This blog aims to support teachers with both tools and resources for online teaching and for their students learning from home. While this will focus on senior students, particularly in an Australian, New South Wales context, it will help to highlight what we think are the best and most accessible resources available. It also will focus particularly on teaching in the humanities, though we’ve tried to select resources that can be broadly applicable for both teachers and students.
The first half of this blog provides some useful online tools and resources for teaching. The second half will provide learning tools for students that you might want to incorporate or pass onto students while at home. Use the contents table below to skip ahead and find relevant tools for specific teaching and learning areas.
Table of Contents
Tools for Teacher Feedback
The impact a teacher’s feedback can have on students learning is perhaps the most significant thing a teacher can do for student growth. It’s also one of the hardest things to replicate effectively when teaching remotely. Not to mention for teachers in secondary schools, it can be one of the most time consuming tasks in their teaching lives.
One of the quickest ways to provide feedback is through audio-visual recordings. This just happens to be one of the few ways to accurately replicate quality feedback that can be lost when teaching remotely. There are a variety of apps and tools for recording your voice on student’s work, but we’re suggesting three ways that are the easiest to learn and the most accessible for users. You can find more tools at this useful tech learning blog, but as a teacher I’ve highlighted what I think is most useful and easy for the most amount of people.
Mac or Windows Screen Recording
I would recommend learning how your laptop, desktop or tablet can screen record itself. The main reason for this is because it’s quite easy and extremely useful once you master it. It also means you don’t need to add extensions or fumble about with files or features that don’t integrate smoothly if you work across various browsers, learning management systems or software.
You also get the benefit of not being that person who “only knows Mac”… Let’s be honest, no one really wants to be that person. See the short clip on the right for both systems or you can click this great Hubspot article for a step-by-step with screenshots too.
Screencastify is a Google Chrome extension that students don’t need to register to and automatically sends recordings to your Google drive. Given many school teachers can freely sign into Google accounts this saves you hard drive space and it also integrates easily with Google Classroom.
It has some useful features – like spotlighting and drawing on the screen – you can see in the video to the right.
The downside of course is if you don’t use Google apps.
Loom is the other popular app for screen recording. Loom has significant features – such as password protected videos, video view counts and an ability for students to leave reactions at different points in a video – that Screencastify lacks. However, it isn’t as easy or streamlined for users. It also is somewhat more limited in its recording and storage capacity in the free version since it doesn’t automatically connect to cloud storage of Google Drive’s size.
The video on the right does a great comparison, though be wary that some of the information may not be as up-to-date (we couldn’t find the free Pro version for teachers on their current site).
Subject Specific YouTube Channels
In this day and age, there’s a YouTube channel for everything. While there are many YouTube channels for student learning – from Eddie Woo’s WooTube for Maths to my personal uni meal time videos in the Green brothers at Crash Course – there aren’t many that cover Australian specific curriculum broadly or in depth. Remember to click on the ‘playlists’ tab anytime you explore YouTube videos to get a quick snapshot of all the videos the channel has on offer. Below are just two recommendations based on teacher’s reviews and an emerging channel that is growing in its HSC content.
Ignite HSC was recommended by some of NSW’s English teachers. Their website provides lots of free resources for students, albeit limited to humanities subjects (Modern History, Economics, Legal, Business and English). Their YouTube channel has some quality videos on HSC specific English texts and an emerging number of Maths videos, such as trigonometry and financial.
The founders clearly exceeded in their HSC, though again it appears to have a humanities bent. Hopefully the growing number of Maths videos hint at branching out.
Atomi has the most subscribers of a high school focused YouTube channel. It covers a variety of subjects and topics ranging across humanities and stem learning areas.
It has a designated HSC playlist, though if you click through it is extraordinarily disorganised. There is no rhyme to where each topic is found and you can see many private videos riddled throughout it. Also important to note is the QCE videos for Queensland teachers.
