Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Five learning management tools worth exploring

Learning management solutions no longer require school or university-wide implementations of complex systems. There are now many simple, yet powerful tools that teachers can easily implement in their own classrooms. Each have different features and strengths, meaning some are more suited to particular learning management needs than others.

At the recent Using Technology Better Conference Melbourne, Adam Vardanega and I facilitated a discovery workshop where participants explored the solution that best fit their needs. In this blog post, I’ll share a summary of the tools we presented and what types of needs they best fulfil. All of the tools covered are either free or have feature-rich free versions.

Why use learning management tools?

There are several reasons why you might decide to utilise a learning management tool in your classroom or course. To begin with, they can provide a safe online space for students to ask questions and discuss class work. They can also streamline the electronic distribution, collection and marking of assignments. Learning management tools are also effective in facilitating self-paced work via digital content delivery and for sharing information and resources with both students and parents. In addition, many teachers use learning management tools to access features such as polls, quizzes, electronic gradebooks, badges, class calendars, analytics.

Having a clear idea about what you want to use a learning management tool for and what features are most important will help you select the best solution for your classroom.

1: Edmodo

Edmodo is a comprehensive learning management tool suitable for primary and secondary classrooms. It includes a social-style discussion forum, assignment distribution and submission, in-product feedback and grading, a gradebook, badges, quizzes, polls and access for parents. In addition, Edmodo can connect to Google Drive to facilitate sharing of Google files with students.  A variety of other third-party tools can also be connected to the product, and Edmodo mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android devices.

Edmodo is a great solution for teachers who want to access a range of learning management tools. It can also be easily combined with Google Sites for self-paced content delivery and Google Classroom if you’re a heavy user of Google Drive with your students.

2: Schoology

Schoology is a feature-rich solution best suited to secondary or tertiary classrooms.  Like Edmodo, it includes a social-style discussion forum, assignment distribution and submission, in-product feedback and grading, a gradebook, badges, quizzes, polls and access for parents. However, Schoology’s gradebook and marking options are superior, including the ability to grade using a rubric. The integration with Google Drive is also more powerful. Schoology also includes two additional features that are very useful- the ability to provide automated self-paced content and comprehensive analytics on student activity and progression. Mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android devices and third-party plugins can be integrated with the web version.

Schoology is ideal for teachers who want a comprehensive learning management solution that can also deliver content and track progress. It’s a more ‘mature’ tool, with an  interface and feature set most appropriate for older students.

3: Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a solution only available to teachers whose schools currently use Google Apps for Education. It is an excellent addition to any classroom that uses a lot of Google Drive files (such as Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drawings). Classroom simplifies the distribution and collection of assignments through automating the creation of shared Google Drive folders and files. Assignments can also be graded electronically. Classroom features a discussion stream for class announcements and questions and has mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Although Classroom is a more limited learning management tool, it is very effective in streamlining the use of Google Drive files with students.  It also has a very simple and visually appealing interface that is suitable for students of all ages. Because it is very straightforward to configure and use, Google Classroom can easily be utilised alongside other platforms without too much extra effort. Alternatively, it can be combined with other Google tools (such as Forms and Google Calendar) to achieve more functionality.

4: Google Sites

Google Sites provide a straightforward solution for self-paced content delivery and can be effective as a classroom portal. Despite being a Google product, Sites can easily be utilised by teachers who do not have access to Google Apps for Education at their school or uni. Any teacher with a Google account (ie. a personal Gmail account) can create a site for their classroom or course.

A Google Site is a website that can be created collaboratively without the need for any coding. A variety of content can be added to the site, including embedded videos, maps, calendars, discussion groups and Google Drive files (such as Forms, Docs and Sheets) and Google Drive folders. Sites can be made accessible to both students and parents.

Google Sites can be customised to suit primary, secondary and tertiary environments. While the tool is predominantly a content repository, this may be all that is required. If additional functionality is needed, Sites can be effectively used alongside any of the other learning management tools mentioned in this post.

5: Google+ Communities

Google+ is a social networking platform in which invite-only private communities can be created. These Google+ Communities provide a safe space for online sharing, feedback and discussions. Google+ is only available for students over 13 years of age and is most easily implemented at schools or universities already using Google Apps for Education.

Teachers and students engage in the community through posting text, images, links, polls and embedded content from other Google products. The community owner (the teacher) can moderate any post.

Google+ is best suited for use with older students (particularly senior secondary and tertiary). It is a great discussion space which could be effectively utilised alongside Google Sites and Google Classroom.

Read more

- Read how Edmodo and Schoology can be used in senior classrooms in this Using Technology Better blog post by Adam Vardanega.
- Read how Google+ can enhance social learning in this Using Technology Better blog post by me..
- Learn some tips for Getting Started with Google Sites.
- Visit the Google Classroom help centre.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Annotate & collaborate on PDF files with Kami (formerly Notable PDF)

Note: This post was updated on 18/01/2016 to reflect the products name change to Kami. Screen shots have not been updated.

Have you ever been reading through a long PDF file, wishing you could record your comments, reflections or ideas on the content? Kami (formerly Notable PDF) is a web application that allows you to do just this. It includes a range of annotation tools, including highlighters, comments, text, drawing (premium only) and formatting.

Kami also integrates with Google Drive, allowing you to collaborate live on PDFs with others. Similar to the Google Docs Editors, Kami shows you who currently has the PDF open. Comments and other annotations are also displayed in colours specific to the author. It’s a great tool for allowing multiple people to review and reflect on content together.

In addition to the annotation and collaboration features, Kami can also just be used as a PDF viewer. The tool has both free and paid versions, however the free version is very feature-rich. Learn more about the pricing plans here.

How do I get it?

