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20 Fun Free Tools for Interactive Classroom Collaboration

by Kelly Walsh on May 4, 2014

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These Free Applications can Enable a Tremendous Variety of Collaborative Teaching and Learning Interactions and Activities

The 2014 Gates Foundation report, Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want from Digital Instructional Tools, indicates that teachers want tools “supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences”. This doesn’t come as a big surprise since these types of tools are fun and engaging. They also support 21st century skills like collaboration, communication, and creativity.

You know what else teachers like? Good quality tools that are free! And why not? Funds are limited and free is totally affordable!

This week on EmergingEdTech, we’ve put together a listing of 20 top notch free tools that are being used in schools and classrooms to collaborate and interact on assignments, projects, and other active learning efforts. Many of these applications are totally free, while others have levels of functionality starting at free and then adding additional capabilities through paid options.

These tools deliver a wide array of functionality, from communication to collaborative document editing, whiteboards, and gaming, to full Learning Management System capabilities. There’s something here for everyone! Dig in and enjoy!

1. Twiddla (www.twiddla.com)

Twiddle provides a really easy to use collaborative online whiteboard. This “no setup web based meeting playground” is quick and easy – inviting others to collaborate by just hitting the green GO button to start a session and then use the Invite option. This app provides a great set of tools. You can easily add an image, web page, or document as a background to markup. There is a color palette tool, pen width tool, a shapes tool, and text can be inserted. There’s even a chat option built in.

2. Google Drive (drive.google.com)

Most of you are probably already familiar with Google Drive, which lets you share and collaboratively edit Google Docs with anyone else who has a Google account, for free. Sweet. Being able to collaboratively edit documents and worksheets opens up a world of possibilities for interactive classroom activities and projects.

3. Bubbl.us (that’s it …Bubbl.us)

This free tool* allows users to easily create bubble maps, that can be exported in various formats, saved (by exporting and re-importing them in an appropriate format), and yes … edited collaboratively. The use of bubble maps as a teaching tool has been a good practice for decades, but bringing it to a new level by enabling collaborative editing through an online tool is totally 21st century!
*The Basic plan lets you create, share, and collaboratively edit 3 Bubble Maps.

4. Edmodo (edmodo.com)

This multi-platform, device agnostic, kid-safe platform is perfect for active learning – share content, have a dialogue (in or out of the classroom), and even get parents involved! A rich set of features including collaboration-enabling functions like Learning Communities and Discussions have encouraged over 34 million teachers and students to adopt Edmodo, making it one of the most popular free education tools on the Web. Check out “10 Reasons Why Edmodo is an Excellent (and Hugely Popular) Digital Learning Platform” to learn more.

5. Yammer (yammer.com)

Yammer is a private social network. Work in groups, share files, co-edit content and more with their free Basic plan. Explore “5 Ways Yammer is Improving Communication, Connections, and Learning in our Schools” to learn more.

6. Skype (skype.com)

This popular, widely known platform provides for group meetings tools that can be particularly effective for remote participants to come together. For example, if you’re thinking about collaborating with a remote classroom, Skype can be huge asset in doing so. Skype is also great from bringing students who might be stuck at home due to illness or other situations into the classroom to join the class for a collaborative dialogue or other activity.

7. Vyew (vyew.com)

Vyew is a collaborative interactive white board. It’s come a long way since we first covered it on EmergingEdTech years ago. Not only can you create a collaborative whiteboard on line, you can upload images and document and write over them, have a discussion around them, and more. Check out the “What is Vyew” video on their home page to learn more. The free version only allows for a small set of users (10 real time participants), but that can work well if you set up a few separate groups. Larger groups of participants aren’t too expensive, starting at $10/mo.

8. Wikispaces (wikispaces.com)

Wikis provide an easy place to create a members-only web site where users can have discussions, share documents and so on. Wikispaces was built for education. They even have a special “classroom” tool that is focused on Collaborative Writing: Wikispaces Classroom.

9. Facebook (facebook.com)

Yeah, that’s right – Facebook. If you put up a group page specifically for your class, you get a place of you own to collaborate. Of course, this is only for kids over 13. There are a lot of teachers using Facebook. Check out Facebook Summit 2011, an Excellent Academic Use of the Popular Internet App to learn about one teacher’s fun project using Facebook.

