatted formula into your web page, you will appreciate CodeCogs. The output looks similar to the formula builder in Word. Based in LaTeX, but is pretty easy to use.
AutoTracer – A free online tool for converting raster images into vector formats that can be scaled without quality loss. Accepts jpg, pdf, and png files and can convert to svg, pdf, ai, dxf, eps, sk, and fig formats. Can be used to create svg files for doodle animation programs.
iMazing HEIC Converter – You may have noticed that pictures taken with Apple devices now have and .heic extention. HEIC is Apple’s version of the HEIF or High Efficiency Image Format, developed by the MPEG group. As the name implies, it is a more efficient format for storing images. Unfortunately, HEIC/HEIF is not currently supported on Windows or Android — though I expect that support is coming soon. The iMazing HEIC Converter is a free Windows application that quickly and easily converts HEIC to either JPEG or PNG formats.
Comic Life – I’m not sure if I can find a use for this in my classroom, but I really, really want to. Comic Life is a software package that makes it easy to create comic books using your own artwork or by manipulating photos. Has all of the tools necessary to lay out the page, and add pictures and text. Only $29.99 for a single license or $44.99 for a household license for up to 5 users. Educational licenses are also available.
Drafting, Markup and Technical Drawing:
AutoCAD – The standard that all CAD programs are measured by. AutoCAD definitely requires a learning commitment, but is a real powerhouse. Unfortunately, that power comes at a price – both time and cash – that can put new users off. The good news is that AutoDesk has some very good educational programs that allow access at a much lower cost. In fact, if you are enrolled at or employed by a qualified educational institution you may qualify for a free educational license. Commercial licenses are available by subscription starting at $1575.00 per year.
Bluebeam ReVu – PDF’s on steroids. ReVu has serious markup tools and is aimed squarely at the construction industry. The software comes with access to Bluebeam Studio for sharing documents via the cloud. I use this for my blueprint reading class. There is also an iPad version and free viewers for both Windows and iPad, though the user experience on an iPad is less that compelling. A Mac version has recently been released.
PlanGrid – Like Bluebeam ReVu, PlanGrid allows the user to view and mark up PDF files. PlanGrid is accessed either by an app (Windows, iOS, and Android) or via a web browser. Although its markup tools are rudimentary compared to Bluebeam, the responsiveness and ease of use make PlanGrid a far better choice for most construction sites. Furthermore, PlanGrid adds the ability to write and manage RFI’s, job journals, time sheets, and other forms to help streamline paperwork for construction projects. PlanGrid is available by subscription starting out at $30 per user per month. A free 20 day trial is available.
Microsoft Visio – Very nice (but expensive) drag and drop drawing. There are vast Visio symbol libraries available for just about any need (usually free). I use Visio all the time to draw schematics for class and for work. Now available as a monthly subscription for the budget constrained.
Draw.io – A free, online alternative to Visio. No registration required, just connect to Google Drive, GitHub, DropBox, or OneDrive and create your first document. While Draw.io does not have as many stencils as Visio, it is quite capable and will be more than enough for many users. Great for creating schematic diagrams, charts, even basic floorplans.
Screenpresso – Very nice screen capture and annotation utility. The free version is very powerful and allows screenshots, region capture, video capture and basic annotation. I have used it often to make instruction sheets. Pro version adds more editing capability, OCR, video clipping and lots of other goodies for about $24.00. The only downside is that there is no Mac version (I use both Windows and MacOS daily). Try the free version, you will like it!
Snagit – Perhaps the best-known screen capture and annotation utility, from Techsmith, the makers of Camtasia video editing software. Features of Snagit are similar to Screenpresso Pro, but Snagit has a few more options and well as support for Mac. They offer a 15-day free trial, but there is no free version. Cost is about $50.00 per user and the license allows installation on both Windows and Mac. TechSmith Fuse app for iOS or Android allows you to send pictures directly from your phone to the Snagit editor.
Class Communication and Interaction:
Remind – A cool application that allows secure texting between instructors and students. No phone numbers need to be exchanged students op in via a code and can op-out at any time. Free.
