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High tech e-learning without the high price

A natural response to the call by policy-makers to increase the use of technology in schools is cost. Many schools are struggling to provide quality education with the resources available; by example, schools in Oklahoma have begun considering restricting the class week from five to four days.

The funding crisis is perhaps a topic for another blog post (or five), however the converse of the conclusion: tech is expensive, is perhaps also true — technology can enable teachers and schools to reach more students, more efficiently and at less cost. However, the complexities of the initial investment and roll-out, combined with low levels of understanding and enthusiasm for ed-tech leaves this a hot button topic, to perhaps be explored on another day.

High tech e-learning without the high price

Today I’d like to address the concern that ed-tech is expensive not by analyzing the long-term cost-benefit ratios but by exploring a host of wonderful and useful online apps and platforms that are free to use. In this way perhaps bringing some much needed levity and hope to teachers who understand that technology can enable greater engagement, but are at a loss of where to start — particularly in the underfunded school and classroom.

  • Flipgrid

    Flipgrid is a video discussion platform designed for teachers and students. While the site itself has an almost unbearable preppy tone, and the jargon comes thick and fast (“Hyperdoc”, “appsmash” and “GIPHYs”) the actual platform is worth exploring. Creating a grid for a class, or section of the course, allows students to interact personally with the topic.

    It’s usually best to pose an exploratory or opinion-based question that students answer in their allotted 90 second video. The opportunity here is to “bring the back of the class to the front of the class” as the platform allows students to have their say, and see what others have to say, in a clean, neat and accessible formula.

    Learn more about how to get started here.

  • Soundtrap

    Soundtrap is a useful online tool designed for teachers of the STEAM curriculum — where art is added to the traditional STEM subjects in order to better stimulate and develop lateral as well as literal critical thinking. Soundtrap enables you to create music or audio assignments.

    Once set up, you and your students will be able to create music projects, podcast projects, language training assignments and anything else that requires audio collaboration. The software comes with an almost exhaustive library of sounds and instruments they call “loops” and also comes with a handy co-creation feature where students can collaborate on their sound projects.

    Start your Soundtrap learning with this set of useful tutorials.

  • Piktochart

    Piktochart is one of my favorite apps on the list, perhaps because I am a bit of an infographic geek! Infographics are a fantastic way to communicate dense data, as well as concepts. And the opportunity here is to challenge your students to create their own. Creating an infographic challenges both the left and right sides of the brain as students need to research and understand the information, then convert it into a graphic representation.

    Piktochart has a wealth of templates to work with, and still more are available in the paid-for version. The tools and editors are really simple to use, and you can maintain a portfolio of your creations online. The final product can be printed out, embedded online or shared via a link.

    Watch a helpful introductory video here.

  • WeVideo

    Creating a video, much like an infographic, stimulates critical thinking on a deep level. Telling a story via video challenges students’ language and reasoning skills, but also enables them to communicate creatively, in addition the process of making a video ultimately also challenges them on a technical basis.

    WeVideo is a cloud-based collaborative video creation platform that further enhances the skills students develop by including the opportunity to collaborate and share work with other students.

    We have discussed a student's online security in another blog post, and it is helpful to know that WeVideo has stringent privacy policies that allow students and teachers to share media and video projects with other members of the same multi-user account in a fully COPPA-compliant workspace.

  • Padlet

    Honestly, Padlet is hard to describe with it sounding like a bit of a mess, but if you’ve ever brainstormed with a team using a whiteboard and a bunch of Post-It notes then you may have an inkling of what it can offer. Think of it as an online brainstorm and project collaboration tool, although you can also simply conduct class discussions here as well.

    You can upload files from your computer, take a picture or video from your phone, or link from the web, you can even record voice sound bytes. The app also allows you to link online content directly to your “wall” — essentially your highly interactive online whiteboard. Padlet is unique in our list as it is available in over 20 languages.

    Kick-start your Padlet journey here. It may even be worth it to organize some fellow teachers into a Padlet working group and learn together.

Closing thoughts

The apps we have explored today are all freeware, but naturally come with paid-for versions too. I have been careful however to choose software that even in its freeware form can be very helpful in creating greater engagement between yourself and your students.