Tools-of-the-Trade to Make your Online Teaching Even Better

In this ‘tools-of-the-trade’ post I review methods and tech tools that help online educators use voice and media-rich applications that deliver vivid descriptions and instructions that support and enhance learning. 

Tools-of-the-Trade for Online Instructors

Before I get into the details and strategies of using a variety of tools and applications to communicate beyond words on a page, I’ll admit that I have a love-hate relationship with technological applications of the ilk that I review here. I love them for what the results they produce; how students are motivated, feel more connected with the course, and how the quality of learning is enhanced. An example of this might be a video clip featuring an instructor giving a course overview, describing the syllabus and including welcome message which can reach students in a way words on the page cannot.  But I hate the barriers associated the technology—and there are many unique to educators. The learning curve is one thing, which I consider short-term pain for long-term gain, but then it’s battling with the non user-friendly applications, the steep learning curve, or using tools outside of the course management system.

Yet despite the drawbacks, it’s worthwhile to persevere. The benefits are great for students and instructors. For educators, saving time is a big one. An example—a short video featuring the instructor describing details and expectations of an upcoming assignment, and posting it to the course site to augment written instructions goes a long way. An experienced online educator I’ve worked with uses this method extensively. It’s significantly reduced the number of email questions from students, and the quality of student work is also higher.

I’ve selected three different methods for online instructors to engage with their students and tools that I think are most reliable, easy to use, and best suited for educators. In this tools-of-the-trade post I focus on only one method, Delivering Guidance and Instructions, and in the next post, Giving Feedback to Students and Engaging in Synchronous Discussion.

  1. Delivering guidance and instructions to learners about assignments, course content, projects OR informational content such as course messages or updates using video, audio or screen cast (capture of audio and still images, screen shots, or moving actions on a computer screen)
  2. Giving feedback to students individually using audio or text tools [next post]
  3. Engaging in synchronous discussion with one or more students using tools facilitating such—online chat, voice or video contact [next post]

My aim is to help readers save time—reduce the learning curve and minimize the aggravation associated with tech-tools.  I have used most of the tools below using a Macbook Pro and share my insights about each, though I indicate which ones I’ve not worked with. Before getting into the tools here are few items of note:

  • Screen cast: video recording (usually used to deliver instructions or explanation) of the computer screen, capturing the movements of the user (instructor) accompanied by audio narration
  • When creating a video clip or screen cast there are several places where the digital file can be stored for students to access: 1) the Course Management system, 2) YouTube, 3) Google Drive, or 4) [specific to screen casts]

Deliver Guidance and/or Instruction
Description/Purpose: A short video, audio clip or screen cast recording communicating instructions about an assignment, how to participate in an aspect of the online class, a review of the syllabus, answers to a case study or discussion question, etc. Brings life to a course by explaining a difficult concept or complex instructions. Videos clips, audio clips or screen casts featuring the instructor can be powerful.

Example below of an instructor delivering a screen cast for her students describing how to participate in class discussions. The setting on this file is public, however instructors can select the private option, allowing only students with the link to view an uploaded video.

Screen Casts:  I created a screen cast recently and tried four programs on my MacBook Pro, QuickTIme, Jing, Camtasia and SnagIt (though there are others), though I found Camtasia had too many features (too complicated) and QuickTime though straightforward, the pause feature didn’t work consistently for me,  [I like to pause during recording to collect my thoughts, otherwise I have to start over]. If you are confident that you can record straight through without needing to pause, this program is for you.

Jing  [for Mac and Windows] by Tech Smith is by far the easiest to use, with the shortest learning curve. Jing is a free software program available for Mac or PC that you can download from Tech Smith’s site. Once a screen cast is recorded and saved, it automatically is uploaded to, a server that hosts the file for free. Though there is a limit on file space (you can buy additional space for a reasonable fee). The screen cast can be made private so only the students with the link can view it, which can be shared via the course management site or email.  Another bonus is TechSmith’s excellent video tutorials, and help desk support available via email.  The drawback with Jing is that you are limited to sharing on

SnagIt  [for Mac and Windows] is the paid version of Jing, which I am using the trial of, and I will buy— it’s worth it for my needs at $49.99. It offers more features, including the file format which is mp4, a versatile file format that condenses the size of a file without losing quality, allowing it be uploaded to different platforms, (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook) and play on a variety of devices.

Recording a Video Clip:
One option is recording a video or audio clip within the institution’s course management system (CMS). Though not all LMSs’ have the capability, and of those that do, I can only share the instructions found from links on the web.  If your  CMS offers  the capability of recording a short video seamlessly, this is the way to go.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 10.55.23 PM
Quicktime screen casts, videos or audio recordings can be uploaded to the applications listed here

Quick Time for Mac (the application that comes installed with Mac laptops and desktops). It’s very easy to record, has a low learning curve and many share options.  The only drawback is the pause feature, which is tricky as sometimes I miss clicking it and then I have to start recording again. To pause, click the option button on the keyboard, and click the corresponding pause button on the menu bar. Resume by clicking the record button again. When the circle button to when finish. The sharing button in the menu bar reveals several options, which is one of the best features of this particular program.

Options for PC users,  Capture Video with Windows Movie Maker,

Create a Channel on YouTube: If you plan to post your videos to YouTube, you will need to create a channel [a specific page reserved for your videos only], and need a Google email account  to do so. It will take approximately 30 minutes to set up.  Once you create a channel you can upload videos. Settings allow you to create public or private, videos [where only students with the link can view the video]. Don’t worry about the filming process, most webcams on laptops with the built-in audio produce high quality videos, as do smart phone devices. Also learners are forgiving of the quality—sounding natural is the key, so a flawless performance is not necessary.

Conclusion: As I mentioned in the opening, the toughest part to using tech tools is the initial process—the downloading of the software, the learning curve, etc. But once you get over this hurdle, the process becomes seamless. In the tools-of-the-trade post I cover tools to facilitate synchronous communication between student and instructor, and tools for providing meaningful feedback.

Further Reading:

15 thoughts on “Tools-of-the-Trade to Make your Online Teaching Even Better

  1. This is very informative. Although I am not currently an instructor, I have used Jing and Snag It in a corporate training to facilitate new process learning to my peers. Since our team was all all remote, I found it imperative to engage them in a different manner. The results were astounding and my manager was pleasantly surprised with the presentation. It has been stored in the repository for new new staff to review upon joining the team.


  2. Totally agree with what you say about screencasting and Jing, Debbie. I use it to give feedback on students’s assignments/forum postings and to show students how to use tools. The fact that the free version limits screencasts to 5 mins isn’t a problem I find – either you make a series or you learn to be concise! I also use Vocaroo for voice recording activities – like Jing, the audio files are stored on their server and you only need to post/mail the URL. Thx for sharing your ideas! Veronica


    1. Hi Veronica,
      Ohh this is helpful feedback! I hadn’t hear of Vocaroo before – thanks. Which tool do you prefer for giving students feedback on written assignments? I am doing the another post on giving student individual feedback and would be interested in your opinion and preference. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share.


  3. Thanks!

    Margaret D. Atkins

    Instructional Designer
    Office of Information Technology (OIT)
    Support Organization: Instructional Development and Training

    The University of Tennessee
    503 Greve Hall
    821 Volunteer Blvd.
    Knoxville, TN 37996-3395
    Phone: 865-974-3056 Fax: 865-974-3960


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