If you check out all of this stuff you will register on a lot of sites and likely end up with a lot of usernames and passwords. Keep them secure with one of these password managers. All of them use the KeePass file format and you can store your files in the cloud.
KeePass – (now in version 2) is the original and offers more features but is a little more difficult to use. KeePass can supposedly be installed on a Mac or Linux box, but doing so requires a deeper understanding of the OS than most Mac users possess (or want to possess) and it is really just kind of a workaround.
KeePassXC is a new version of KeePassX (which has not been updated in a long time). XC offers the simplicity of X auto-fill login support via the KeePassXC-Browser extension. Overall, I really like this KeePass fork and recommend it for most users. KeePass XC supports Windows, MacOS, and Linux so it is a nice solution across platforms. Has an extension for Chrome Firefox, and Chromium-based browsers (Edge, Opera, and lots of others as long as they support extensions). This is my personal favorite, but that is just a preference – they all work.
KeeWeb is the new kid on the block and sports an attractive interface and basic plugin support including KeePassHTTP. I think KeeWeb is attractive and it certainly gets the job done, but I sometimes feel that it has hidden its features too much in order to present an uncluttered main screen. Still, it works well and my objections are a matter of personal preference and not real shortcomings.
KeePassX isn’t quite as feature-packed but has a nice, easy to navigate interface and is available for both Windows and MacOS. It has a nice, clean interface and supports automatic updates. It has not been updated for quite a while and may not be in active development.
MacPass is a port of KeePass for Mac. It has a nice interface and brings plugin support to the Mac. As of this writing, there is only one plugin available, but it is a big one, MacPassHTTP, a port of KeePassHTTP which allows linking to your browser.
KeePass Touch is a version of KeePass for iOS. Very handy if you want password file access on your Apple mobile device.
KeePass2Android Password Safe is a popular version of KeePass for Android devices.
All of the KeePass variations come from the same Open Source pool, all support saving files to cloud storage, like DropBox or Google Drive, and all use the same file format for your encrypted passwords and notes. You can use any or all of them to access the same file. What I like best about using any version of KeePass is that my confidential data is protected by encryption but it does not reside with someone that advertises a web-based solution, which I see as an invitation to hackers.
In an age where nearly everyone in the classroom has access to a smartphone, tablet or computer; instructors have the opportunity to interact with students in new ways. But how do they facilitate sharing screens so that the entire class can participate? Here are some things I have looked at.
Mirroring 360 – I found this while looking for an alternative to Reflector 2 (see review below). So far I have been pleased with Mirroring 360. I have it installed on a PC and it turns the computer into a receiver and allows screen sharing via Apple Airplay for iOS devices and Macs, from Android, Mac or PC using the Mirroring 360 Sender App.
So far I have tested AirPlay connections to my PC with good results, but have not tested with the Android or Chromebook Apps. All mirroring apps require a good network (typically WiFi) connection and all devices must be on the same subnet unless you also use Mirroring Assist. I currently use this to project an iPad screen so that I can demonstrate how to use apps for class activities.
Reflector 2 – Allows (theoretically) devices to share their screen with the instructor’s computer. Supports a wide range of devices. My own experience was that it worked well at first, but then stopped working and I have been unable to revive it. Airsquirrels offers a 7-day free trial, so you can test functionality on your own. The same company also produces AirParrot which will give you Apple AirPlay and Chromecast capabilities on any PC, Mac or Chromebook. I have not used AirParrot, but mention it for completeness.
