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 (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 has 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 theW hat 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 is 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 are 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 is 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!