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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

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

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

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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Tool Review: Kaltura

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Kaltura

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

Cost

Free.

Platform

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.

Advantages

  • 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.

Disadvantages

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

Overall Grade

A

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.
Curation
  • 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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WordPress: Making Blog Building Easy

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

Let’s reveal a little secret–all those fancy blogs you look at aren’t really that hard make. In fact, a good deal of the Internet is built on the WordPress platform. WordPress is a website building platform that is easy to use and elegant in design.

With WordPress, you can create pages, post updates, and manage comments. Visitors can post comments and share your posts through social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. And best of all? It’s basic functionality is free to use!

To learn more, watch the CTRL instructional video on WordPress here:

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Anki: The intelligent way to memorize

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The Monthly App-etizer is CTRL’s regular feature where we talk about the latest app, software, and tools that could make teaching (and life) a little easier.

ankiThey say the best way to get information glued to memory is to revisit it consistently until it becomes a regular part of daily thought. At least, that is what practitioners of spaced repetition believe to encourage long-term retention of important concepts, key terms, and even a 2nd language.

anki3Create a new flashcard deck for all your subjects

Enter Anki—an intuitive app designed to make memorization less time consuming and as painless as possible. Much like standard flashcards and digital study apps like Quizlet, Anki allows you to create customized flashcard decks. You can store your cards in several decks based on topics, and even embed audio clips, images, videos, scientific notation, and language characters (e.g. Chinese, Sanskrit, etc.)

anki2What makes Anki special is the way it allows users to review their flashcards. Its algorithm separates the easy cards from the ones you struggle with the most. Every time you review your flashcards, Anki spaces your cards out, allowing you to review the difficult concepts more often and, over time, cement it to your long-term memory. You could even review your progress over time.anki4

For all its usefulness, Anki does have a few drawbacks. Getting started with the platform and a creating new flashcard deck may not be as intuitive. It may also not be the prettiest flashcard app you could find in the market. But, it is free and downloadable across all platforms (iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Linux, etc.), allowing for easy access to your flashcards from virtually any device. And, no matter how many flashcards you have in your deck, you could bet that it will operate fast and with limited error.

Download Anki here: http://www.ankisrs.net

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Prezi: Put A Little Zing In Your Lecture

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

If placing slide after slide is starting to give you nightmares, we may just have the answer to your PowerPoint fatigue. Introducing Prezi (www.prezi.com): a virtual canvas that allows you to deliver content in an interesting, new way. Instead of moving on a linear track (a la PowerPoint), Prezi allows user to zoom around between different pieces of content.

The idea behind this is to incorporate multimedia content in a more engaging manner. Not only does Prezi allow you to think outside the box when it comes to presentations, it also gives out free academic accounts for students and faculty. Just use your AU email address to register!

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

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Google Forms: Making Your Life Easier, One Form at a Time

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

You’re standing in front of class, passing around a sign in sheet, and thinking: There’s got to be a better way to gather my students emails. Or maybe you’ve just taught a particularly tricky concept, and you want to make sure your students have grasped (most of) it. Wouldn’t it be easy to have a system that designs and administers the form for you?

Google thought it would be, and that’s why the came up with Google Forms. Accessible through Google Drive, Google Forms allows users to design and administer “forms”. Pedagogically speaking, forms can take the shape of quizzes or polls, and Forms will even collate and organize the data for you.

To learn more, watch the CTRL instructional video on Google Forms here:

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.

Cost

Free

Platform

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.

Advantages

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.

Disadvantages

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

Overall Grade

B

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.

Cost

Free

Platform

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.

Advantages

  • 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

Disadvantages

  • 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

A-

Additional Information

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Mobile Tool Review: Twitter

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

Twitter

New Twitter users will be pleasantly surprised by how the tool can be seamlessly integrated into classroom lectures and other coursework.

Cost

Free

Platform

Online through all modern Internet browsers as well as a free Twitter for iPhone app and Twitter for Android app.

What does it do?

Twitter allows students to contribute and collaborate in real-time discussions inside and outside of the classroom. Unlike face-to-face discussions, Twitter allows conversation to flow through specific classroom hashtags anytime, anywhere, and with no limits to the number or kind of contributors. For more information on hashtags and using them correctly, visit Using Hastags on Twitter.

Which class can you use it in?

Instructors can use a projection screen at the front of the class to keep a running stream of questions and thoughts organized via hashtags during lectures (also called a “backchannel”). Students can also follow information that is associated with a specific course (or with specific Twitter accounts) outside of class.

Advantages

  • Students can collaborate on projects and keep track of changes by using a specific hashtag
  • Twitter can make engagement and discussion easier for students in large lecture classes
  • Introverts or quiet students may be more likely to contribute to text-based conversations
  • Twitter is a concise medium that operates in real-time

Disadvantages

  • Not everyone already has a Twitter account, and some students are hesitant about creating a new social media presence

Overall Grade

A-

Additional Information