This past spring, we asked readers to give us their top picks for school hardware, software, websites, and services—and more than 1,300 readers responded online.
In nominating their favorite products, we asked readers to tell us how they’re using these products to improve teaching, learning, or school administration—and to what effect. We then chose the 50 best responses, which appear alphabetically by product name.
The result is a list of ed-tech products and services that have proven to be effective, as noted by your colleagues in schools nationwide.
ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K from Blackmagic Design
ATEM Production Studio 4K has features a college would need for the most innovative live concerts, sporting events, theater productions, and conferences on campus. When a school is doing live events with super large high resolution screens, simply switch your ATEM Production Studio 4K to Ultra HD brings incredible quality to the event, according to higher-ed customers. ATEM includes features such as a chroma key, creative transitions, media pool, downstream keyers, and audio mixer. “Harvard University installed six ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K switchers as part of a new production workflow broadcasting and streaming the Harvard tennis season to the Ivy League Digital Network, a nine channel network that includes live and on demand content from a variety of sports across all eight United States Ivy League schools,” said Imry Halevi, director of multimedia and production for the Department of Athletics at Harvard. Each of the six tennis courts has a camera at one end for a wide angle shot, which is fed into an ATEM, along with audio input for the commentators’ feed and a second video input for a scoreboard shot, which is then used in the wide angle shot for the DVE effect. The ATEMs are linked to share scoreboard shots, with one scoreboard for each set of three tennis courts.”
Bomgar is a provider of secure remote support solutions that enable technology support professionals to access and fix any device, anywhere. Colleges and universities large and small have chosen Bomgar to improve end-user satisfaction while drastically reducing support costs. Bomgar offers a unified remote support solution that does not require expensive add-ons or upgrades to work with different platforms or for different use cases. Bomgar’s appliance-based remote support solution allows you to remotely access and fix nearly any system or device, anywhere, while keeping sensitive data and system access behind your own secure firewall. “Having a technician based on one side of campus trying to service classrooms that may be a 15 minute walk away can be problematic,” said Ed Nickerson, chief information officer at LaSalle University. “The growing online and international programs presented another challenge. We needed a way to support those remote users as well. Having the ability to log on to their system remotely allows us to more quickly solve their issue.”
Canvas LMS from Instructure
Among the Canvas LMS’s popular features is an app center that makes it easy for institutions and instructors to experiment and adapt new technologies into their courses. The platform is reliable — Canvas has featured a 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime Service Level Agreement (SLA) to all customers – and is built with openness in mind – something that has proven very attractive for campus technologists and educators alike. “We have found the folks at Instructure to be a breath of fresh air when it comes to technical support, feature requests, and bug fixes,” said David John, executive director of distance education at Reformed Theological Seminary in North Carolina. “Instructure also has made tremendous leaps in its mobile Canvas apps for both iOS and Android. As we continue to see a massive shift of students moving from desktops and laptops to mobile devices when accessing course content, we believe an LMS provider needs to be proactive in developing its platform for mobile access. Instructure has been making marked improvements to its mobile apps, especially over the last 6 months.”
Constellation by Meyer Sound Laboratories
Constellation has been described as a breakthrough in acoustical science providing an effective solution to the complex challenge of attaining optimal, yet flexible acoustics in building design. With Constellation, colleges and universities have the ability to design state-of-the-art multi-purpose venues without the constraints or expense of traditional materials and room shape. The acoustical effectiveness, ease of control, and invisibility of Constellation will enhance the success of your venue. “The key to the versatility of the [campus auditorium] is the Constellation system, which allows us to instantaneously reset the acoustics of the room, tailoring it to any kind of music,” said Peter Otto, director of music technology at the University of California San Diego Department of Music. “Constellation gives us the versatility of a multipurpose room without the usual compromises in acoustics. Prior to the opening of our music center we had many unhappy experiences with multipurpose rooms.”
Courseload Engage by Courseload Inc.
