Day 13 of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge asks us to name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.
#1 (in terms of frequency) Blackboard
I use Blackboard, our school's CMS, on an almost daily basis. Let me get straight to why it's a 6/10.
First, the positives. A LOT of teachers on our campus use Blackboard, and students have come to expect it. They find it easy to use, and they like having regular access to their grades and the online feedback I can provide with that feature. Most of them are so comfortable using Blackboard that it's second nature. Even for a f2f course, in a lab I can house a task in Bboard and even on the first day, students can access and complete it easily. It's kinda nice having a universally-known system like that to post links and relevant handouts.
There's something very... flat about Bboard. Sure, one could argue that this is an English class, and since it's pretty easy for the instructor to communicate with the students through text and for them to do the same it should be fine. But something is just missing. Something is lacking. There is a hurdle to overcome to get students to engage socially as they do naturally in a f2f class, and most of them don't. I'd like to move a CMS beyond being another on our students' to-do list and get them really excited about what our CMS can do, to integrate it a bit more into their lives.
Bboard also isn't quite as streamlined as it might be. I am not a design expert, but I have a feeling that in a few years the current layout of Bboard (or Moodle, which I've used as a student) will modernize pretty dramatically.
A colleague of mine turned me on to VoiceThread. I love how easy it is to create video/text material for students. I think it's great for introducing a unit. In a fully online class I can easily create scenarios for them to engage with in a mode of communication they see fit (text, audio, video). This is great for students who want just a little bit of instructor presence, and if the instructor matches the video with text on the screen, it is good for hard-of-hearing users, too. (Accessibility!) Students can watch, rewind, and see what other students have posted.
I'm not teaching fully online now, but I use the video feature to introduce the unit (like a mini-lecture) and provide the space for students to ask questions. I often preview some of the questions we'll tackle when we meet f2f, and I accompany their watching the VT and completing other readings with a weekly quiz. I struggled this summer in getting students to use the comment feature in lieu of Blackboard's traditional discussion board, so I will have to work with that next time around.
I give VT a 7/10. Lots of possibilities, but it's hard to manage a very interactive, truly threaded discussion that mirrors a f2f class when you're expecting 30 students to log in and post.
In case you're curious, here is a link to the video I did to preview this week's class. https://voicethread.com/share/6042725/