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Pedagogy’s Digital Swiss Army Knife: Explain Everything

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Explain Everything draws from a range of educational technologies to be, as its name suggests, the best possible tool for explaining anything

Written by: Sarah Grace

Many of the technologies out there work on two levels: a quick functionality that often leaves you wanting more, and a more complex (often less visible) layer of options that are time-intensive to learn but offer better results.

Explain Everything is designed to offer all of the advanced options of a program like PowerPoint at a glance. It’s intuitive, interdisciplinary, intensely customizable, and in most regards only as limited as your imagination.

This app’s mission is to empower you with all the tools you could need to explain your subject material. You can type, use tables, insert pictures, sound, or video, and do pretty much all of the things you can do in PowerPoint. However, Explain Everything will record like a screen-capture program, can be saved as a video, and is designed for use on tablets, which opens up a lot of doors.

To take one example, you can press record and use a stylus to solve a math problem by hand in the program. Now you have a video of that process, which you can play within your class presentation if you don’t feel like writing it out. This is extremely useful for online courses. You can also quickly create a video demonstrating how to solve a problem, upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or Blackboard, and send it to a struggling student.

Another great feature is the app’s ability to import a live web browser directly into your presentation. You can record yourself annotating an online article, or write notes on what makes a website an unacceptable source… on the actual website. The app will record whatever you do online in the inserted web browser. If there is a complex registration process that your students have to do on their own to access sources, or a certain website you want them to use, you can create a presentation explaining the steps, with a video showing how to do it on the actual site. This tool enables you to ‘explain everything,’ but you will only have to explain it once with the resources you’ll be able to create.

Best of all, you will not have to start from scratch. Explain Everything lets you import existing PowerPoints or other presentation formats directly into the app, to be customized and personalized in dynamic new ways.

There are many other great tools in this incredible application, and they are all easily accessible and easy to integrate into the toolkit that every educator deploys to explain their subject matter. I’ll be introducing more of these exciting possibilities during the Explain Everything session at the upcoming Ann Ferren conference on January 13th. Teaching with me will be chemistry professor and diehard Explain Everything fan Michele Lansigan, who has been using the app for her past two semesters at AU. Come to our session to hear how this tool has changed her classroom and to explore what it can do for yours.

Sarah Grace in a Video + Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

3 Tools for Facilitating Discussion Outside of Class: Piazza, Basecamp, and Slack

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Written By: Emily Crawford

Getting students to participate in class discussions can be difficult. Encouraging discussion outside of the classroom can be even more challenging. Luckily, there are an increasing number of applications out there that can conveniently facilitate discussion outside of the classroom in a streamlined, easy to use way. Here are our three top picks and how they compare!


Piazza is a “free online gathering place” offers excellent tools for both basic discussion and more complex collaboration, including  trackable edits from both students and instructors. It uses a wiki-style framework, which means that students and instructors can edit one another’s posts. This feature may or may not be relevant  for basic discussions, but it can be great for collaboration and providing group feedback on a specific project or document.

Students and instructors can post a “Note,” a “Question,” or a “Poll/In-Class Response,” all of which can be edited by classmates and instructors. A “note” is a simple post, like a comment on a forum. A “question” prompts a response, or “answer” post, which can come from any student or instructor. Anyone can post a “follow-up discussion” to any note, question, or poll. piazza

The former two tend to be used most frequently. For basic discussion, the edit function is not really necessary, but it’s good to keep in mind that it exists.

Overall, Piazza is easy to set-up – it lives in your browser, and doesn’t require a download. There are some extraneous features which add clutter to the interface, but overall if you’re looking for a forum-style discussion platform with additional editing features for collaboration, Piazza is generally a great option.

Overall grade: B+


Basecamp was originally created with professional teams in mind for managing project workflows, but teachers have found it incredibly helpful as well, and are eligible for free accounts (unlike for-profit users).  If you’re visually-minded, Basecamp has a lot of features that make for a pleasant and streamlined experience, like a timeline on the course homepage that tracks all activity since you created your “Basecamp,” or course homepage.basecamp

This web app is themed around a the metaphor of a mountain expedition, with the main discussion forum for a class labeled as the “campfire.” It also offers a  message board, which has the potential for multiple comment threads, unlike the main “Campfire” forum. Users can create a “To-Do List,” which lets you set goals and assign tasks, a schedule, “Automatic Check-ins,” and a “Docs and Files” section where people can upload documents or create new ones directly in Basecamp.

