Tools for Effective Online & Distance Learning & Teaching:Discover What's Possible
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Online distance learning has undergone a renaissance over the past 15 years. On this page you get to discover some of the best, new tools developed to help students engage with their learning in meaningful and effective ways. Many of these tools allow us to create learning opportunities that are not available in a traditional brick and mortar classroom.

Your course, once complete, will be uploaded to and then accessed by students through our Learning Management System (LMS), Blackboard Learn. Many of the e-learning tools described below are already built into Blackboard Learn for convenient access and use, specifically:


In your course development work the following questions may come up for you.

How can I:
  1. Record mini-lectures and presentations with ease?

  2. Give students access to free online tools to create stunning assignments that demonstrate learning?

  3. Accomplish even more without having to be a tech wizard?

  4. Get media custom made?

A plethora of powerful and effective technology is available today that is free, intuitive and fun to use. Technology is at its best when used as an appropriate tool, rather than being seen as the attraction itself.

I invite you to discover the following well-loved teaching tools and to consider using them in your Open Learning course.

1. Recording Your Mini-Lectures

You know how to give an engaging lecture. You may even have a finely tuned PowerPoint presentation to go with it. There are many screen capture tools that allow you to record both your voice and your desktop.

My favorite three are:
  • Jing,
  • Camtasia and
  • Picture.Me.

Here is a quick comparison:

Got 5 Minutes? Use Jing.

Jing is a free screen capture tool that allows you to take a video and voice recording of whatever is on your desktop. This may be a PowerPoint presentation, a website, an image, an article, a graph, even a video. All you need is a good microphone and you are ready to play. Jing’s only limitations are that you have no editing capabilities, and you have to be done in under five minutes.

Jing’s second feature is equally handy. With the click of a mouse you can take a still picture of whatever you lined up on your desktop. This picture can then be edited, saved, emailed or embedded in a presentation of your choosing.

Russell Stannard is an award winning, internationally sought after educator and speaker who developed many outstanding videos on how to use technology in education. I included the best of them in this document. The following video gives you a great overview of what Jing is all about and how to use it:

Want more? Russell shows you how Jing can be used to give feedback on student work, teach vocabulary, talk about an image or graph, and so forth:

Jing can be a huge time saver, instead of typing-talk. Instead of describing an image-capture and send it. (I use Jing every day.)

Going big? Use Camtasia.

Camtasia is Jing on steroids. While it is not suited to take still pictures, it allows for much more creativity in the video department: it has full editing features (including adding intro and outro screens and captions), allows for your face to show up over top your PowerPoint slides, and you have no time constraints.

Unfortunately, Camtasia is not free. A single license starts at about $180 (education pricing). However, you do have full, free access to Camtasia and personal, technical support here at our professional media studio at Open Learning.

For an introduction to Camtasia, watch Russell Stannard’s video: (By the way, Russell uses Camtasia for all his video presentations. Notice how he integrated a table of content that shows up on the left of the video screen and how his cursor shows up with a yellow halo. These are but two of many neat features of Camtasia.)

We recommend that you keep your video presentation to 10 minutes or less. Learners' attention spans drop dramatically at the 15 minute mark. Several short, focused videos are therefore much more effective than one long film.

Want the best of both worlds for free? Use Picture.Me...

Picture.Me is a free alternative to Camtasia and Jing-if you can live with very limited editing capabilities and a 20 MB upload limit (PowerPoint presentations with several images can quickly exceed that). Picture.Me is great if you want to record:
  • Slides and video
  • Slides and audio only
  • Slides only
  • Video only

This web-based application is very suitable for student presentations.

Your training for Picture.Me starts here:

...Or MyBrainshark

MyBrainshark is a viable alternative to Picture.Me that limits one's recordings by time, not mega bites. While MyBrainshark primarily captures voice and sound for podcasts, it also allows users to add a voice over to a PowerPoint presentation (while keeping animations intact!), or simply to include a narration to a document or graph.

