“Cool” Online Tools for BComm: Prezi, VoiceThread, and Screencast-o-matic

This past week I attended a technology workshop taught by the University of Cincinnati’s Carolyn Stoll, a trainer and analyst in our Instructional and Research Computing office. I learned about several online tools that you can use to enhance your teaching and engage your students.

While you can get brief information on all 13 tools she discussed by going to her weebly.com site and clicking “carousel” in the lefthand panel,  I recommend that you check out the three that Carolyn  particularly focused on in the workshop:

Prezi. This Flash-based alternative to PowerPoint is gaining widespread popularity—perhaps many of you have heard of it or are even using it. Instead of creating a series of sequential slides, you create or paste materials (text, video links, visuals–whatever) onto an infinitely spacious canvas. When the end user views your show, he or she can roam around the canvas and click on the different materials, which Prezi then zooms in on.  If you want users to view the materials in a certain order, you can create a “path” to have the materials display in that order.

The main advantage over PowerPoint is that the whole presentation is sitting there on one screen, keeping the viewer from having to scroll forwards and backwards in PowerPoint to access different contents/media. Because of the built-in animation (in the form of zooming and other effects), it also just looks “cool.” The tool also includes Prezi Meeting, which will enable students to collaborate on a presentation.

The basic Prezi account is somewhat limited, but upgrading to an educator’s license is free. Read more at prezi.com.

VoiceThread. Anybody who is really tired of digging through layers of comments on a discussion board (or of trying to make students do this—which mine now basically refuse to do) will appreciate this alternative. It’s an especially great tool for enabling students to discuss a particular artifact (such as an image, document, or website) while they’re looking at it—something that’s hard to do when you’re four or five layers deep in Blackboard.

You essentially upload what you want your students to discuss. (They need to create accounts on VoiceThread to be able to do so.) As they go to your VoiceThread site to participate in the discussion, their comments take the form of small squares that surround the central square showing the item being discussed. Participants can then click each small square to access that student’s typed or recorded comment. It’s hugely more visually appealing and media-friendly than your basic discussion board—and according to a couple of instructors at the workshop who already use this tool, students love it.

The basic VoiceThread account is free but pretty limited; if you try it and want to use it in a course, you’ll probably need to pay $99 for a single educator’s license. Read more at voicethread.com.

Screencast-o-Matic.  This freebie makes it easy for you to “film” a series of screen shots and deliver them as a little video. I can think of two really great uses for bcomm: (1) showing students how to perform certain computer tasks, such as creating a table of contents in Word or a chart in Excel; (2) responding to a student paper by capturing the sceen as you scroll through the paper and, as you do so, either recording or typing your comments.

The free version enables you to record up to 15 minutes at a time, which is more generous than Jing or some other free screen-capture tools. And no downloading of software is necessary. You do need the Java player to create a video, and your students will need the Flash player. Read more at screencast-o-matic.com.

If you try these tools, or have tried them already, please share your experiences with us.

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