The internet is information overload and although there is no doubt that great resources exist, it can be difficult and time-consuming to wade through.
So here are some great and, importantly, free resources that your school can use today. There are a range of options below from straight-forward word processing and office software to tools for live video-streaming or creating your own e-newsletter.
Digital tools should enhance your teaching and communications, not turn in to added extras and “time sucks”. This list aims to make your life easier by suggesting tools that are easy to use, work well and which save you time and effort.
If you are having PowerPoint fatigue and want movement, animation and interaction for your presentations, Prezi is worth a play. It has had many improvements in the last year to make it more user-friendly, which makes it a great option for your students too. Like Google Drive, one of the great things about Prezi is the ability to share things online and collaborate.
Microsoft office is still the standard for spreadsheets, documents and presentations and licensing for your whole school can be pricy. Not only that, it can be really difficult to collaborate on documents without ending up saving multiple copies of the same thing. These documents then take up more and more space on your school network. Last, but definitely not least, what about accessing your documents on the move? Google Drive offers you another option.
Another Google service with lots of potential for education is Google Plus Hangouts. Similar to Skype, you can video-conference for free but where Google Plus differs is that you can have up to 10 participants and screen share without any additional charges.
Being able to collect data easily is only part of the value of Survey Monkey for schools. Like the other tools mentioned, it is the collaboration and sharing options that makes it even more attractive. In the free version you can set up to 10 questions, select a template, publish and then share the link to your survey.
As responses come in, your data is collected and can be exported in a number of ways, depending on your needs. There are a number of ways these surveys could be used, ranging from curriculum delivery, project work and student councils to parental and community engagement.
Mail Chimp is used by lots of companies for email marketing. For schools, it is a great way to create a regular newsletter for students and parents. It is easy to use and gives you great information on open rates and clicks, so that you can understand who is opening your emails and interacting with them.
Blogs and websites
Build your own blog or website! A blog is an online log, simple as that. They usually take the form of a list of articles, but they can be so much more.
There are a number of free platforms you can use to create a school blog, although that is not all they can be used for.
Many great websites started off as blogs on one of these platforms but as they developed so did their templates and layout options. Here are three options which schools may find useful.
WordPress: This is possibly my favourite of the three because it is more of a content-management system than a blog. All that means is it can be used to build a professional-looking website. Using the simple dashboard to upload blog posts, you can choose a template that suits your school’s needs – or extra-curricular club, student council etc. Visit http://wordpress.org/
Blogger: Similar to WordPress, Blogger is a blogging platform from Google. After a few years of languishing behind other platforms when it came to updates, Google has spent a bit of time and effort on Blogger recently and it shows. They have many updated templates and options for your website. If you already use a number of Google products, this might be a better option for your school. Visit www.blogger.com
Tumblr: This is like blogging-light. It is a really simple platform to use and your students are probably already active on there – Tumblr has the youngest audience of any blogging platform and is hugely popular with teenagers. It is very easy to have multiple authors on the same blog and if you use HTML code or want to learn about it, Tumblr has a much more open template than Blogger or WordPress. Visit www.tumblr.com
Further informationThis is the second in a series of articles on how schools can make effective use of digital tools and social media. You can see all Jennifer’s articles for SecEd, including this latest series, listed at www.sec-ed.co.uk/article-search/author/128 and her next piece will appear on Thursday, June 20.
Jennifer Begg is a digital obsessive, trainer and campaigner. She is also the founder of JaniesSchool.org and is passionate about girls’ education and its impact on equality and development. Visit http://livefreerange.com