18 Web 2.0 Tools for Instruction
Experts offer up their top picks of web 2.0 apps that are having a big impact on teaching and learning in higher education.
The long list of web 2.0 and social software tools—a confusing array of cute and unspellable names—seems to grow daily: Web 2.0 directory Go2Web20.net, for instance, includes more than 3,000 entries. Yet many educators have managed to keep up with the proliferation and leverage these clever apps to better teach and communicate with their students.
We asked two web 2.0 gurus in higher education for their favorite tools that offer the most impact on instruction. All are easily accessible software tools with a low technology threshold, making them generally easy on tight IT or departmental budgets and personnel resources. While web 2.0 and social software tools are not always freeware and may require some investment of IT or help desk staff time, many have free or low-cost versions. Still, the main benefits of these tools include the ability to connect easily with students and share information widely via common web 2.0 interfaces.
Though the list is sure to grow and change even before the ink dries for this issue of CT, these 18 apps are a useful starting point for those looking to delve beyond Facebook and Twitter in the classroom.
Sarah Robbins (aka “Intellagirl”) is the director of emerging technologies at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she also teaches MBA courses in digital and social media marketing. Here are her tools to try:
Application: Video aggregation. Cost: Free.
Magma provides video aggregation capabilities from any source on the net. “Magma is an easy way to pull together a selection of videos for a class, whether the instructor chooses them or students contribute them. It has an RSS feed and tag search too, so it’s easy to change the way you receive and organize the videos,” comments Robbins.
Flook (available through the iTunes store; search on “Flook location”)
Application: Location-based social networking. Cost: Free.
Like Foursquare (foursquare.com) and Layar (layar.com), Flook is a social networking app that uses the GPS capabilities of mobile devices to deliver information with a location-based context. Robbins explains that students can use any of these social networking tools to gain new insights from updated, location-based information. She offers a practical example: “A biology class learning to identify basic plant structures could use Flook or Layar to photograph and tag specimens that then get placed on a map and shared with [the students’] network.” Robbins points out that these tools also work well for team activities such as scavenger hunts.
Application: Website wiki plug-in. Cost: Free.
With Google’s Sidewiki, users can easily place a wiki “on the side” of any public website via a plug-in. “Sidewiki is one of Google’s lesser-used tools but it’s powerful,” says Robbins, noting that because all Sidewiki users must have a Google account, it essentially overlays a social network across the entire internet. “Used along with Google Buzz’s friend capabilities, Sidewiki allows teachers to bunch students together into a network and then place their conversations right next to the resource they’re discussing, such as online articles, artwork, or videos,” she explains.
UStream Mobile (ustream.tv/mobile)
Application: Streaming video for smartphones. Cost: Free.
Ustream allows users to record and stream live video from any smartphone with video capabilities. Making streaming video less complicated—removing requirements for complex server setups—is a major advantage of Ustream, which also incorporates a chat function. Robbins notes, “The streamer can see live comments from the audience and even record the video to share online. Students can Ustream their team discussions, simulations, and speeches, or create their own live interview shows.”
Application: Mobile video sharing. Cost: Free.
Thwapr is a mobile-to-mobile or desktop-to-mobile video-sharing tool that also provides the option of making social networking posts. Students can use any mobile device, such as a smartphone or camera-equipped laptop, to shoot quick videos and send them to a network. “This can be very useful for quick video discussion prompts or impromptu group reports via video,” says Robbins. “Because the videos can be delivered to both mobile and tethered devices, students and faculty can leverage immediacy and flexibility in how the videos are created and shared.”
Application: Screen grab and video tool. Cost: Free; pro version available for $14.95 per year.
Jing is a tool from TechSmith for taking screen grabs and making videos to share. “It’s easy for students to download and install for filming on-screen demonstrations (with or without voice-overs) as well as for instructors to include screen shots in instructional materials or to provide audio feedback as they view student work,” comments Robbins. “Jing even includes online storage for videos and pics taken with the tool,” she adds.
