Tech Tools to Improve Your Teaching

    by Stacy Forster
    April 21, 2016
    Einstein image created using Hetemeel.com
    Click the image for a full set of series posts. Photo courtesy of Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute

    Click the image for a full set of series posts. (Photo courtesy of Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute)

    After teaching undergraduates for the last three years, this fall I found myself in an unfamiliar role: student.

    "Even as I thought about how to develop the online class I want to teach, along the way I realized I was learning how to improve in the classroom, too."

    And it’s been fun telling people what I’m doing in the classroom: taking an online class to learn how to develop and teach an online class. The course is TeachOnline@UW, a faculty learning community offered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to more than two dozen faculty and instructors from across campus. Even as I thought about how to develop the online class I want to teach, along the way I realized I was learning how to improve in the classroom, too. I had jumped into teaching from years working as a professional journalist and public relations specialist, so I didn’t have much background on how to teach. Now I was getting that.


    Because our learning was happening online, our instructors used a variety of multimedia and interactive tools to help deliver our lessons, not only in developing content for online courses, but to teach us about interactive capabilities we may want to consider using in the real-world classroom.

    Here are five tech tools you can use that make you a better teacher:

    Bloom's objective builder

    A tool to help write learning objectives

    Bloom’s Taxonomy objectives builder: Love it or hate it, Bloom’s Taxonomy offers a classic framework for how to move students through the learning process. Many school administrators are now encouraging — or requiring — instructors to craft learning objectives for each unit module or class session, and it’s sometimes tricky to structure activities and assignments to be sure students are doing what we want them to.


    That’s where the Bloom’s Objectives Builder comes in. Just start by thinking about what you want students to accomplish by the end of the assignment or unit — for example, “demonstrate an ability to recall information previously learned.” The tool then gives you a drag-and-drop list of verbs in a text editing box to use when writing the learning objectives. Once you’ve established all of your learning goals, it’s simple to just copy and paste it into a syllabus or a lesson plan.

    Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University: This one is just for you, and it’s all about perspective. Early in our course our instructors asked us to think about what we remembered from our own college experiences. For the most part it was very high-level, broad stuff. (For me, it was the professor who had us all sign up for email addresses — in 1993 — and told us it’s how we all would be communicating in five years, and we thought he was nuts.) That gave us the context to think about the broader learning objectives we had for our courses — if we run into a student 15 years from now, what do we hope they’ll remember?

    Padlet: We’ve all been to that panel discussion where the speakers ask the audience to write questions or jot ideas onto Post-It notes and post them around the room or on a whiteboard at the front of the room. Padlet recreates this experience in an online space. One of the challenges of teaching online is getting students to participate and connect with you — and each other. Padlet is one way of tackling that challenge. Ask a question in class or in response to a reading assignment and ask students to use Padlet contribute thoughts, questions, links or videos to this interactive Post-it note. You can use it for everything from assessing knowledge or applying what students have learned. Padlets can be easily embedded into your university’s learning management system or some other website you use for class.

    Google tools: Many of us are familiar with how effective Google Docs can be for encouraging collaboration among students and teachers. But my online course taught me to think bigger about how they can be used. To have a final study session, why not host a Google Hangout where the first people to sign up can ask questions and others can listen in? Or why not use a Google Form to give a pop quiz? Don’t hold back from hacking all the capabilities that the Google tools have.

    Fivrr: This one might require a small financial outlay, but the bar is pretty low: $5. One of my TeachOnline classmates shared that he’d hired a producer through Fivrr, an exchange site where people offer services for $5, to make a 90-second whiteboard video. It’s a minimal cost for a course feature that would be unique and memorable, and that just might entice online students to watch.

    One more: Want your students to think you’re really cool? Use this image builder from Hetemeel to have Einstein help deliver your message.


    Einstein image created by Hetemeel.com.

    Stacy Forster teaches journalism and strategic communication in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also serves as moderator for the biweekly #EdShift Twitter chats.

    Tagged: education technology journalism journalism education technology

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