Courseload, an institutional solution for the delivery and use of eTextbooks and digital course materials in higher education, this year released of Courseload Engage, its next generation application designed to enhance engagement and collaboration between students and instructors. “As a student who is constantly using technology, I find Engage much more intuitive and easy to navigate than many of the other tools I’m using for my classwork. While I enjoyed using the previous version of Courseload, I’m discovering some new features and finding little tweaks that make some of my favorite features more effective,” said Violeta Geanina Tregoning, a student at Boise State University and an early tester of Engage. Eric Norton, coordinator of instructional design and digital fluency services at Boise, said instructors are able to share highlights and notes to provide students guidance about key points and also provide links to outside content contextually using Engage. “Courseload helps us improve the value of the textbook experience for students by adding social features and reducing cost,” Norton said. “Through Courseload’s e-textbook platform, student are able to make highlights and note, and then share these with each other.”
iAnnotate by Branchfire
iAnnotate is enabling over 300,000 students and teachers worldwide to read, mark up and share almost any document on their iPad or Android tablet. For students, this means a semester’s worth of notes and readings all in one place. No printing pages of reading assignments and lugging them back and forth from the library. The powerful search tool is also a major time saver: iAnnotate allows students search the entire text of their document library by keyword – this includes the document text as well as annotated notes. “I have more than saved the cost of my iPad by being able to download hundreds and hundreds of PDF files to iAnnotate instead of printing them off,” said Andre Beaty, assistant director of instructional quality at Moody Bible Institute in Illinois. “I love the way that I can highlight my PDFs, make notes on them, save them, organize them, email them, and utilize many of the other features in this app. I use iAnnotate as I teach because I can make my notes directly on the PDF I’m reviewing with students. While I teach graduate level courses on educational technology and use and recommend many different ed-tech tools, iAnnotate is my absolute favorite one that I use every day and that I tell the most people about.”
In Case of Crisis by Irving Burton Associates
Colleges and universities have condensed their emergency notification and response protocol into a single, easy-to-use mobile app called In Case of Crisis, designed to serve as a sort of one-stop shop for students’ emergency needs (and instructions). Chris Britton, general manager for In Case of Crisis, said many colleges spend uncountable hours creating protocols for how students should respond to incidents like campus shootings or incoming tornadoes, but it’s all for naught when students don’t have immediate access to the vital information. “The In Case of Crisis mobile app allows us to provide students and faculty with dynamic emergency plans and procedures and incident reporting capabilities during emergencies including crime or weather evacuations,” said Koren Kanadanian, director of emergency management for Providence College. “It also helps us communicate information quickly and provides an anonymous environment for students to ask questions or seek help. Our partnership with In Case of Crisis has been effortless. We have been pleased with student/faculty response and plan to broaden information within the app over time.
Interactive Campus Map by NuCloud
NuCloud’s Interactive Campus Map enables colleges and universities to tell their story without prospects having to make a physical visit to your campus. As virtual campus tours become more commonplace and critical in the recruitment of prospective students, tools like this can make a marked difference in the number of students a school can recruit. Adding your map to your campus website is as simple as copying and pasting an embed script code on your web page. Friendly user interface allows campus technologists to easily flag stops on your map. In these stops an IT official can add videos, pictures, descriptions, and/or audio to each stop. A college can easily reorder stops and update assets.
Merit by readMedia
Merit is easy-to-use software that replaces more traditional – and often ineffective – campus marketing with authentic word of mouth results. Merit’s secure web software transforms the achievements of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people into personalized, verified and shareable stories in just minutes. And, a branded badge that you design carries a compelling, visual seal of approval that connects students’ stories with your organization. “As the lone PR/marketing person for a boarding school with students from all over the world, it used to take me days to send out home town news releases,” said Celeste Brooks, director of public relations at Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia. “Some simply never went out, even after a part-time assistant joined my office. Merit has saved us hours of time and made it possible for us to send a lot more news out to the media. The families love the copies they receive automatically–which, by the way, was another step saved for us.”