Mark Frydenberg, a frequent adviser to CT on web 2.0 tools, offers a few of his favorites from his teaching experience as senior lecturer of computer information systems at Bentley University (MA). Here are the tools he recommends:
Delicious, Diigo, and Twine
(delicious.com; diigo.com; twine.com)
Application: Social bookmarking. Cost: Free.
Delicious is one of the earliest social bookmarking tools on the web. It allows users to bookmark sites online, and the list of saved sites is then available on any computer in any browser, rather than just in the browser running on the PC on which the user initially created the bookmarks. Each bookmark can be tagged with keywords for organization and search purposes. Frydenberg points out the feature that makes the tool so famous: “Delicious shows you the tags and number of people who also bookmarked a particular article, so you can get a sense of its popularity.”
Diigo provides social bookmarking and annotation services. It allows users to add “sticky notes” to articles bookmarked online and also see the comments and notes from other readers. Another, more recent entry in the social bookmarking arena is Twine, which allows individuals to collect online content, organize it by topic, and share it with other users. Twine employs semantic technologies that enable it to make recommendations based on previous items collected.4
Application: Screencasting. Cost: Free.
ScreenToaster is a screen recorder designed to capture screen activity in real time to create and share tutorials, demos, training, lectures, and more. “Both students and teachers can create tutorials or video tours of websites or other applications, and then easily upload them to YouTube or ScreenToaster’s server,” explains Frydenberg.
Application: Scheduling. Cost: Free; ad-free premium version available for $28 per year.
Doodle’s purpose is to make it easy to organize group meetings. Users select possible dates and times, and then e-mail the “doodle” to meeting attendees, who can check off the times that they are available. “Organizing meetings for group projects has never been simpler,” enthuses Frydenberg.
Google Presentations (docs.google.com)
Application: Online presentations. Cost: Free.
Google Presentations is part of the Google Docs suite of office applications, and has functionality similar to PowerPoint. “Because the presentations are stored online, it is easy to share and collaborate with other users,” comments Frydenberg. “In addition, for anyone who teaches more than one section of a course, embedding a presentation on a course website is much more efficient than posting a file to multiple sites.” When a presentation is altered, the page on which it is embedded will automatically load the most recent version stored in the cloud.
Application: Live blogging. Cost: Free; various paid premium and subscription versions available.
Live blogging during a classroom lecture or presentation allows students to share notes and reactions during class, and gives students the opportunity to create a transcript of the class discussion. The leader can also “push” one-question surveys and videos to all participants. CoveritLive is meant to make a live back channel easy to manage. Frydenberg notes, “The live blog is easily embedded on a course blog or website.”
Application: Computational knowledge engine. Cost: Free.
Using a variety of publicly available data and complex knowledge and computational engines, WolframAlpha’s goal is to “make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything.” Frydenberg offers examples of some of its usefulness in education: “WolframAlpha can tell you the distance from Tokyo to Boston and how long it takes to get there by plane, sound, and fiber optic cable; it can retrieve historical gas and stock prices; and from it you can find out how to integrate, evaluate, and graph mathematical formulas.”
Application: Online meetings. Cost: Free for small meetings; pro version available for $25 per month.
Dimdim is a platform to host online meetings. Within Dimdim, participants can share a desktop, document, web browser, or whiteboard. In addition, Dimdim provides a dial-in number for participants to listen in or talk on the phone in a conference call setting while the presentation is taking place. Frydenberg reflects on the tool’s value in higher education: “It’s a perfect environment for webinars, and for holding class on snow days despite the fact that the college is closed.”
Application: Tracking and matching tweets. Cost: Free.
With Twitterfall, an instructor can create a hashtag for his or her class and have students tweet during class. Like Twitter’s search function (search.twitter.com), Twitterfall searches for matching tweets, but it displays them in customizable colors and sizes, so participants can see what others are thinking when the list of tweets is displayed on a large screen in the classroom.