It’s aesthetically pleasing, but the cutesy icons and expedition-themed names for functions may not be for all tastes. Because of its diverse features, Basecamp can function as a substitute for Blackboard, but students may miss the ability to easily track grades.
Overall, Basecamp has a lot of great functionality and is ideal for a class with a more project- centric structure, and is great for group work because of  its orientation towards teams.

Overall grade: A-


Slack is a great all-purpose platform for discussion, collaboration, and general communication with students outside the of classroom.  While the app  has the framework and look of a instant messenger app, it has the potential to do so much more. With diverse features, this free application accessible from your computer, tablet, or phone gives users  the ability to easily attach all types of media to any message.slack

Slack has all of the functionality of any messenger app (like Gchat), plus the ability to attach images, files, links, long-form content that you type into Slack itself, or even snippets of web code, should that be your area. It offers a  great alternative to email between class members and professors alike, as you can easily set up mobile alerts to your phone, should you want respond to students on the go. Students can also message each other or create private group chats for team work. For discussions, you can create “Channels,” or content threads, to which multiple students and instructors can contribute. These comments can easily be tracked, if you require participation outside of class.

Slack is ideal for any class with a class participation component, especially for subject matter that may require sharing content like screenshots, other images, or even web code.

Overall grade: A

All three options are completely free for educators, but offer paid deluxe versions for large class sizes. Unfortunately, none of these applications can synchronize their functions with official grades. Slack, like Basecamp, can substitute for Blackboard in that it facilitates assignment submissions, discussion, and collaboration. Piazza offers much of the same functionality, but is less mobile-convenient and less team-oriented.

Slack is our current favorite, but all three of these applications are great options for facilitating discussion and collaboration outside of your classroom.


Emily Crawford in an Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

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The Rewards & Perils of Teamwork: Can It Be Taught?

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2016 Ann Ferren Conference Session #308:

How can teamwork and its real world payoffs be taught within an educational setting where individual effort rather than team output remains the primary source of evaluation and rewards? Can faculty go beyond the mechanics of team organization, incentives, and leadership to have our students learn how to be good team players? Can the norms that various cultures employ to solve the teamwork dilemma be taught within a university setting? Or, are they internalized at a much earlier stage within the family and community? Is there a common set of ethical precepts of teamwork and leadership that should be taught and discussed? This panel brings together multidisciplinary perspectives—from economics, sociology, business, and public administration—to discuss how educators can successfully bring into the classroom the varying real-world work contexts, incentive systems, and notions of fairness and justice that motivate successful teamwork.

Nimai Mehta (SPExS)
Anna Amirkhanyan (SPA-PUAD)
Dave Luvison(KSB-MGMT)
John Willoughby (CAS-ECON)
Gay Young (CAS-SOCY)

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Tool Review: Kaltura

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Kaltura is a web-based application used for uploading and managing video content, creating multimedia presentations, and interacting with students.




Kaltura is built into AU’s Blackboard.

What does it do?

You can use Kaltura to create course videos, conduct video discussion boards, record lectures, and create video presentations. The Kaltura tools integrated into Blackboard can be used by both faculty and students.

Which class can you use it in?

Kaltura can be used in any class where students or professors will be presenting. Kaltura’s web-cam feature can be used in an online or hybrid course to supplement face-to-face interactions. The easy-to-use screen recorder feature can be used to show students your computer screen.


  • Interface for webcam recording and uploading videos is very easy to use.
  • Allows media captioning.
  • Existing videos can be carried over from Panopto.
  • Integrates well with Blackboard which extends the capabilities of Blackboard and allows the videos to stay organized in a central location.
  • Since Kaltura is web-based, users can create, edit, and collaborate on multimedia projects from any computer with Internet access; there is no software to download.


  • Uploaded clips may take longer than expected to become available for editing.

