Being able to solve complex problems has always been a goal of education, and designing web pages, videos, online storybooks,
audio creations, digital leaning portfolios and games forces students to synthesize knowledge from across disciplines. Creating online media immerses students into technology, forcing them to become digitally literate. It teaches perseverance, problem solving and digital citizenship; it allows choice and creativity and alternative forms of demonstrating knowledge; and it requires higher level thinking skills.
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There are some key affordances of having students create digital projects. When space is limited but computers are available, creating digital items such as videos, games, voice-overs, coding or remixes is a way to get students making stuff without making a mess in a small space (for information on coding, click here). These types of tools also offer great opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning by recording what they have learned in a digital format. Additionally, many digital projects can be made quickly when time is a constraint.
They consist of three main categories:
  • Tools used to create original products
  • Tools that are used to display created work
  • Tools that support making

Below is a brief overview of how these types of tools can enhance student learning, a good beginner tool in each area, and, because there are so many tools available online, a link to an article or blog post that evaluates a number of tools in that category.


Tools Used to Create Original Products

Video Editing & Creation

Creating videos is a fantastic way for students to creatively demonstrate their understanding of a topic. Digital storytelling, an online book or visually representing an essay are a few examples of things that can be done with these tools. It also provides great opportunities to discuss copyright issues as students will want to use material from popular culture in their creations.

A place to start:
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PopcornMaker is a simple online-based program by Mozilla can be a good introduction to editing videos. There is a lot of clicking involved, but the learning curve is quickly overcome.

More places to go:

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  • Camtasia is for video editing and creating. It's a little big complicated at first but does a lot of things. Snagit is a screen capture tool, which can then be inserted into videos. The annotated photos could be used in class as an assignment for expressing an idea or concept, or incorporated into a larger project like a video. Both are made by Tech Smith, available for Mac and Windows, and both offer a free trial.


Even more places to go:


Audio Editing

Learning how to edit their own audio recordings requires students to "proofread" their work in a way inaccessible to them with only paper. Listening to their own words in their own voice opens the door to metacognition in a new way.

A place to start:
Audacity-logo-r_50pct.jpgAudacity is free, open source and works on Mac or PC. It is a great way to learn how the basics of audio editing work, then either stick with Audacity or change to a different tool as you become proficient.



More places to go:

Screencasting

Students can use these products to record audio and a computer or tablet screen all at once. When they use tablets, they also capture whatever writing they do on the screen. Screencasting is a terrific way for students to create their own lessons for each other, to remix found content, or to implement a totally new work. Additionally, screencasting can be used by teachers to record lessons, instructions or procedures on videos that students can watch before class, freeing up class time for making. Screencasting seems to work best when you have equipment on which you can write--so tablets are almost essential to this medium; however, present the problem to your students and see what ways they come up with to use screencasting if your classroom is without tablet devices!

A place to start:
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ScreenChomp is Tech Smith's free screencasting app. It offers a basic white board with the ability to insert any image as a backdrop. It is an excellent way to begin screencasting, but currently only made for iPads.




More places to go:
  • Andrew Douchy has assembled a thorough list of screencasting tools for teachers. He evaluates 16 programs, provides explanations of all 16 and evaluates their usefulness for teachers. His list is on his blog post from February 2014, The Best screencasting software for teachers.


App Creation

What a great opportunity for students to be creative! Students can create apps that give quizzes on content for students who do not have access to computers at home, or they could design an app that supports a need in their community. There are app making programs that do not require coding (for more on this see our coding tools page), so this could be used by students across disciplines.


A place to start:

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MIT App Inventor is free, Google-suported and uses a drag-and-drop interface.



More places to go:
  • Reg Swanson has a good list of app-building programs for students and teachers. It is a bit old (2011), but is a great place to start. Don't miss the comments, where participants extended the list! His article is called "10 App-Building Tools for Teachers and Students".


There are so many more!

More places to go:


Tools for Displaying Student Work

The purpose: Just knowing that work will be posted on the internet, for anybody to see, increases the buy-in for students (Donaldson, 2014). Once work is posted and viewed by others, new ideas can be created, questions asked, feedback given. Students can collect their work formally in online portfolios or less formally in wikis or blogs. In the article "5 Reasons To Use Digital Portfolios In Your Classroom", Jennifer Rita Nichols suggests also that online portfolios are a great way for sturggling students because it offers them a different way to present their work (2013).

A place to start:

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Blogger is owned by Google, so one advantage to using it as a basic portfolio system for students is that they can use their Google login here, too. The system is simple, easy to use and has minimal clicking to get from page to page in the back end.





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YouTube is already used by students to publish their own work, so why not capitalize on that and have them publish school work on it as well?




More places to go:
  • Rod Lucier has compiled a lost of online portfolio tools on his blog post 15 Efficient e-Portfolio Tools. This list is quite old, (2009) but all of the site except the first one (Posterus) are still in use today.


Tools that Support the Making

The purpose:
To serve the student who is making something. This is often the "how to", but can also be any site that informs the student on his or her project.

A place to start:
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Of course, YouTube! Anyone can learn how to do almost anything just by browsing this video collection site. Students can let their imaginations run wild!



Another place to go:
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DIY.org is a great site that who's target audience is kids. There are gazillions of videos of things they can make, the user interface is simple and easy to navigate. Best feature: this site will probably not get blocked by your school's internet filter.