MyWritingLab by Pearson
The diagnostic test in MyWritingLab comprehensively assesses students’ skills in grammar. MyWritingLab then creates an individualized learning path for students based on their diagnostic results, which identifies the areas where they most need help. All student work in MyWritingLab is captured in the online gradebook. Students can monitor their own progress through reports detailing scores on all of the exercises in the course – a very popular feature of the innovative educational technology. “I, particularly, appreciate Pearson’s recently revised MyWritingLab which brings together Pearson’s years of ground-breaking exploration of this change in education,” said Susan Grover, a professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho. “I base my assessment of MWL on my 35 years of teaching experience online and in the classroom, my understanding of philosophical foundations derived from my doctoral studies, and my work in industry.
Nearpod allows teachers to easily create and share interactive lessons, receive feedback on student device use, assess learning in real time, and personalize instruction for students who are logged into the Nearpod Student app. Teachers use Nearpod to create their own lessons or choose from its growing collection of complete multimedia presentations based on content from recognized sources, such as Khan Academy and TED Education. All Nearpod presentations include short lesson plans and can be aligned to the Common Core State Standards, featuring multimedia content and activities appropriate for any grade level. “This product for mobile devices has given teachers back control of the classroom,” said Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor for mobilization for the Tennessee Board of Regents. “Teachers now have a powerful solution for using mobile devices as an effective teaching and learning tool. NearPod allows the teachers to engage students using their mobile device of choice (smart phone, tablets, Apple, Androids, Windows, lap tops) and deliver interactive synchronous content via mobile devices. The products include features such as polling, blogs, Powerpoint, videos, accessing websites, drawing, and immediate feedback and tracking of students’ work and progress.”
Network Sentry by Bradford Networks
Network Sentry provides a real-time view of a school’s dynamic network infrastructure ensuring that college and university IT officials can detect and prevent any changes that would introduce risk. With the proliferation of personal and mobile computing devices in organizations, the diversity and the ownership of the devices is difficult to manage. Network Sentry/NAC helps to identify and classify each type of device on a college’s network, identify if it is corporate issued or employee-owned, and identify the user on the device to enable role-based network access policies. Ensuring the integrity of wired and wireless devices before they connect to a campus network minimizes the risk of vulnerabilities and the spread of exploits and malware. Network Sentry, with agentless, dissolvable agent, or a persistent agent, validates the endpoint’s configuration as it tries to join the network.
Qiqqa by Quantisle Ltd.
Qiqqa is a software tool designed for teachers, students (undergrad, grad, and doctoral learners) as well as other researchers. “If you have or read a lot of PDFs you’ll like the way Qigga extracts information from the documents and assists you in adding them to your research,” said Eugene Matthews, assistant professor of criminal justice at Lincoln University of Missouri. “What is especially helpful is that in addition to accurately searching hundreds (possibly thousands) of documents simultaneously for words or phrases, to enter into your document, Qiqqa also provides the reference citation for the information extracted. Another benefit incorporated in the application is the connectivity to Google Scholar and the ability to import current publication through the BibTeX link – similar to EndNote, RefMan, and RefWorks.” Matthews added, “Qiqqa also alphabetizes your references, which I found very useful. There are also a ton of how-to YouTube video for various aspects of the tool to demonstrate other advanced capabilities that the tool has to offer.”
Remind is a free communication platform built for educators. The product enables an educator to safely and efficiently interact with students and parents about important information relating to the classroom and school activities. Customers say Remind is safe and easy because teachers can engage students and parents without needing to upload cell phone numbers and without having to give their personal phone numbers out. “One way this service has been used on our campus is during field trips,” said Katie Rector, Lead Instructional Design Specialist at Oklahoma State University. “A faculty member can send out a reminder about where to meet the bus to everyone in the group in one step. Faculty also uses it to remind students about upcoming tests and assignments and about changes to the schedule or course.”