Spashtop Education – Spashtop, the company that makes Mirroring 360, also has a subscription service that allows you to share your computer screen to another device (usually a tablet) and control the computer and annotate screen content from anywhere in the room. Included tools to allow annotation of the screen as well as a virtual whiteboard. Annotation tools are similar to those in Ink2Go, but the ability to roam the classroom while still controlling the presentation computer could be compelling, depending on your teaching style. I have not tried this myself and will probably stick to the tools I have for a front-of-the-classroom presentation — still, one never knows…
Google Cast for Education – Intended for schools that are using Google Apps for Education. Allows screen sharing using Chrome plugin so it can be used with a PC, Mac or Chromebook, but not with Android or iOS devices. Requires a G Suite for Education account, not available to individuals or for corporate use. In order to connect, students must be signed into their Chrome account and the teacher must share the receiver (your computer with Google Cast app) with the student account. I have only done some initial testing (with good results), but I expect this app to be very sensitive to network slowdowns. No additional hardware is required, just the free extension. If you like Chromecast and have an education account, give it a go!
Screen Annotation and Digital Whiteboards:
StarBoard (Licensed Edition) – Originally marketed by Hitachi with the StarBoard digital pen display system. StarBoard has been spun off as its own company and now markets a line of interactive displays ranging from 65″ to 98″, a digital flipchart and a licensed edition of the annotation software which functions as a standalone package which can be used with any touch screen or pen display. The StarBoard software is packed with features including a customizable workspace, multiple pen modes, in-app Internet search, screen blocking, screen recording, an image gallery, PowerPoint import, and a nice selection of educational tools. StarBoard stands head-and-shoulders above other products in this category as a classroom tool. The only downside is the price. StarBoard runs about $120 per license, but definitely delivers. A 60-day trial is available (just be sure to download the license version).
IPEVO Annotator – IPEVO manufactures low-cost document cameras, an interactive whiteboard system, and other classroom hardware. They have created a nice annotator application intended to extend the whiteboard capabilities and integrate the document camera, however, this free package stands alone as a very good annotation utility. Feature-wise, it sits between Ink2Go and Epic Pen, offering responsive screen markup (not pressure sensitive, but the “fountain pen” option creates a nice hand-drawn effect) and highlighting a whiteboard mode allowing a single screen or multiple screens (up to 4), unique spotlight and shade effects (spotlight dims areas of the screen that are not under the “spotlight” the shade allows you to cover the screen and to “pull the shade” up, down, or sideways to reveal material), and an onscreen ruler and protractor. IPEVO Annotator will also allow you to record the screen or take a snapshot. There is also a button that allows you to launch the IPEVO Presenter app (doc cam). I like Annotator; it does not require any IPEVO hardware to operate, and free is a really good price, give it a try.
ScreenInk – This is a nice annotator from SwordSoft. It is free to download and use for as long as you like, but if you want to save files you will need to purchase a license for $2.99 — that’s right, less than three bucks! The interface is fairly clean, though I would prefer icons to be a little larger so they would be easier to hit with my stylus. Complaint aside, this is one of the most responsive screen annotators I have tried. It supports multi-color drawing screens (rainbow whiteboard?), pen, highlighter, eraser, line, text and shape tools; screen capture, a color picker, magnifier, rulers, and angles. Responsiveness is as good as Epic Pen, but ScreenInk has a much more robust toolset.
Ink2Go – Clean, easy to use screen annotation/capture software. Can be used with a mouse or (preferably) a drawing monitor or 2-in-1 laptop and a pen-stylus to “mark up” your computer screen. Has a whiteboard mode that allows you to write and draw on a blank screen or you can choose to have lines or a grid on your “whiteboard. In a room with a good projection system, using this with a drawing monitor could replace the standard whiteboard. As an added bonus, you can save a screenshot of your work. Nice package for under $20.
Epic Pen – Epic Pen is another screen annotation utility. I really want to like this program, it has an easy to use interface (by far the easiest in this lineup), pressure sensitivity and is incredibly responsive. Originally Epic Pen lacked any kind of whiteboard mode — a show stopper for me– but the latest release has included a kind of whiteboard. Unfortunately, the implementation lacks the basic features found in other program whiteboards and if you are using extended monitors it will white out all screens. I would love it if the folks at Epic Pen would get serious about this product, but as of now, it falls short.
Presentation Marker – Another screen annotation/capture package. Offers more options than Ink2Go including pointer and spotlight effects, break timer and live zoom. I really like some of the extras and the updated version works well with Windows 10. In my testing, Presentation Marker has been a little unstable but that may be due to my aging computer. Test it out and decide for yourself. A free trial is available and the Pro version sells for $44.95.
