2012 Technology Toolkit for Higher Education

Technology has changed the education environment.  Essential tools needed for today’s digitally enhanced classrooms require features that enable students to study and learn outside of the classroom, and the methods for teaching need to include active participatory activities on and offline. Traditional students entering a university in 2012 are a part of the millennial generation that has been raised with ubiquitous access to technology, as well as seemingly unlimited knowledge.  Their expectations of media and content delivery are demanding.  They require immediacy, accessibility, and flexibility in delivery and response.  The essential applications to serve these students must include productivity, communication, data management, collaboration, and presentation capabilities.  Teaching in this environment requires content to be dynamic.  Instructors need to have a technology tool kit that enables them to meet these demands and facilitate an effective and efficient learning environment.  Thus, this article offers a review of several technology tools that can prove useful in the higher education classroom environment.


Integrating technology that mimics processes of traditional tools simply provides a faster, more accessible, resource for instructors and students. The basic tools used for teaching by instructors and students, such as planning, calendars, presentation, and collaboration tools can be found in productivity suites such as desktop-based Microsoft  Office or Open Office, as well as  Google’s full suite of free, cloud-based applications.  These productivity suites offer word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and database software.  As such, they replace the paper binder, ledgers, and flipboards.

In order for technology to be widely adapted, it needs to be accessible and free.  Google offers comprehensive productivity applications in its ecosystem of free products, and a search engine that is now the standard for most students. Google also offers excellent educational resources[1] for instructors and students.  Finding tools that are widely adapted with multiple features is ideal.  Students can create Google Groups [2] for project collaboration, Blogger[3], Picasa[4]and YouTube[5] for presentation of multimedia projects and the productivity suite for word documents and spreadsheets.

Productivity tools allow users to access and work on documents, imagery, and projects anywhere, anytime. There are several options when looking at online storage and content management. Dropbox[6] is an excellent solution for managing data. Dropbox is a cloud application that can be downloaded to your computer and mobile devices to access data folders.   A major feature of Dropbox is that it saves files that are on your device for offline retrieval and syncs to the cloud for seamless collaboration.

VIDEO:  DROPBOX:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFb0NaeRmdg


Tools that incorporate the simplicity and functionality of traditional teaching practices are key in transitioning to online work/study environment. Evernote[7] is an excellent filing system that can incorporate handwritten, scanned, copied and pasted, and emailed notes and web “clippings.”  The Evernote clipper extension allows you to “clip” articles and pages when you are browsing online, and then send them directly to your Evernote folders.  These articles can then be organized for notes and research.  Here is a great introduction of Evernote.

VIDEO:  EVERNOTE https://login.secureserver.net/?app=mmail


Research online can be a tedious task in gathering, organizing, and citing information for courses. Note cards with citations have been replaced by programs such as EndNote[8] and Zotero,[9] which create citations of websites, documents, and print resources. These are easily imported for full bibliographies and research notes.  Lugging around 10 lbs. of binders and folders  is no longer necessary.   Instapaper[10]and Pocket[11] are content managers that allow users to save any web content for offline retrieval, syncing  with any device that the user is logged into with a web browser – laptop or desktop.  Instapaper offers a very simple text based interface while Pocket has a more graphic magazine style layout.

Editing, commenting, and reviewing documents can be done online or on a mobile device.  This offers convenience and portability, and saves paper. Programs such as Annotate+ for iPad can make notes and highlights on documents saved as a .pdf for review using a stylus on a tablet .



Presentations have evolved from chalk boards, overheads, and flip charts to PowerPoint presentations and beyond. The best presentation for course materials is one that suits the content.  Some courses, such as a communication media class, can be taught using dynamic online material, exclusively.  A science or medical field class will still most likely utilize traditional texts accompanied by multimedia material.  Using PowerPoint presentations and embedding videos and links creates a quick and seamless way to move through the content as you lecture, but requires more preparation prior to class. These slides can also be shared with students for further exploration though embedded links and files. Online programs such as Lore and Learnist can create dynamic platforms for content that allow instructors to continue the conversation online with aggregated content from other resources.

VIDEO: PREZI:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxhqD0hNx4Q


Lore[12] is a learning management system that “aims to act as a replacement for the infamous course management system with a grade book, calendar and document uploading (for class assignments), while giving students a social network-style newsfeed for classroom conversations.”[13]  This is a free alternative to learning management systems such as CANVAS and Blackboard.  With its recent rebranding, co-founder Joseph Cohen says, “the company was originally built to facilitate sharing between college course-mates and their professors. But users clearly wanted long-term learning communities. It’s evolved beyond courses, where it’s not just about the course. It’s about the whole learning experience.”[14]  Instructors can use the program to develop the coursework and students join with invitations to individual courses.

Learnist[15] is a social learning platform for sharing content that looks like Pinterest[16], a social photosharing site with a heavy dose of Facebook and Instagram[17] [18].It is the Pinterest for knowledge. It is focused on creating learning modules that teach about a topic or concept through a selection of relevant links. For an excellent example of how to use Learnist, by a high school instructor, Dawn Casey Rowe has created a great video. [19]  While Lore is the future of accessible course design, Learnist will be the crowdsourced resource of knowledge for education.

VIDEO:  LEARNIST: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILzYzDnxarw



Learning has always been social.  The exchange of information between student and teacher, as well as the discussion among the students, is essential in creating a dynamic learning environment. The digital socialization of media has also been a game changer in the educational space. It creates a new environment for presentations as well as discussion.  Social learning tools emulate the interface and interaction of major social networks, such as Facebook[20]Twitter[21], and Pinterest[22],in their design and interface. This familiarity creates a familiar transition and acceptance when adapting the newer applications.