NetSight by Extreme Networks
NetSight is a single pane of glass management system that provides wired and wireless visibility and control from the data center to the mobile edge. The intelligence, automation, and integration of a school’s management software enable the IT organization to optimize the efficiency of network operations and reduce total cost of ownership. NetSight provides centralized visibility and granular control of enterprise network resources end to end. “No one else had the full level of policy that Extreme Networks had; a few vendors could do some policy but they didn’t have the management platform to push it out across the network,” said Dave Hayler, Director of IT Infrastructure & Systems at Appalachian State University. “Extreme Networks provides the ability to identify traffic that is taking the network down, write a policy that would attack that traffic and within minutes push a policy to every switch in the network to eliminate it. We rely heavily on the Extreme Networks policy function – it just works. If we see a problem with malicious traffic, we just write a policy and push it to the edge, and even if it’s just an individual or two, we can quarantine them with just a few clicks of a mouse.”
Respondus 4.0 from Respondus
Respondus 4.0 is a powerful application for creating and managing exams that can be printed to paper or published directly to Blackboard, ANGEL, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Pearson eCollege, and other learning systems commonly used on college campuses. “Respondus allows instructors to create a test from a Word or Plain Text document that will upload directly into a Blackboard class,” said Michael Jernigan, educational technology specialist at Crowder College in Missouri. “Respondus also can extract a test from Blackboard and create a printed form of the test to use as a backup plan. It does a lot more, but those two features are the most used at our college. It’s a time saver like no other.”
Web governance problems continuously plague educational institutions, as many departments view sites as their own, rather than as a collective part of the institution. As a result, usability suffers as users find sites graphically and textually diverse, and difficult to navigate. That’s where Siteimprove comes into play. “We use this suite of tools to monitor quality control, accessibility errors and make SEO improvements. Siteimprove scans our site continuously and reports dead links, spelling errors, accessibility errors and SEO problems that continue to crop up due to so many users contributing content to www through our CMS,” said Jason Slater, associate director of web communications at Union College in New York. “We’re able to present a more polished site and we have eliminated 80 percent of the accessibility errors originally discovered earlier this year which could have presented legal challenges. The suite is incredibly powerful and yet easy enough to hand off to student interns to do the majority of the maintenance.”
Student Success Plan at Sinclair Community College
Student Success Plan is a suite of software tools and features providing quick and easy access to student success resources. The tools and features are used by counselors, faculty, and students who collaborate to ensure students are meeting their academic goals. The software tools are designed for a wide range of student populations, including at-risk students, high school students, distance learning students, and students with disabilities. The software is written in a standards-based, commonly-available development language. Schools with adequate technology support can modify the software themselves, or schools can choose to engage a growing number of knowledgeable third-party vendors to custom tweak the software.
The VitalSource Bookshelf is the most used eTextbook delivery platform in education. Bookshelf users can access content from more than 500 of the world’s top academic publishers whenever and wherever they choose — laptop, desktop or mobile device — and can download content directly or access it via browser. VitalSource delivers digital content to more than 3.25 million users on 6,000 campuses in 200 countries. “Almost 80 percent of the learning materials provided to our undergraduate students are delivered by VitalSource,” said Brooke Harrison, senior manager of strategic implementation at Kaplan University. “The data provided by VitalSource on usage opens up a wide new arena on correlations between book usage and assignment grades, course outcomes, overall grade itself – and more exciting data is coming. This is a brand new area for education materials, as this was never possible on a mass scale with physical textbooks.”
WebAssign is a provider of online instructional tools for faculty and students. Instructors create assignments online within WebAssign and electronically transmit them to their class. Students enter their answers online, and WebAssign automatically grades the assignment and gives students instant feedback on their performance. Much more than just a homework grading system, WebAssign delivers secure online testing, customizable pre-coded questions from a wide range of math and science textbooks, and customer service that has drawn praise from many corners of higher education. WebAssign, most importantly, was designed by educators for educators. Real-time assessments of student performance, customizable assignments, and secure testing environments has made WebAssign a popular tool in colleges and universities.
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