Kami can be used in all browsers via their website. However, the easiest way to access it is to install the Chrome Web Store extension (for use in the Google Chrome browser). To do so:

1. Visit this link.
2. Click the Add to Chrome button.
3. Click Add.
4. Once the extension has been added, you’ll see the Kami icon in the top right corner of Chrome. Click the icon to launch Kami.

Notable extension

5. Click the Sign in with Google button and enter your Google account details.

Note: Although you can choose to create a stand-alone Kami account, signing in with your Google account provides the Google Drive integration outlined in the rest of this post.

Notable login

How do I use it?

Opening PDFs

Once you have the Kami Chrome extension installed there are two ways to open your PDFs in Kami.

Directly from Google Drive
1. Right-click a PDF file.
2. Select Open with > Kami (formerly Notable PDF).
Note: If you do not see this option in the menu after installing the extension, reload Google Drive.

Open with menu in Drive


The annotation tools are located to the right of the open PDF. To use them, select the desired tool and then select the text in the document you want to apply the tool too. The available tools (in order) are highlighting, strike-through, underline, comments, insert text, drawing (premium only) and select text.

Annotation tools

An example of a comment and highlight is shown below.

Annotation example

Sharing and collaborating

The easiest way to collaborate on a PDF is to share it via Google Drive. Once shared, any person who opens the file in Kami can collaborate on it simultaneously. Each collaborator will be shown as an icon in the bottom left corner. Those who currently have the document open have a green dot.

Collaborator icons

Tip: Ask you fellow collaborators to install the Kami Chrome extension prior to trying to collaborate on PDFs.

Saving and exporting

Any annotations made to the PDF are automatically saved back to Kami. Therefore, next time you open the same PDF in Kami, you can see and add to the annotations. Likewise, any collaborators who open the PDF in Kami will also see all the annotations.

If you want to view the annotations outside of Kami (ie. in a desktop PDF reader such as Adobe Reader), you can export the PDF with the annotations. (Tip: If you are just planning to keep opening the PDF in Kami, there is no real need to export it).

To export a file:
1. Click the Download button in the top right corner.

Download button

2. Select Your computer and the type of download you require.
Tip: You can also save files to Google Drive from this interface.

Export box

3. Click Begin Export.

Learn more
You can find more information on using Notable PDF features in their help centre.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Find the perfect image with Google image search

Finding an image to include in your print or online work can be complicated. What between trying to find one that is the right size, to making sure you’re actually allowed to use it. To help simplify the hunt, in this post, we’ll show you a few ways to tweak your Google image search to find the perfect image.

Become friends with the Search tools menu

The Search tools menu in Google image search has a treasure trove of options to help narrow down your search results.

To access it, simply perform an image search (at and then click the Search tools button above the search results. The search tools menu will drop-down below the button.

Search tools button and menu

Now you’ve found the menu, try using some of these filters to narrow your search results:

Size: Select the size image you are looking for. No longer will you find a great image that’s so small it’s unusable.

Image size menu

Colour: Show only full colour or black and white images, or pick a particular colour. The transparent option finds images with transparent backgrounds.

Image colour menu

Type: Only interested in photos? Just want a fun clip-art image? The Type filter lets you pick exactly the type of image you are looking for.


Time: Choose how recent you want your image to be.


Usage rights: One of the most useful options! This lets you filter images by their licensing restrictions.  It’s a great way for teachers to model digital citizenship skills to their students. Note that images labelled for reuse may require attribution, so be sure to always check the licensing details on the image’s site.
Image usage rights menu

More tools: Choose to show image size at the bottom of each image result. This is very handy for finding the exact size you need.

Take things to the next level

For even more powerful search filters, you can use Advanced search. This provides you with extra filters like word matching, file type, aspect ratio and region.

To access the advanced search, click the Settings cog button (top right corner) and select Advanced search from the menu.

Advanced search menu item

Now refine your search criteria using the fields and options provided. There are useful tips on the right of each criteria box. When you’re done, click the Advanced Search button.

Advanced search options

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Link to headings & bookmarks in a Google Doc

If you’ve created a Google Doc with a lot of different sections, it’s a good idea to help readers navigate through it easily.  One way to do this is to insert hyperlinks to different sections. You can insert a hyperlink to either a heading in the document, or a custom bookmark that you have added.

Link to a heading

Google Docs have a pre-existing set of text styles that provide consistent formatting in your document. You can find them on the formatting toolbar, usually behind the Normal text button.

Text styles menu

Each time you use the Heading 1, 2, 3 or 4 style, Google Docs recognises the heading as a new section in your document. This allows you to easily hyperlink to that section by following the steps below.

1. Highlight the text you want to turn into a link (eg. something like ‘Check out the space craft section for more information’).
2. Click the Insert link button in the formatting toolbar.

Insert link button

3. Select Headings from the link section.
4. Select the heading you want to link to.
5. Click Apply.

Insert heading link

Link to a bookmark

Bookmarks can be placed anywhere in a Google Doc. They are very useful if you want to link to a specific line of text, or anywhere that is not a section heading.

To insert a bookmark

1. Put your cursor at the location you want to insert the bookmark.
2. Click the Insert menu > Bookmark.
3. A bookmark will be added to the location.


To link to the bookmark

1. Highlight the text you want to turn into a link.
2. Click the Insert link button in the formatting toolbar.
3. Select Bookmarks from the link section.
4. Select the bookmark you want to link to.
5. Click Apply.

Bookmark link menu

Tip: Each bookmark has its own URL. This can be given to other people and used to take them immediately to the right place in a document. To find the URL for a bookmark, click the bookmark, then right-click the word Link. Select Copy link address from the menu (this assumes you’re using Google Chrome - the menu item may be different for other browsers).

Copy link address

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