Teaching with Twitter[23],” a presentation by Northwest eLearning Community,[24] discusses the many uses of Twitter in the classroom. Course design has to be aimed at engaging the students. This “participatory culture,” according to University of Southern California professor and media theorist Henry Jenkins, is “one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another.”[25]

Technology has erased the boundaries of information and resources. No longer is research confined to hardcopy material; instead, academic libraries, media sources, and blogs provide seemingly unlimited amounts of information that is accessible at the click of a button.  The challenge lies in how to filter this information.  A major part of teaching is showing students how to become knowledgeable consumers of information and content. Learning how to efficiently search and disseminate relevant and accurate information from garbage takes skill, as the constant flow of information is astounding.  Following news channels or specific blogs through RSS feeds[26] is a key way to follow topics, current issues, or writers.

VIDEO:  Twitter 101 for Conference Back Channel:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMy8RKkXEPQ


Aggregation is the idea of gathering existing information (e.g., websites, links, tweets, multimedia, text) and sharing it in one location.  Users need to be able to access the information on multiple devices at any time.  Synchronization is key.  Content needs to be easily and quickly sharable and savable. Sharing has become the new measure of worth for online assets.  “Likes” and “shares” have become the latest currency in the social media market.  Media aggregators such as Flipboard[27] and  Zite[28] bring together news feeds from RSS feeds and blogs, but also from social network feeds such as Twitter and Facebook .  This changes the landscape of your “news” feed.  These news aggregators are optimized for mobile devices such as the iPad and other tablets and smartphones.

VIDEO:  FLIPBOARD:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ_DnDBsR9o


There is a lot of crossover between education and social networks.  Students are tapped into social networks as a lifeline. Course design needs to adapt to students’ multi-platform media consumption and utilize the power of the collaborative learning material that is available. Technology is forging new pathways in the landscape of higher education and opening new frontiers to both instructors and students.  These opportunities can be daunting, as many see the transition and learning curve as unnecessary or overwhelming.  However, it is a necessity to keep up with student expectations and learning styles.  The key is to maintain the core curriculum, but be open to alternative opportunities to share, learn, and collaborate with students.  Adapting existing materials and strategies will create an opportunity for growth and knowledge. Understanding what will enable the students to be most productive and effective is important.  Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine, sums it up: “By listening to what technology wants, we are adopting the principles of pro-action and engagement, we can steer technologies into their best roles. And by aligning ourselves with the long-term imperatives of this near-living system, we can capture its full gifts.[29]

The University of Utah offers technology training and consultation for your classroom through TACC (Technology Assisted Curriculum Center)and  CTLE (Center for Teaching and Learning).



This article was written while simultaneously developing a course, on Lore[30] for the University of Utah Department of Communications. This courses content is currently curated from Google Reader feeds on Flipboard, Reeder, Twitter and Zite and can be found onLearnist[31].  Initial research and organization of content was collected on Storify and fed through Paper.li. Most, if not all, sites were logged into using either a Google account or Facebook account. Course resources and modules for this class, COMM 3505 Living in a Media World, can be found on a Learnist Board[32]. All saved articled were sent to Instapaper, Evernote, and Pocket. This paper was written using MS Office word documents on an iMac, Mac Powerbook, iPad, and iPhone, and saved using Dropbox.

The blog[33] that started it all is hosted on WordPress. Research was done reading on an iPad using Reeder, Readdle Docs, Annotate+ and on a Kindle as well as good ol’ hard copy books, Wired and Fast Company Magazines.  Media was watched on YouTube, Vimeo and lots of TEDTalks.  The idea and support came from Professor Glen Feighery, who suggested this might be a fun project.




                  [1] http://www.youtube.com/user/eduatgoogle


                  [3] http://www.blogger.com


                  [4] http://picasa.google.com/


                  [5] www.youtube.com/


                  [6] http://www.dropbox.com


                  [7] www.evernote.com


                  [8] http://endnote.com/


                  [9] https://www.zotero.org


                  [10] www.instapaper.com


                  [11] http://vimeo.com/40168555#at=0


                  [12] http://lore.com


                  [13] Emson, Rip. “Now In 600 Schools And Open To Any Student, Lore Gives Higher Ed A Next-Gen Social Network.” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 31 08 2012. Web. 10 Sep 2012.


                  [14] Griffin, Erin. “Coursekit is Now Lore: Rebrand Reflects Expansion Beyond College Courses, With New Investment from Peter Thiel.” Pando Monthly. Pando Daily, 23 04 2012. Web. 10 Sep 2012.


                  [15] http://learni.st/


                  [16] http://edudemic.com/2012/04/16-ways-teachers-are-using-pinterest/


                  [18] Dunn, Jeff. “How The New Learnist Apps Signal A Change In Education Technology.” http://www.edudemic.com. Edudemic, LLC, 08/30/12. Web. 10 Sep 2012.


                  [20] https://www.facebook.com/


                  [21] https://twitter.com/


                  [22] https://pinterest.com


                  [23] https://sites.google.com/site/twitterinedu/)


                  [24] http://www.nwelearn.org/


                  [26] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS


                  [27] http://www.flipboard.com


                  [28] www.zite.com


                  [29] Kelly, Kevin. “What Technology Wants.” http://www.kk.org. Kevin Kelly, September 27, 2011. Web. 10 Sep 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_ToftPd4R8UC&pg=PT232&amp;


                  [30] http://v1.lore.com/comm3505.murch


                  [31] http://learni.st/users/devakiananda


                  [32] http://learni.st/users/devakiananda


                  [33] http://www.minervaowlbytes.com



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