Overall Grade


Additional Information

Working on a computer

Education Web Tools to Use in Your Classroom

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Web tools can be a vibrant supplement to lectures or assignments and can take student learning to a new level. Whether you want to try flipping your class or are wanting to move your discussions online, these tools will be a welcomed addition to your modern classroom.

Synchronous Communication
  • Google HangoutsGoogle Hangouts is Google’s free video chat tool that enables one-on-one chats and group chats with up to ten people at a time. Anyone with a Google Plus account can create a Hangout (information on getting started with Google Plus can be found here).
  • Skype: Skype has led the videoconferencing scene for so long that its name has morphed into a verb. Whether you’re hosting a video chat or want to share your screen, Skype is a popular alternative to Google Hangouts.
Sharing Files
  • Google DriveGoogle Drive offers a comprehensive suite of collaborative, online tools including word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and forms. After signing up, you’ll have 15 GB of free Google online storage to keep photos, designs, recordings, videos, and more. Others can be invited to view, download, and collaborate on your files in Drive, and everything is accessible from a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
  • DropboxDropbox is another great resource for sharing files with students. Upon signup, you’ll get 2 GB of space to share documents, PDFs, videos, and images with students’ own Dropbox accounts.
Content Management
  • WordPressWordPress is a versatile Content Management System that can host class blogs, group projects, and ePortfolios. Customize your website further with the vast collection of free WordPress themes and plugins available.
  • PinterestPinterest is a visual collection of online resources where you can use online “pinboards” to save articles, photos, blog posts and other resources in one place. Create multiple boards to collect and organize ideas for class projects.
  • PocketPocket is a program that allows for saving content to read it later. Pocket can keep articles organized by tags and is a powerful tool for gathering and analyzing information. Saved content is available to view offline and can easily be shared.
  • Evernote: Evernote is a multi-function app that lets you create content with notebooks, or collect content by clipping articles or taking photos and  allows for endless organization. Use Evernote to capture feedback from students, collect snapshots of the whiteboard after class, and share notebooks with your students.
 Social Network & Discussions
  • Twitter: Twitter can be used both synchronously and asynchronously to engage learners and others outside the classroom. Encourage your students to use assigned hashtags to exchange ideas, articles, project resources, and have a conversation.
  • Facebook: Facebook is another platform that can accommodate classroom discussions. Easily create a Facebook Page or Group that can be effectively used to share information, and facilitate discussions within a page.
 Audio/Video Recording
  • Audacity: Audacity is a sound editing/recording tool that can be used for creating Podcasts, recording speeches, and recording sound for Powerpoint presentations.
  • YouTubeMake your class visually stimulating by creating YouTube videos for your students. Videos can supplement lessons, or ask students to make their own videos to present information or respond to a discussion.
  • VimeoVimeo is a video-hosting application that has the same uploading, comment moderation, and sharing options as YouTube. In addition, with Vimeo you can organize content into albums and channels and customize the look of the the video player.
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Google Drive: Docs, and Spreadsheets, and So Much More!

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

Google Drive isn’t just a great way to organize your personal documents and spreadsheets; it can be an extremely effective tool for the classroom as well! Drive includes a document editor, a spreadsheet creator, a form aggregator, as well as several other tools. Each of these tools synch to the cloud and can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection (and through any device).

Want to have students submit a paper to an online drive? Need a way of collecting student information? Have an spreadsheet that needs editing, but you don’t have your personal laptop on you? Google Drive can help with all of those issues and more!

To learn more, watch CTRL’s video on Google Drive here:

Desk with Coffee and Laptop

Snow Day? Stay Connected.

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Spring is finally around the corner along with its promise of blue skies and jacket-free days, but the threats of icy conditions still loom well into March (remember when white was the new green on St. Patrick’s Day 2014?). Below are a few tips that will help you keep your students engaged when the weather is too critical to hold classes at the university.


Send emails and use the Announcements feature in Blackboard to keep your students updated on class activities.

Record your class

Panopto allows you to pre-record a lecture that you can upload to Blackboard for easy access by your students.

Meet virtually

Use Blackboard Collaborate to meet in real-time with your students (available in Blackboard under Tools). Collaborate will let you upload a PowerPoint or OpenOffice presentation and even record your webinars.

