Connected Educator Month Webinar Highlights: Learning to #teachtheweb – Great Tools for Production-Centered Design from Common Sense Media and Graphite

In the second of our CEM Webinar Highlights series we turn to online applications that can be used by students to create content for assignments or to present in class. Online applications offer engaging and exciting ways for students to complete their work and can help teachers effectively achieve Universal Design for Learning (UDL) objectives, as well as utilize technology tools to differentiate instruction. In this CEM webinar—presented by Educator Innovator, Common Sense Media and Graphite, and the Mozilla foundation—various online content-production tools are explained, in addition to the introduction of an app review site (graphite.org) and a web editing tool (hackasaurus.org). Below, we provide a brief summary of each tool presented in the webinar.

Graphitewww.graphite.org – is a website wholly devoted to reviewing educational apps—primarily those found on the web but also console- and pc-based software. The site is run by Common Sense Media, which itself is a reviewer of media content for children and youth. There is no requirement to sign up in order to access the reviews; however, if you do, you can create a personalized page that tracks your favorite apps as well as write your own reviews. Along with the expert reviewers’ opinions, you will find teachers’ reviews and experiences. Used in coordination with other members of your team, Graphite can serve as a starting-point—in addition to PowerUp’s Technology Implementation Practice Guide—when considering bringing blended learning activities into your school.

Pixton www.pixton.com – is a graphic design website that provides users with an interface and set of tools to create comic strips. The tools provided allow students to be creative, but are at the same time tailored for non-expert use, so that the content production process is intuitive. Teachers can set up an account for the classroom, divided by groups if desired, with or without student emails, and with specific settings in place to moderate what students are able to do. Pixton is compatible with smart boards and can be used in class as well as outside of class. The teacher can set up the students with clearly-defined projects from within the website, using their own content, or by starting with templates already provided by Pixton and shared across users. The templates are searchable by subject and content objectives, and they are designed to be aligned with specific learning outcomes. Whatever the student creates can be sent to and commented on by the teacher for further review, and students can work on projects either individually or collaboratively in groups. Finally, there are integrated platforms for grading; including rubrics that allow the student to become an active participant in his/her own evaluation. The service is fee-based, with pricing options depending upon the number of students (accounts) and duration of use, costing anywhere from $0.84/student for 50 students over 2 months ($42), to $2.60/student over 1 year ($130)—the fee being a one-time payment.

Animoto www.animoto.com – is a web video production website that offers users a platform and set of tools to create short clips that use images, videos, animation and sounds to achieve a kind of video collage. The site offers both a free as well as a paid version. The presenters of the CEM webinar suggested that the free version—which allows for 30-second clips—is often sufficient for the goals of teachers and students. With this version, students are challenged to be concise when conveying the necessary information for their video assignment, which can be done by the student individually or in collaboration with other students.

Minecraft www.minecraft.net – Perhaps the best-known, variably controversial or beloved, potentially educational app presented in this webinar, Minecraft is used by millions of young people across the globe. It consists of a graphically-rudimentary yet limitless world in which the user can build structures with cube-shaped objects, either in teams or individually. The downloadable program can be educational, given the appropriate framing, provided by the teacher: “A history teacher in Australia set up “quest missions” where students can wander through and explore ancient worlds. An English-language teacher in Denmark told children they could play Minecraft collectively in the classroom but with one caveat: they were allowed to communicate both orally and through text only in English. A science teacher in California has set up experiments in Minecraft to teach students about gravity.” (NyTimes: "Disruptions: Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool). The program requires a one-time purchase, which can come at a discount to educators through the minecraftedu website.

Prezi www.prezi.com – is analogous to Microsoft PowerPoint. What differentiates it from Powerpoint is the fact that it is online, it is social, and it has a distinct style which has come to be known as, “the zooming presentation”, due to its characteristic “zooming” effect which is used to flip between slides. The website has grown enormously in popularity since 2009, to a total of 26 million registered users and 500 million prezis viewed in the second quarter of 2013. Signup is free, and users can view and share prezis with other users, as well as collaborate on the same presentation shared between accounts. This online sharing aspect of the platform means that users don’t need to have common software and they don’t need to even manage the sharing of files across devices. Users can pop in and collaborate when and where they want to, which means that students working together and teachers’ revising and commenting on student work is comparably seamless when compared with using Powerpoint.

Voicethread www.ed.voicethread.com – is a service that promotes the use of voice recording over other media content, within a presentation format, to convey information. The .ed account is a fee-based service that provides a secure learning community for educators and students. This means that only students and educators can interact with the content contained within the community, and the only content within that community and accessible through the .ed account is created by and for educators and students. Each account, whether at the school or at the classroom level, receives its own unique URL, and the teacher serves as a moderator, approving or denying any content posted by the student. The levels of interaction range from groups of students and educators, to the classroom, the school, the district, state, country, or even intercontinental levels. Collaboration is emphasized for any given project, ultimately leading to a product that reflects the efforts of multiple students and/or teachers.

With any one of—or all of—the above listed online tools, you can begin to promote learning that addresses UDL principles and engages and excites students to create collaboratively. Be sure to check out PowerUp’s Instructional Strategy Guides for ELA and Math, as well as our resources on UDL principles to get ideas about how to most effectively harness the power of each and every one of these new and exciting online teaching tools!

Let us know if you’ve used any of these tools, if you know of others that meet UDL principles for learning, or if you have any questions about how to get started by commenting below! 

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Michael McGarrah for helping to compile this post. 

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