10. Google Hangouts (www.google.com/hangouts‎)

Google Hangouts in becoming an increasingly popular alternative to Skype for bringing remote groups of people to together to communicate and collaborate. A couple advantages Google Hangouts has is the potential to have a Hangout recorded, and the fact that you are less likely to have the occasional availability issue that the free version of Skype can have. Combine Google Hangouts and Google Drive (or many of the other tools in this list) and you can collaboratively edit content while you’re “hanging out”!

11. Cacoo (cacoo.com)

Create flowcharts and diagrams online with real time collaboration. This a very useful tool in a wide variety of academic disciplines, and being able to collaboratively edit them makes Cacoo a powerful application. Here’s a link to learn about and access their free Academic plan: https://cacoo.com/lang/en/academic.

12. Titanpad (titanpad.com)

What about collaboration on the iPad? Well, a number of the tools in this listing will work fine on many platforms, but Titanpad is geared specifically towards the iPad. TitanPad lets people work on one document simultaneously, and you can get a space for your team on your own private subdomain for free.

13. HaikuLearning (www.haikulearning.com)

Haiku is a popular education site, and it’s free for teachers – the solo plan includes 5 classes with up to 2GB of storage (with the ability to upgrade for a fee if you need more). This cloud-based app provides content sharing, assignments, feedback, grading, and more. Somewhat along the lines of Edmodo, Haiku is a basic Learning Management System that provides rich tools for the classroom.

14. Twitter (twitter.com)

Just search out a unique hashtag and you’re in business. Using a hashtag and a tool like Tweetdeck (also free), where you can dedicate a column to a specific search phrase (your hashtag in this case) and bam!, you’ve got a live stream of all content posted with that hashtag. Collect and share research or news, create a class poem or story (one student posts to the hashtag at a time, taking turns to build out the content), search out subject matter experts and follow them, and so on. Here’s 100 Ways to Teach With Twitter.

15. Minecraft (minecraftedu.com)

Multiplayer games can be a great way to provide an interactive, collaborative experience in the classroom. With a little know-how, Minecraft players can interact. Read this article to learn more about teaching using Minecraft: Gamifying the Classroom with Minecraft – the Possibilities are Powerful and Endless!

16. Economics-games (economics-games.com)

Here we have a purpose-built multiplayer game for the classroom. Economics-games.com is a free educational games site for teaching microeconomics, industrial organization and game theory. “Choose the game you want to run, enter the number of players and that’s it: You just have to communicate their logins to your students and have them connect to the site with their phones, tablets or laptops. You can then observe and debrief the game through your interface.”

17. World of Warcraft (wowinschool.pbworks.com)

Check this site out to learn all about using World of Warcraft and other “MMPORGs” (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) in the classroom. Through this site, all project materials, including a fully-developed language arts course, aligned to middle grades standards, are now available under a creative commons license.

18. Bounceapp (www.bounceapp.com)

Review, notate, share, and discuss any web page with Bounceapp. Bounceapp makes it really easy to grab a web page screen shot and make notes on it. This can then be sent to others. User can share ideas on the same site by each grabbing, notating, and then sharing their work. For a more collaborative experience, Bounce will work with Notableapp.com to let a workgroup collaborate (Notableapp is not free, but there is a free 30 day trial).

19. Wiggio (wiggio.com)

Wiggio is a free workgroup application that provides meetings, to-do lists, messaging, calendars, polls, and file sharing. This is a fully blown collaboration environment, and it’s free (there is a premium service, but this is really only for organizations looking for a branded workspace and priority support – the primary functionality of Wiggio is totally free).

20. SocialFolders.me (socialfolders.me)

This is a bit of a stretch as a collaborative tool, but it’s a cool app and it could provide for a unique twist on the idea of collaboration. If you are using any of the apps supported by SocialFolders, say, Facebook and Instagram, for group work in a course, Social Folders can provide the ability to allow members of the workgroup to synch selected shared content, making it a sort of collection or gathering place for group content. Besides that, it’s a cool app that anyone who uses more than one social media application may find pretty darn useful (coordinate your content across multiple social media apps and back it up at the same time)!

