5 [very good] Ed-Tech tools for Online Instruction

In my last post I wrote about how to choose the ‘right’ ed-tech tools for online instruction. I shared a 5-step Ed-Tech Integration Strategy developed to help educators select the best ed-tech tool from among the hundreds of tools available on the Web. With so many options of educational technology tools and applications that can enhance instruction, how do you choose the one that will be the best fit for your course? In this post I’ll  introduce five tools that we have implemented [or plan to] in several of our online courses at my workplace along with the strategy we used for the selection process.

To put this strategy into context and to see how it works, I’ll illustrate the 5-step review process using Google Hangout as the ed-tech application, which we are considering for one of our [100%] online credit courses. The course is a general education undergraduate course, English Literature. Class sizes for our online classes range from ten to thirty-five students, though the average class size for English Lit is usually about twelve students.

Ed-Tech Tool  #1: Google Hangouts for Seminar Discussion
Google Hangouts: I am enthusiastic about this application available through Google + (Google Hangouts requires a plug-in to work). I believe it has tremendous potential for the online learning environment and am eager to use it in our program.

While taking the course Introduction to Sociology through Coursera, I was exposed to Google Hangouts through the live weekly seminar discussions between the professor and six or seven students, which were recorded. The recordings were available following the discussion for the rest of the class to view. Even though the majority of students could not participate live, we benefited by viewing the guided discussions led by the course instructor which focused on the readings for the week. The live discussions were interactive, each student was able to engage in the discussion. [You can view a screen shot from a Google Hangout recorded discussion below. When a student is speaking, his or her image is on the screen, and the rest of the student images are below, when a student speaks the image switches to feature the speaker.]

The 5 Step Ed-Tech Strategy Applied
The questions which guide the 5-step integration strategy are highlighted in italics and bold [to view a visual representation of this model click here] below. Following each step is the thought process we went through when considering Google Hangouts for one of the learning activities in module #2 of the English Lit course – a discussion needed to support objectives around an assigned reading.

1. Consider: will this application/tool enhance, improve instruction or motivate learners? Yes – A Google Hangout will promote interaction and create dialogue about course content, in this case an assigned reading, amongst classmates and the course instructor. The instructor will be able to guide discussion and draw out important concepts and themes. Students will take turns participating in live discussion throughout the course – a maximum of 7 students per discussion. Session will be recorded for later viewing by those students not participating.

2. Review learning objectives for the lesson or module. One of the three objectives within this module is: ‘To identify and apply themes from a literary work from the Middle Ages [in this case Beowulf] to events and themes that exist within current culture’. The class discussion, led by the course instructor through Google Hangout will support part of this objective, a follow-up activity will be needed to support entire goal.

3. Identify the content student needs to learn – review, augment and/or update.
Students are required to read the poem Beowulf (either through the free e-book link provided, or via purchased textbook) prior to participating or watching the recorded discussion. To augment the reading, students are also required to listen to an audio clip of a reading from the poem to gain further appreciation of the literary work (to view the site where audio resource was sourced, click here.)  Students are required to review discussion questions prior to the live or recorded discussion.

4. Assess: will it [Google Hangout] encourage students to apply the content and learn the material, construct knowledge and/or promote critical thinking?  Yes – in two steps, 1) through the guided discussion led by course instructor and 2) after the discussion students will be required to post to a discussion forum a written response to one or more identified [by the course instructor] discussion questions. This serves two purposes – encourages  student to reflect on the discussion within context of course content, and to ‘describe’ what they learned, thus encouraging critical thinking.

5. Select and implement the best application. Create concise instructions of how-to use tool. We will be implementing Google Hangouts in our next session’s course, though we need to write specific instructions and provide how-to resources for students in order that they have the technical aspects mastered prior to participating. Creating concise instructions and offering tech support is often a neglected component when using ed-tech tools which can undermine the success of the learning.