Windows Ink Workspace – Ink is not quite an annotation package like other products in this list, but it does have the basic capabilities. Screen annotation can be done using Screen Sketch, though it feels more like annotating a screen capture rather than a live screen. Basic whiteboard capability is available using Sketchpad, however, there is no simple way to create and navigate multiple pages. In addition, Ink allows the attachment of sticky notes (virtual PostIts) which could be a useful presentation feature. Windows Ink was designed to work with the Microsoft Surface line, but works with other pen devices as well as long as they have Windows Ink support in the driver. I found Windows Ink to be responsive and simple to use, and since it is built into Windows 10, there is nothing to buy or install. It may not have the bells and whistles of its cousins, but depending on your needs, it may be enough.
Bamboo Paper – Wacom’s Bamboo Paper is a free(ish) app for Windows 10, iOS, and Android. It is not an annotator but works very well as a digital whiteboard. The app uses a notebook motif to help organize pages into related groups. Once a notebook is created, pages can be added to contain any content you create. Bamboo Paper allows the import of picture files as well as drawn items, so it is possible to set up pages in advance with base content and then annotate it live. The base app is free, but in-app purchases are available that add pens, brushes, and notebooks. In-app purchases range from 99 cents to $3.99, but none are required to use the base features. Bamboo Paper is extremely responsive to pen-stroke input, it has a simple and unobtrusive interface and it genuinely fun to use. If all you need is digital whiteboard capability, this may be just what you are looking for.
Zoom – A few years ago, Zoom was an unknown newcomer to the video conference world. Post-COVID, everybody knows what Zoom is. It remains, in my opinion, the best overall platform for video conferences. It is stable, has a decent feature set, and remains one of the easiest platforms to use.
I have successfully used it to conduct (and even record) online classes and have live-streamed in-person classes to accommodate students that are not able to attend in person. Although Zoom has a built-in whiteboard, I personally don’t use it, preferring to use StarBoard and simply share my screen. That is not a slam on Zoom’s whiteboard, just a personal preference.
I originally tried Zoom as a possible way to offer a “virtual office hour,” which was a pretty new idea at the time. Now, of course, Zoom is used in all sorts of ways and I expect virtual meetings, classes, and events to continue to be a part of “normal” business and education from this point forward. Zoom’s free level is openly offered on their pricing page. The free level allows up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes and unlimited 1-to-1 meetings.
Google Meet – I suppose it was inevitable that Google would want to increase their video conferencing presence. Google Meet is an evolution (or at least a rebranding) of Google Hangouts. Hangouts never really gained traction and that might have been the fate of Meet if it has not been for the pandemic. COVID, of course, created a huge demand for cheap and reliable video conferencing, and since many school systems already use Google Apps, using Meet was a natural step.
Google Meet’s free version will allow 1:1 meetings up to 24 hours in length and 1-hour meetings with a maximum of 100 participants. Paid versions allow longer group meetings, polling, hand raise, breakout rooms, and more. While I personally prefer Zoom, Meet is certainly an easy to use and reasonably capable system. If you are already tied into Google Apps, Meet is a good choice.
Microsoft Teams – Teams, in my opinion, is yet another “me too” attempt by Microsoft. I remember when everybody hated Microsoft, but we still bought everything they produced because they innovated. These days, innovation is not a word that I associate with the company. To be fair, Teams is ok and can be a good choice for those that are invested in the Microsoft 365 universe. I have only limited experience with the product, but I found Teams to be a little kludgy and less intuitive than either Zoom or Meet. The problems will likely get resolved as the platform matures.
I would love to see Microsoft get their act together and start putting out truly superior products. For now, while I would not try to talk anyone out of using Teams if they have it, it is not my recommendation. Then again, my opinion has never gotten me a discount at Starbucks, so take it for what it is worth. For me, Teams holds the same distinction as OneDrive — the not-as-good-as-the-competition, slightly annoying, and intrusive app that I have uninstalled from my computer.
