Learning Management Systems and Curriculum Development / by Tyler Wood

I have been testing the waters with as many online educational tools as I can find the use for. I have made a Delicious account to keep a list going so I don't forget. The following is not a comprehensive list, but tools I have recently used or started using.

1. Prezi - This is number one for me because it has changed my entire classroom. Once I started using Prezi I could not return to Powerpoint. My school still uses Powerpoint, so I still use the already made presntations, but I have been systematically making a presentation for every chapter we cover in science. I have also made a few for special occasions, like Open Class, and holidays. The non-linear nature of the presentation is wonderful in an elementary class because the kids have questions and I can use the touchscreen to move around the presentation to look at different things. You can even add Powerpoints into it, if you wanted the features of that. It's major flaw is GIF files. Adding video and pictures is easy, but it does not work with GIF files. You can add a single Powerpoint slide with GIF on it, but that is something they need to work on. Otherwise, the movement and 3D look is great. I sometimes even just keep the files I want all on one Prezi so I don't have to open and close screens in class. It makes any slides on the screen seamless and streamlined. These can be easily added to, or linked to, an online course. I would use them if the learning called for it, for sure. Online or in a blended learning course. (www.prezi.com)

2. Classdojo - I found out about this right at the beginning of this year and decided to give it a shot. It keeps track of behavior in class, but I do not use it in class. I do not use it in class live because it would take up the screen space that I need for class material. I use the screen frequently for class activities or to show visual material, so I do not want to have to go back and forth between them. I have a running point system in class and I just add behavior points to the site after the class. The students and parents can access their behavior points at home and, so far, the parents have been very pleased. The kids seemed happy with it at first, but there is a limited amount of customization they can do to their avatar, so they have since just been focused on the points. The parents are able to message me as well, but only one mom has used that feature. I like that it can give the parents more specific and timely feedback on their children in class (Wiggins, 2012). They don't have to ask their child how they were in class and get a "fine" answer. They can ask why they got a point for participating, or how they received a point for helping others? It is more transparent, which I like. However, I was intending to make my class more of a gamified environment, but this is just not as good or detailed as I was hoping. There are only a few ways to view any data, and the data is limited to attendance and simply good or bad awards. I was hoping to use it for points, so when they use their points to buy some gift I can subtract points, but it does not work that way. This means I would need a separate system for rewards. It is hard to say what would fix it, otherwise I might be a rich software designer, but it is just not Web 2.0 enough, not interactive enough, or customizable enough. So I reverted back to class points, like a stickerboard, which is what I was trying to avoid. An improvement for this digital tool would be to have an option of a sidebar version, in order to use the screen for class materials and still have the children's avatars on the side where their behavior points would be available still. Maybe have a Chrome extension. I would not recommend using this tool for a class or online as is though. (www.classdojo.com)

3. Learnboost - I found this at the beginning of the year as well. I wanted to find a better way to keep track of grades. I think using spreadsheets is worse than just writing grades down into a book. This offered graphs and easy to print, easy to read grades for my students and parents. They are also able to view them online without wasting paper. I have not allowed that, however, because my school has specific rules and software for grades (spreadsheets) and I have to use the same files as everyone else, so I could not allow the parents to see something different. I use it for me and I sometimes print out the grades to have student-teacher conferences twice a semester to talk to them about what they are doing right and what they need to improve upon. We make an action plan, and they can understand that easily. They are too young to make much sense out of a spreadsheet, and I do not have enough time to transfer all that info into graphs or other easy to understand visuals for them. I have not looked too deep into other gradebook software, so I am not sure how good this one is, but it is much better than using Microsoft Office. This would be useful for an e-learning course only if the course platform I was using did not have a built in grading tool. (www.learnboost.com)

4. TeacherKit - Similar to Learnboost, this is a classroom management software that tracks attendance, schedule, grades, and offers data visualizations. It is based on an app for your handheld devices, so it is easy to take with you anywhere you may go, even in class. However, I find that it is still faster to write things down than to shuffle through the different tabs to find the appropriate place to add the data. They have also added a simple additional app for randomly choosing students or tracking to make sure you are choosing all of your students in class. It is unfortunate that it is a separate app, but it is a nice addition to the system. I ended up using Learnboost in class after having tried them both because I preferred the interface of Learnboost, but have dropped both once I started using my LMS platform in school. If you do not have an LMS that covers all of these features, take a look at each and see what you think, they can be quiet useful in organizing a class without the messy paperwork or spreadsheets. (http://teacherkit.net)

5. Wordle - This is a simple program that turns text into a word cloud. I have used it to make vocabulary a little more fun and to help students decide on new or interesting words to use for stories or other writing. I like it, but there are only so many ways to use it. It's easy to use, but you are not able to save the clouds you make on the site, you can just print it and use it. I am not sure how it would work in an e-learning class, other than to recommend students use it for an assignment. They would still have to jump through some hoops to turn in the assignment, so I do not think it would be very useful for a fully online course. (www.wordle.com)