Four More [really good] Ed-Tech Tools

2. Camtasia or Jing Screen Cast programs: Screen casts which record a screen image of a Word doc or Power Point file with a  highlight function and are accompanied by (user voice) audio recording – is an excellent tool for instructor’s to give feedback on individual or group assignments. One of my professors in grad school used this tool for giving feedback on all group assignments, using our group submission of a Word Doc, and highlighting points within it as he verbally gave feedback on key points.  One of our professors will be using this tool for graded essays in our English Composition Class next session, and another professor of a general ed Science class will be recording mini-lectures using power points slides for a part of the content delivery.

3. Khan Academy: I love Khan Academy for the concise, and specific topical lessons that can supplement a lesson beautifully. We currently use Khan videos in two of our courses, and student feedback is positive. In our United States Government course, we use a video that explains the United States Electoral system, and in our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving course to support several of the mathematical concepts required within the modules. These videos augment the lessons – a form of the content delivery.

4. Google Docs: An excellent collaborative tool that allows real time collaboration between students using documents  (Word, Excel or Power Point). In one of our courses we require a group project be submitted where all members contribute. We encourage use of group discussion board within our LMS and Google Docs. The challenge is that Google Docs is outside our current LMS making it difficult for instructor to monitor and evaluate. However, of the collaborative tools I have worked with, Google Docs is superior.

5. Course Development Planner: For Course Instructors and Designers
I was introduced to this tool by one of my readers. It was developed at Utah State University, and is a free tool for course instructors and/or course designers featuring a user-friendly design in a worksheet format through Adobe Reader. The format makes it easy to plan and organize a course. It is an ‘open source’ tool, so if you do use it I’m sure the developers would appreciate your feedback. Download the tool and watch the intro video from the You Tube site, click here.

How to choose the best ed-tech tools for Online Instruction, Online Learning Insights, Blog
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Google + Hangouts Plug-in

14 thoughts on “5 [very good] Ed-Tech tools for Online Instruction

  1. Despite of fact that the proposed Ed-Tech tools for Online Instruction seem to be very nice, from teaching bachelors point of view, they are not too much suitable for practice in real classroom with “live” students. It is because they are much time consuming (a teaching hour takes only 50 minutes!). Moreover, in my case students were not willing to use GoogleDocs, they wanted use only their shared courses’ e-mails. Thus I had to program up the specific operative forums, i. e. network between me and them. It works for all five mentioned points.


    1. Hi Stefan. Yes excellent point you bring up. Using the Ed-Tech tools as described in a face-to-face environment may not work at all, as you mentioned. I have found that students [even online] not familiar with a tool, Google Docs for example, do resist using something new and unfamiliar, though once they are ‘forced’ to, (in my experience this happens when one or more group members is already familiar with Google Docs for example) students learn quickly and see the benefits. One key factor is givings students resources for learning how-to use the tool as well. Though I will say that Google Docs is far, far better for working on group projects where one document or slide presentation is the goal, than through emailing one document back and forth.

      Thanks Stefan for your insightful comment. If any other educators out there have ideas or suggestions for Stefan, we’d love to hear from you. 🙂


  2. I had to design a course as part of a Distance Learning course in my doctoral studies. I put the Google Hangout in as one of my assignments because I thought it might be really helpful. I have used it with my own kids who were in college in different places so they, their fiances, my wife and I could all talk together, and it was a really nice tool. I haven’t actually used it in a course yet, but with you talking about it, I really want to give it a try.

    I shared this issue of your blog with other online professors that I work with to see if they have used any of these tools that you suggested. Thanks for all of your great ideas!


    1. Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for sharing this with other professors! Google Hangouts is gaining much traction within Higher Ed. I’ve come across several articles recently of other schools using Google Hangouts out for seminar discussions and more. Give it a try with your family – it’s a great way to connect with family too! Thanks for reading, and for sharing your experiences. 🙂


  3. Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful tools and I really appreciate that you included the tech ed strategy to show the thought process. I particularly like the Course Development Planner and will be sharing it with other faculty!


    1. Hi Marsha! So good to hear from you! Glad you like the tools – I agree the Course Development Planner is great! I’ll pass on your comment to the developer at Utah University, he’ll be pleased to know you find it helpful. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂


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