MyBranshark has several cool editing features; for example you can add survey questions at the end of a presentation. As long as the recording is kept to 15 minutes or less, this program is free. (

Russell offers an excellent little video on how to us myBrainshark in education:

How to Annotate Your Video Presentation

In some cases you may want to write on a document during the screen capture in order to highlight a point. There are two ways how you can achieve this effect:

  • A touch screen device with a stylus, for example an IBM Thinkpad.
  • The Wacom Bamboo pad comes with a stylus and interfaces with your computer, essentially replacing a mouse, with the ability write on a document. Babmoo pads start at $40.

2. Technology for Student Assignments

All of the above tools (with exception of Camtasia due to its cost) are appropriate for students to use in completing presentations and other assignments. The challenge with many of these sites, however, is that they often require students to sign in by providing some personal information (e.g. email address and name). That can present a problem with privacy. This link takes you to a site that lists online learning services of all kinds that do not require students to provide any personal info. You may, therefore recommend them to your learners.

The following applications can also be considered for students but they likely will require student log in.

Stunning, Zoomable Presentations: Prezi

Tired of PowerPoint? Looking for a more fluid, creative, visually appealing way to generate ideas and teach them effectively? Prezi will amaze you in how stunning and engaging a presentation can be. And no, you don’t have to be an artist or a techy to use it.

What makes Prezi presentations unique is that they are zoomable: with fractal-like quality you can zero in and magnify areas to reveal new content: text, pictures, even videos. Moreover, Prezi allows for voice overs and background music. Prezi will make you and your students’ projects look so good. (

Russell Stannard devoted two video series to this fabulous, free online program:

Poster Presentations: Glogster

A picture is worth 1000 words. This applies to Glogster in so many ways. In a nutshell, if your want your students to make a poster presentation that can be shared, send them to Glogster.

Here are a few examples of educational Glogster posters:
Free Glogster accounts allow students to create educational online posters. While not as sophisticated as Prezi in both looks and design, Glogster is still appropriate for many projects, e.g. making a personal collage as an introduction to the group, timelines, summaries and overviews. These cloud-based posters can integrate images, audio and video at the click of a button. (

Here is Russell’s teacher training video on Glogster:

Editing/Mashing-up YouTube videos and TED Talks

Are you planning on using a YouTube video or TED talk in your course? The following program allows you to mash-up and add interactivity:

  • TED-Ed: TED-Ed allows you to turn any TED talk or YouTube video into interactive content. In just a few clicks you can add multiple choice questions and more in-depth content to significantly enhance the educational value of the video. Learn more at

Places to Share Student Work

Question: “My students have to make a presentation. How can they publish and share their work?”
Answer: There are many platforms to which students can save presentations to and then make them available for others to see and comment on. The two most popular ones are:
  • SlideShare: An incredible repository of knowledge

    Most student work can be uploaded to SlideShare ( from where it can be shared with peers, professors and anyone else in the world. SlideShare can hold content produced in Camtasia, PDF, Word, PowerPoint, YouTube and even regular videos (with pro-account only). Watch Russell’s excellent training video here:

  • YouTube: Storing and sharing your videos

    100 hours of video are uploaded every minute to YouTube. In the unlikely case that you have lived under a rock since 2005 and you don’t know what YouTube is, here is a brilliant video series made by Russell Stannard that will empower you to understand and use YouTube at its full capacity and enter the modern age. One billion users can’t be wrong:

3. More Great Learning Technology:

  • Surveys and polls: Survey Monkey provides easy, free tools to create surveys, collect data, and analyze the results. Remember, you also have a survey tool inside Blackboard Learn. Survey Monkey is listed as an alternative only.

  • Video conferencing: Most students have and use Skype. Conversations (including interviews) can be recorded using free programs like Pamela (

  • Interactive online whiteboards: An electronic whiteboard is ideal for collaborative planning and designing. A wiki, on the other hand, is better suited for word processing. Interactive witeboards can be found at Twiddla ( and Stormboard (

  • Quizzes: You can create a quiz right in Blackboard Learn. If you prefer to use an external source, I recommend you consider Quiz Star (

4. Get it Custom Made

Do you need an animation, a video, an audio file or a simulation but you can’t find it anywhere?

Open Learning has its own professional media team, skilled at custom making any media you may need for your course. Please take a moment to review their impressive portfolio at

The time investment for custom making media can be considerable. Please let us know as early as possible if you are considering this option. The results can be very rewarding.