WebEx – WebEx is the granddaddy of video conferencing and was purchased by Cisco (I believe in 2007). It is a mature solution and generally works without any hiccups. These days —due to Zoom wiping the floor with them, I suspect— WebEx offers a free level that you can actually find. WebEx Free offers features that are similar to competing products. Meetings for the free version are limited to 50 minutes for 1 to 100 participants. It is pretty good, but, like everything that says Cisco on the label, costs a bit more than the competition. I suspect that WebEx will continue to be favored by technical support groups, but is probably not the best choice for educational use.
GoToMeeting – Citrix GoToMeeting, like WebEx, has been around a long time and works well. As as I can tell, there is no longer a free version of GoToMeeting and the pro versions have pricing similar to WebEx.
There are a surprising number of free circuit simulators available. Most are based in SPICE and are very powerful, but they are all geared toward the electronics industry. They can be used as electrical theory trainers, most can simulate 3-Phase power by adding three sources and setting the phase angles.
CircuitLab – An online circuit simulator capable of simulating DC, Single Phase AC and Three Phase AC. Decent selection of components various membership levels available. Membership includes access to online electronics textbook. Memberships range in price from $24 to $999 per year. Educational institutions may purchase a site license for $2400 per year which gives free access to staff and students registering with an institutional email account.
PartSim – PartSim has come a long way over the years. It allows you to create a circuit using a variety of generic and manufacturer-specific parts and simulate the output. It is not as intuitive as the Falstad Simulator, but it has a lot more options. If you need to create schematics and run circuit simulations, this is a good place to start.
Circuits Cloud – Another basic circuit simulator. Free, but registration is required.
Easy EDA – Sponsored by JLCPCB, a Chinese manufacturer of custom Printed Circuit Boards (PCB’s). Although I have included it in this category, I do not really like EasyEDA as a simulation tool. Where EasyEDA shines is as a PCB design tool. PCB’s can be generated from a circuit schematic or designed manually. Completed PCB designs can be uploaded to JLCPCB.com and boards ordered without leaving the software. Boards with up to six layers are available and include a solder mask and screen printing. The boards are high quality and the prices are great. The basic version of EasyEDA is free. Paid versions allow team collaboration. Registration to the site is required to save projects.
Quite Universal Circuit Simulator (QUCS) – A downloadable Open Source circuit simulator with official versions for Windows, Mac and Ubuntu Linux and unofficial support for a handful of Linux and Unix OSes. Powerful circuit builder with simulation similar to Easy EDA.
Educational Video Production:
I have some interest in eventually producing some educational videos. While I don’t think this replaces classroom interaction, a good video can really help drive concepts home. Furthermore, they can be used to provide makeup lectures for missed classes. A good video requires the three “T’s”: Tools, Time and Talent. Since the first “T” is the easiest, here is a list of a few tools that you can use.
Video Editing Software:
OpenShot – A free and open-source video editor available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. OpenShot is easy to use and has lots of nice features. Supports assembling, trimming and slicing clips on unlimited tracks, audio visualization, numerous transition effects, slow motion, and more. Well worth a look. I use it when I just need to do a quick and dirty splice job and don’t want to break out Premiere.
Camtasia – Looking for a relatively simple program for producing educational videos? That is exactly what Camtasia was built to do. Features a very good set of editing tools to paste together video clips, stills, and audio much like most of the video editor market, but adds screen capture, webcam support, and annotation tools that are optimized for producing technical and educational videos. In addition, you can embed interactive elements to created things like in-video quizzes. There is a 30-day free trial available. Price is $199 for a single license.
Adobe Premiere Pro – Premiere is a professional editor capable of high-end production and has been used to create several Hollywood films. That said, it does require a little more commitment to learn and is not optimized for easily creating classroom video, though it is more than capable of doing so. In addition, Premiere is made to work with other Adobe tools such as Photoshop and After Effects which greatly extend your production capabilities. Available by subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud at $19.99 per month for the single application or $49.99 per month for access to the entire collection of Adobe software.