 

This rich set of free tools can provide an endless array of collaborative, interactive class work for years to come. Happy collaborating everyone!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
5 Tech Savvy Teaching Tools That Your Students Will Love and Your Peers Will Envy
8 Great Free Digital Presentation Tools For Teachers To Try …
6 Free Online Collaborative Interactive White Boards – 2012 Update

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna August 11, 2014 at 5:37 am

Great compilation! Thanks for sharing! I’ve tried many, but a few like Economics-games and worlds of warcraft are new to me!

Zoey Griffin July 22, 2014 at 1:05 am

Very exciting piece

mamorapeli July 16, 2014 at 8:20 am

thank you for the information. I am going to have fun with my learners

Diana July 9, 2014 at 2:25 am

One more tool, I’d like to add in your list is http://www.proofhub.com/

Luuk June 16, 2014 at 9:25 am

One site to add to this list is: start.me.

With http://start.me, teachers can create and share an online start page with the most important online resources for their class.

Mia Su May 25, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Thank you for the great list. I would like to share another free web diagram tool:processon.com, bet it will help a lot in the work.

Themba May 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

One of the other this is Bitrix24 is the biggest one (essentially it’s Yammer+Dropbox+Skype+Wikipedia). You can’t have collaboration tools list without B24. Wiggio is another one. I think that MindMeister would make a nice addition too.

Themba May 15, 2014 at 11:26 am

Socratic is also a great way to interact with your students! It allows teachers to create questions focused on “supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences”. A great example is the Short Answer feature. Teachers can type a question and then all student responses will display on their screen for further discussion and interaction. The student responses can display anonymously or associated with a name to add a level of safety and increase participation

Kelly Walsh May 7, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Thanks for bringing it to my attention Tyler – I fixed it!

Tyler May 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

Minecraft Edu site is the wrong link. It goes to minecraft.com rather than minecraftedu.com.

Kelly Walsh May 7, 2014 at 4:52 am

Thanks for the mention of Bitrix24 Nathan. I wasn’t aware of that – it looks interesting (note: the free version only works for 12 users). I’ll have to learn more about it. I’m a fan of MindMeister too and have included in other posts in the past. My goal here wasn’t to list every possible app, just 20 good ones (Wiggio is in the list already BTW).

Nathan May 7, 2014 at 3:55 am

There are some big omissions on this list. Bitrix24 is the biggest one (essentially it’s Yammer+Dropbox+Skype+Wikipedia). You can’t have collaboration tools list without B24. Wiggio is another one. I think that MindMeister would make a nice addition too.

Brian May 5, 2014 at 5:00 am

Don’t forget scrawlar as a safe alternative!

Mark Lamont (@Lamont_Mark) May 5, 2014 at 3:22 am

You and your readers might want to check out http://www.yahki.com We are surprised it isn’t on your list.
Yahki is a free curation, mashup and sharing tool used throughout K-12 and beyond, worldwide. Yahki integrates (API’s with) popular social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and even LinkedIn and WordPress, but in a unique, safe campus channel (Yahki innovation). With Yahki, teachers and students can mash personal, Web and social multimedia, building their learning ePortfolio, global learning network and a respectful following. Also cool prizes each month to encourage Yahki writers, bloggers, mashers.

Kelly Walsh May 4, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Thanks Ben – I’m a fan of Socrative too. Thanks for the suggestion!

Ben May 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Socrative is also a great way to interact WITH your students! It allows teachers to create questions focused on “supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences”. A great example is the Short Answer feature. Teachers can type a question and then all student responses will display on their screen for further discussion and interaction. The student responses can display anonymously or associated with a name to add a level of safety and increase participation.

Kelly Walsh May 4, 2014 at 10:38 am

Oops – total bonehead move! Thanks for pointing it out Emma. I’ve fixed it now.

Emma Herrod May 4, 2014 at 10:09 am

I’m sure it’s just an oversight, but 15 should refer to Minecraft, not “Mindcraft”. Good list though, thanks.

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