Two free collaborative tools that will help e-learners

Over the last few years I have evolved as an online instructor, and I think I do a fairly good job.  One thing I will always need to work on is class engagement.  More specifically, I want to work on equipping students to ask deep questions and help them access a depth of knowledge that they have never seen before.  Even though I don’t have any data to support my assumptions, I am confident in the following statements because most of my ideas are centered around Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Benjamin Bloom worked on establishing a classification of higher ordered thinking, and some of the strategies mentioned in this post will provide students with an opportunity to access all of the levels of thinking as seen in the image below.

The Question

How can (math) educators equip students to effectively communicate their questions to their online class/instructor?

Many students in my face to face math classes struggle asking questions because they are not confident in their ability to articulate what they don’t understand.  This could be a culmination of many things, but I would hypothesize that the primary issue is processing time.  I think my students would be more confident in their ability to ask questions if they had more time to process their thoughts.  This why I love the concept of online math education (tutoring too), and the development of a unique learning environment outside of the classroom that fosters critical thinking reflection.

When facilitated correctly, online math courses provide students with time to work asynchronously and formulate questions that directly address what they do not understand.  Here is the problem!   How do online students communication what they don’t understand?  You’re right, they have to communicate using email, discussion boards, etc, all of which require good writing skills.  Educators cannot assume that their students are going to be good writers, and it is vitally important to equip online students with technology that can facilitate several methods of communication

One Solution

Try pairing of Jing (and a microphone) with a whiteboard app like the A Web Whiteboard (AWW), and I think you will understand where I am coming from.  There are several technologies that have similar functional to Jing and AWW, but I have found these two extremely user friendly.

What is Jing?

Jing is the baby brother of Camtasia, the screen capture software that I use to create videos like the one below.  Jing is a free solution that has obvious limitations, but the technology is perfect for what I need it do to.  Jing limits videos to five minutes, which is ideal because I want questions to be clear and concise.

What is AWW?

AWW is a cool web based whiteboard application that students can use to write out math problems on their computer.  This app simulates the whiteboard experience that students have in the classroom.  There will be a learning curve as students get comfortable using the mouse as a pen, and I think they will adjust quickly.

The Process

Once Jing is installed, all a student needs to do is visit the  AWW site and start recording their work.  Each student will need to develop their own style of communication, and become comfortable hearing their recorded voice.  Once the recording is complete, the student should upload the video and share the link with the instructor/class.


There are several extensions to the process highlighted above, and I would challenge you to use your imagination and come up with a few ideas of  your own.  If you are bold enough, I would invite you to share your ideas below in the comment section below.   Personally, I envision this solution evolving into an assessment tool where students are asked to make video examples that contain errors.  Each student will share their video with the class, and the other students will be asked asked to identify/correct the errors.


This solution is not perfect, and I have made a lot of assumptions.  We all know what happens when you assume…  For example. this solution would not benefit a student who is blind or visually impaired.  The prescribed method is extremely visual, and poses major questions about accessibility.  I am also making the assumption that 100% my students have access to a computer and reliable internet, which also not realistic.  It is also important to assess the technical competency of each student, and provide tutorials if necessary.  It is important for online instructors to take all of these realities into consideration, and be as accommodating as possible.

Please take some time and take Jing + AWW for a test drive.  If you create any videos, please share a  link to your video in the comment section below.  I would like to do a follow up post discussion different use cases, and your feedback is valuable!

What ed-tech tools do you use to facilitate dialogue?  Please share, I want to learn from the best!  YOU!

Thanks for reading, come back soon!




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