I would love to get some feedback from both teachers and students on what software they use and find useful for managing classes, scheduling appointments, creating interactive assignments and so on. Ideally all of this would work well within one package, like Blackboard. I am not sure if this is (near)-monopoly at work but my perception is that Blackboard has gotten worse over the years. The functionality of its new features, like blogs, lags so far behind what is available outside the Blackboard suite that it is actually worth the pain of using different applications for different objectives. One of my pet peeves with a lot of educational software is that it is really hard to see what your students see, so that even when everything seems to make sense from your end it doesn’t to a student who accesses the system. Anyway, here are some things that I use:
- Tungle.me: This is a scheduling tool. I set my availability on a weekly or daily basis and students can pick a meeting time. The program automatically updates my Google calendar and sends notifications to students reminding them of their appointments. The beauty of this is that it cuts out the mindless e-mails whose sole purpose is to find times outside of regularly scheduled office hours. Students like it because there are no more lines at office hours and because they are less inhibited to set up appointments this way than via e-mail. My sense is that this has led to increased attendance at office hours. I generally make about 4 hours a week available and it generally fills up (this includes honors/master thesis students). Aside from the unfortunate name (“I tungled my prof”), my one minor complaint is that I cannot force students to pick one-and-only-one time. Even though I tell students not to do this, many still pick multiple times and let me choose.
- Turnitin: Turnitin is known as a detection tool for plagiarism but it can do much more. It has nice tools to markup papers and, especially, to set up peer review. Peer review is great not just because students benefit from the comments of their peers and seeing the writing of their peers. Peer review is also a great motivating tool. Students care a lot about what their peers think of them. As always, there is room for improvement in the software. It is not always straightforward to use and there could be better integration with wordprocessing software. I’d also like the software to be able to help students with things like proper citations. Not having to do that would leave profs more time for substantive comments.
- WordPress: This is the blogging software my university (and now this blog) uses and it works well. Georgetown gives great support for people who want to use blogs in their classes. I use it for some but not all of my classes. In my policy classes I use it to develop skills for writing short arguments. The difficulty is that blogs are really hard to grade.
Anyway, I would love to hear from profs and students about their experiences with these or other tools. Do they enhance the classroom experience?