Adobe Premiere Elements – A simplified version of Premiere Pro, Elements is still a very capable editor and has a nearly identical interface to its big brother. If you want to learn Premier, but you are on a tight budget, try Elements and then move to Pro later. Premiere Elements sells for $99.00, so it is one of the more affordable commercial packages.
Screencast-O-Matic – Very simple screen and webcam recorder. The free version allows up to 15 minutes of recording and hosting on the Screencast-O-Matic site, while the Pro version allows unlimited recording time and includes some basic editing tools. Video produced with the pro version can be hosted free (up to 15 minutes per video) with Screencast-O-Matic or uploaded to Youtube, Vimeo, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Screencast-O-Matic also offers Pro hosting for longer videos. The Screencast-O-Matic Pro Recorder is just $18 per year.
Whiteboard Doodle/Clip Art/Sprite Animation:
I have always liked the instructional videos where an artist draws illustrations on a whiteboard while the narrator speaks. There is something about drawing and talking that just works to hold attention and to simplify complex ideas.
Not being much of an artist and lacking the budget to hire one, I have investigated software that is supposed to simulate this technique. None of these solutions is really the same, but in the right hands, it might be possible to produce effective videos.
VideoScribe – Software for creating “whiteboard” type animations. Comes with a library of graphic elements and creates animations that look like they are being drawn on a whiteboard. The whiteboard effect is the most realistic of the packages I have seen, probably because it focuses on this type of animation rather than making just one of the features. Sold as an annual subscription for $144/year. Subscription includes a sister product Tawe. Free trial available.
Explaindio – Simple to use animation package. Does whiteboard doodle animation (hand and pen appear to “draw” the images). Also does clip and sprite animation as well as other basic animation effects. The software runs locally on your computer but requires an annual license to operate. Cost is $59 for the personal edition or $69 for the commercial edition. No free trial, but has a 30-day money back guarantee.
Easy Sketch Pro – A quick, basic “whiteboard” doodle animation package. Comes with a clip art library, several music tracks, etc. It can certainly be used to create a quick doodle animation and includes tools for adding interactive elements. Comes in starter, business, and business pro versions for $37, $67, and $97 respectively. The starter version places Easy Sketch branding at the bottom of the video.
TTS Sketch Maker – Pretty simple interface, allows you to quickly put together videos using clip art, text, and “whiteboard drawing” animation. Also has a text to voice generator that can be used to generate narrations. The site says the list price is $97 and then does the “but act now and you can have it for just $37” and then offers a few buck more off. Personally, I think the text to voice is annoying. Its voices sound pretty good but are “off” just enough to get on my nerves after about 20 seconds. Still, you can put in your own recordings, so you could do the narration yourself. As an added quirk, TTS is endorsed by Todd Gross as being the best out there. Todd says the same thing about Video Maker FX on their site and is also quoted by Explaindo — kind of makes you say, hmm. No free trial, but they offer a 30-day money back guarantee.
Video Maker FX – Has features that are very similar to TTS Sketch Maker, minus the text to voice feature. In fact, even the website and sales methods are the same — “now how much would you pay?” I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the core program is the same. Nevertheless, you could make a compelling video using clip art, text and “whiteboard drawing” animations using this software which the site claims are a “$5965 value” all for just $47. Cheese aside, Video Maker FX could be a viable solution.
Audacity – Audacity is an amazingly full-featured audio editing and recording package.
Music and Sound FX:
Royalty Free Music and Sounds: It is amazing how much a soundtrack can transform a video. But, introducing music and sound into an educational video can be tricky — too much and it distracts from the lesson, too little and the lesson can drag.
There are numerous sources for royalty free music (very important if the video is public, you don’t want the kind of trouble copyright infringement brings) for use in your video. I have included a few that offer free or low-cost tracks for your project.
Bensound – Collection of royalty free music to use in videos and presentations. Often can be downloaded and used free of charge (artist credit required) or at low cost for more ambitious projects.