6. Memrise - I originally found this app in the Apple App store to help me study Korean. I really enjoyed it, then another teacher mentioned it as well and we all found out we were using it. We decided that if it worked for us, then it could work for the kids as a helpful tool for practicing their vocabulary. One of the teachers has been putting our books' vocabulary on it and we signed our students up. All the students have to have an email for access to the school-wide Scholastic Reading program, so we were able to use those email addresses for their accounts, with their approval. About half the class has really taken to it and keep track of each other. The site reminds you to study or refresh your memory itself, but our students who like it, use it often anyway. They are keeping track of leaderboards and scores with each other. There are four of us teachers using it and our students have linked up with each other as well, so they study together outside of school or online with this. They can add content and make it more individualized, so they really like that. They can also study books not a part of our class to gain their own knowledge and follow their intrinsic interest to learn. This would be a great suppliment to any e-learning class. (www.memrise.com)

7. Gliffy - I have only used this once for a class and I was not terribly impressed. It seemed very much like something I could do with my own Apple software on my computer at home anyway. I think it would be useful for making worksheets or other printables, but I am not sure I would use it for an e-learning class. If it was a blended class and they could use paper worksheets in class, maybe. (www.gliffy.com)

8. Dipity - I was very hopeful of this tool for making interactive timelines, but was very disappointed by their interpretation of interactive. I was hoping you could add content and adjust or have a walkthrough the timeline to make it very interactive in class on a touchscreen. The interactive part was basically that you could add a lot of events to the timeline and zoom in and out, but that was pretty much it. I might try and use it again to see if anything has changed because the possibilities are great for this idea, but I remember feeling a little disappointed and decided to not use it for the class I was planning for. I still might find some good uses for Dipity timelines in an online class, so I would consider it for use, but I would need to try it again to be sure. (www.dipity.com)

9. BrainPOP and BrainPOPjr. - I have used these sites many times over the past few years and I still look to them for great content and activities. It is mostly a video learning software with worksheets, activities, and games attached to each lesson. The videos are animated and the kids enjoy them. They cover pretty much every major subject you could ask for in elementary and kindergarten. They have space, dinosaurs, writing, you name it. It is a pay site, so I am not sure how I would be able to integrate it into an e-learning class, but if I could, I would. There is a limit to how many people can access the site under one account, so each child would need their own account, and that could add too much cost to the school or parents. (www.brainpop.com and www.brainpopjr.com)

10. Jux - I used this slideshow software once for a class and I was not impressed. It looked nice, but was very glitchy and not very dynamic. It is basically a slideshow you can share online. If I was creating an online class, I would already have the ability to share a slideshow, so there would be no need for this tool. It looks nice and would be useful for personal uses, but I did not see the point for my class. (www.jux.com)

11. Flickr Commons - I have fallen in love with this for making worksheets and generally designing content. There are thousands, maybe millions, of free to use photos. You can search them and find what you are looking for, mostly. You have to be a little creative and be ok with black and white photography, but it is a great service to be able to use to create aesthetically pleasing content. It would work especially well in any history class because most of the photos are historic anyway. Maybe it is just my love of photography, but I immediately loved this tool for finding free stock photography for class. I would certainly use this tool in an online class, blended or fully online. I enjoy being able to be creative with the design of the site and this would give me more freedom without having to pay a large amount for some other stock photography sites. (www.flickr.com)

12. Smart Seat - This is a very simple app that allows the teacher to organise their seating chart. The teacher can alter seats, choose students randomly, or even organize the seating randomly using the app. They can also track attendance or tardiness and take notes. It is not free and not very interesting in the design category, but it can be useful if these are the only features you are in need of tracking. You would still need a separate grade system, so I would not bother with it in my class. With web 2.0 technology, there are other options that are cheaper that would cover s much more, so I find this technology lacking and overpriced. (https://edshelf.com/tool/smart-seat/)

On my Delicious list, I have built up a list of a few tools I have yet to try but would like to. Here are a few of the tools I want to use. 

1. Diigo - This is an annotation and cloud tool. It seems very much like the annotations in the Kindle, but if it can be used on websites and PDFs then it might be more useful to compile all the information for one subject together for helping create lessons. Depending on how it works, I might recommend it for students to use, but it seems like something I would use to help create the content, not really something in the course itself. (www.diigo.com)

2. Edublogs - I really want to set up a blogging community for my students. This one seems a little safer than a blog that is open to all because it was built for education uses, so this might be what I am looking for. The students could write, connect, and share online with this. (www.edublogs.org)

3. Story Board That - I use storyboarding in my writing classes a lot to help students visualize their story before writing it. This tool seems like it might make the process of storyboarding even more fun. If I like the interface, this would be useful in an online class because I would not need to print off all the storyboarding sheets for class, they can work on that part at home and bring it to class to review. (www.storyboardthat.com)

4. Socratic - This is a question and answer board for studying. This might be a helpful resource for students when they can not reach the teacher for some reason. I would hope to be able to respond as quickly as possible, but perhaps it is a weekend and they need help, they can go here and read or ask questions to get help from the community. (www.socratic.org)

5. Storybird - This is a beautiful looking tool for storywriting and publishing. Students can create a book from their work that they can keep and remember. This could easily be incorporated in an e-learning class by having it be part of the homework or a project to work on. I would like to try this with my advanced writers when we finish our Sci-Fi stories we are working on now to see how it goes. It looks interesting and I think the kids would enjoy playing around with it. (www.storybird.com)

This is an always growing list, but I hope to narrow it down to the tools that will actually help me create a useful, effective, and memorable course when I am ready to design one.

Click below for more information on the learning management system (LMS) I chose and why.



Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

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