Start a Discussion

Post questions in Blackboard’s Discussion Board over a variety of topics that students can respond to. Make sure your students know how to comment on a discussion board, and remind them of “netiquette” principles.

The American University Be Prepared site offers more preparatory advice on keeping classes going while campus is closed.

What strategies do you use to keep class going when campus is closed? Comment with your ideas!

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Organize Your (and Your Students’) News

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rss RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds and their little orange icon have been around the web for a long time (remember Google Reader?). Usually, people use RSS to collect personal news digests. However, the ubiquity of specialized feeds and the recent increase in academically rigorous blogs means that beyond just getting you your morning news, RSS feeds can also collect articles related to your research and teaching.

The beauty—and main selling point—of getting your news through RSS is that content from around the web is collected in one location for you. This means that rather than remembering to go to a dozen different websites, you can just go to one location where it is all waiting to be read.

Feeds can also help you filter out the noise from sites you visit. Rather than sifting through an entire website to find stories you are interested in, subscribe to a feed about a specific subject. Do you just want the local stories from the Washington Post? There’s a feed for that. Do you only want the evolutionary psychology stories from Scientific American? There’s a feed for that. Are you specifically looking for stories about China’s economy from The Economist? There’s a feed for that.

Don’t stop at traditional news sources. Most organizations have a feed that contains all of their press releases and publications. Does your research involve staying current on particular elected officials, businesses, agencies, organizations, etc.? Subscribe to their feed and immediately get notified anytime they produce new content.

Beyond organizing your own news sources, RSS feeds can also help organize what your students are reading. Rather than just tell your students to “stay up-to-date on current events,” give them a curated list of feeds that you expect them to read before each class. Essentially, you can use RSS to create a free, supplemental electronic textbook that updates in real-time. If your students are each researching a particular topic, have them find feeds that keep them updated on their chosen research area. The possibilities for tailored news digests are endless.

There are a number of RSS readers on the market today, but we recommend Feedly ( The free tool has a clean, easy to use, problem-free interface on both the web and mobile devices.

To learn more about using RSS in your classroom schedule a one-on-one tutorial or attend one of our workshops this coming Spring.

Blackboard Collaborate

Mobile Tool Review: Blackboard Collaborate

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This Mobile Tool Review was written by John David Clark, Learning Technologies Trainer and Consultant.

Blackboard Collaborate Mobile App

Blackboard Collaborate is an AU-supported tool that facilitates online participation and coursework.




The iOS/iPhone and Android apps are mobile counterparts to the full desktop version.

What does it do?

Collaborate users can participate in 
online web-conferences, complete with the ability to talk, listen,
 chat, see a virtual whiteboard, “raise a hand,” participate in polls, and
 more. Unlike the desktop version, however, there is no ability for users to share video from a webcam, PowerPoints, or other outside programs.

Which class can you use it in?

Any AU Blackboard class.


The Collaborate mobile app can launch any Collaborate 
link. It provides mobile functionality for iOS and Android users since it does 
not need Java or Flash.


Users cannot share or present, and there is no webcam functionality.

Overall Grade


Additional Information

Mobile Tool Review: Facebook Groups

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This Mobile Tool Review was written by Courtney Greenley, CTRL Trainer and Consultant.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups allow instructors to facilitate a collaborative forum on a site that’s already familiar to many students.




Online through all modern Internet browsers as well as free Facebook for iPhone and Facebook for Android apps.

What does it do?

Facebook groups provide a way for instructors and students to interact through the social network without having to “friend” each other. Professors and their students can use Facebook to share thoughts, news articles, YouTube videos, and other media with each other.

Which class can you use it in?

Facebook groups provide a collaborative forum that can be used in any class interested in engagement or even specific groups within a course. One professor even utilized Facebook chat to hold class online when class was cancelled due to weather. Each student had the opportunity able to contribute to discussion.


  • Most students already have a Facebook and are familiar with using the site
  • Sharing information through Facebook groups allow students to streamline their information
  • Links, videos, and images are easily shared and discussed
  • Page administrators can see who has viewed posts
  • Students may already be using Facebook for group work or study groups within your course


  • Not everyone already has a Facebook account, and some students are hesitant about creating a new social media presence
  • Some students view Facebook as a personal space

Overall Grade


Additional Information

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