Purple Planet – Good selection of music. Free to use in many cases. Licenses are available for extended rights.
DanO Songs – Music from artist, Dan O’Conner. May be used free (artist credit required) or licensed for a nominal fee.
Partners In Rhyme – Lots of available tracks. Both music and sound effects are available. No free downloads, but a good variety.
Moby Gratis – Aimed at independent filmmakers, Moby provides free tracks but requires an application to approve the use.
WavSource – Wavsorce.com offers a large variety of audio clips and special effects sounds.
YouTube Audio Library – A limited collection of free music and sounds for your multi-media project.
Not all games require any additional hardware, but some of the most engaging games are enhanced by some sort of buzzer system.
Affordable Buzzers – Affordable Buzzers has been making buzzer systems for years. They offer both tabletop and handheld buttons and the system integrates with a wide variety of games. The system supports up to ten players (or teams). The basic system comes with a standard quizzing app. Their site links to some third-party games that can be purchased separately. Both wired and wireless versions are available.
Crowd Control Games – Another company supporting Affordable Buzzers hardware. Crowd Control offers a large variety of games, both for educational use, engaging groups (think trade show), or general entertainment (family nights, etc). There are a few free games, but most are $25 or more. Some nice offerings and decent pricing.
Jeopardy Labs – A very nice and free Jeopardy game. For a one time fee of $20 you can become a member and gain access to more advanced features:
- Insert/upload images
- Insert math equations
- Embed videos/audio files from YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, etc
- Add more questions to your game
- Easily manage all your JeopardyLabs templates
- Make your games private (great for business folks)
- Show off all your (public) templates at a special URL
Some promising teaching aids I haven’t had a chance to completely test yet:
Peardeck – Add interactivity to Google Slides presentation. Requires Google Docs. A little pricey.
Classkick – Shows what students are doing and allows instant feedback
Classflow – Create and present interactive lessons
Formative – Formative is an interesting service that not only allows instructors to create and deliver quizzes online but also allows for immediate remote intervention when students are struggling. The instructor can set up multiple classes, each with its own student roster. Once the quiz is created, it can be assigned to one or more classes. Has tools to track student progress and growth based on Common Core and numerous State standards (Premium Plan). A basic level is available to use free of charge, the premium teacher plan is $12 per month, institutional plans are custom priced.
The Answer Pad – An interesting interactive quizzing, grading and reporting application. Questions can be in a number of formats — multiple choice, true/false, multiple correct, coordinate grid, etc. An interesting option is to have students respond with a drawing or annotated upload. There is a limited free version, but teachers that want to take advantage of interactive features will want a plus subscription. Plus allows up to 35 students for $9.95 per year and up to 200 students for $19.95 per year. Students access the system by browser, iOS app, or Android app.
NearPod – Allows educators to display interactive presentation and lesson material of student screens.
EdShelf – Website devoted to finding “websites, mobile apps, desktop programs, and electronic products for teaching and learning.” Looking for a teaching technology? Take a look. Free.
BadaBoom! – Alternative to Kahoot! More quiz options. Free.
YoTeach – Teacher/Student and Peer interaction. Free.
BoomWriter – Interactive writing. Free – $10 per month depending on features.
Buncee – Remote learning. Free – $20 per month
Chronicle Cloud – App for teachers to keep notes about students. Currently iPad only. Free – $5.99 per month.
Edcite – Interactive assignments and assessments. Free.
EduFlow – Seems to be a sort of LMS. Free and up.
Floop – Used to collect and give feedback on assignments. Free for 2019-20 school year, then monthly no price given.
GimKit – Learning game creation. Free to $9.99 per month.
Hippo Video – Online video creation. Free to $49 per month.
Kami – Online PDF and document annotation. Free to $99 per year.
Kialo – An interesting way to do an interactive forum. Description from the site is “Kialo Edu is a custom version of Kialo (kialo.com), the world’s largest argument mapping and debate site, specifically designed for classroom use.” Free for educators.
Loop – A tool for “gathering and acting on student feedback.” Free.