Lectures and Student Days
Many teachers are already likely members of their respective Teaching Associations. The associations offer various teacher professional learning and student-centric days for their disciplines. Universities have also increasingly grown in their support of secondary students as opportunities to build partnerships with school communities. Libraries, both local and state-level, are often overlooked despite the wealth of resources and research opportunities that students can gain from their workshops. Some examples are provided below, but we highly encourage you to look to your local institutions and relevant associations:
The English Teacher’s Association student days remain worthwhile for early HSC support and refining students knowledge in the lead up to exams – https://www.etastudentdays.com.au/.
The University of Wollongong provides similar support with HSC marker lectures and resource for free to students – https://www.uow.edu.au/study/events/hsc-support-series/.
The NSW State Library, already an early adopter of the EduLinx™ platform, runs seminars and research workshops particularly useful for Extension students in History and English – https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/learning/hsc-2021/hsc-seminars.
The downside for some of these supports is their reliance on teacher organisation for students to access them, particularly if they aren’t online or require membership. Part of starting EduLinx has always been to streamline this process for teachers by better supporting providers to know what teachers need for quick organisation, as well as updating them on changes in policy or curriculum. In light of Covid-19 restrictions some of these are currently postponed, but keep them in mind for when we return to normal. While the pandemic has created significant hardship, it has encouraged innovation and another key goal we’ve had at EduLinx is to increase access to the community for schools. The shift to online, though challenging, has been a welcome change in this area so we have created guidance to providers in this area and the platform allows teachers to filter for these programs in light of remote learning or travel costs. As always, teachers advice or recommendations is welcome so please feel free to share your thoughts so we can better advise all education providers to help better support you.
Feedback Tools for Students
Given how difficult it can be to provide timely feedback to students for any teacher, especially working remotely, it’s worth knowing some of the best feedback apps and extensions available today. The tools and websites below are free and can offer students feedback before providing drafts or their final attempt at tasks in school.
ProWriting Aid is an extension or application that students can use to get live feedback on their writing. Many students likely are using Grammarly (we discuss it below), but you might find it worthwhile to push them towards ProWriting Aid given the depth of feedback it provides students for their writing.
It’s a particularly useful and detailed feedback tool that could cut down your own marking time as a useful step in drafting. It also could be a very thorough way to model for students what good editing and self-reflection on their writing should look like.
- There is a free version for students.
- The reports offer feedback on core writing (such as punctuation and grammar) as well as more specific, subtle tips for style, sentence structure and word choice. It also includes graphs and numerical trends.
- You can select what style of writing (such as academic essay or fiction) to get more nuanced feedback.
- Uses different colour highlights for different areas of improvement.
- Free trial must be used online and is probably a bit overwhelming to set-up and navigate for younger, less confident learners.
- Students can only check 500 words at a time.
- Free version only has 11 reports.
- Some suggestions and feedback may be too higher-order for students. Likely better for senior students.
Grammarly has been around for some time now. It’s popular with students and is likely geared more towards younger users than ProWriting Aid. While the video on the right is a few years old, it does a good comparison overall of the two apps.
For teachers, it’s worth recommending Grammarly for younger students as a starting point for editing and improving their writing. The user friendly set-up will be more easy to use for younger students as well who are familiar with mobile tech.
- Works online across various platforms, including social media.
- User friendly in its set-up and tools.
- Can be more likely to be wrong or problematic in some of its recommendations.
- Not as comprehensive in its feedback as PWA.
Studiosity is an online tutor support platform for students to access beyond school. It has come a long way since it’s early days with support across all HSC subjects from tutors across the Commonwealth. Even if your school hasn’t signed up, students can often find free access by getting a membership at their local library (which are often free for students). Given the qualifications of tutors (many are from top universities) students should have no problem getting their questions answered.
Feedback on their specific work is also available to students. The interface for students shows them how long they are likely to wait for tutor responses and for feedback, which shows the growth of the platform since I first saw what it offered as an English teacher in 2018.
Research Tools for Students
Research skills remain an often overlooked and neglected skill for students today. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to explain to students what a ‘snippet‘ is on Google or how Google isn’t an appropriate reference in their bibliography. There are many things students still need to learn about good online research, especially when it comes to simply navigating and understanding the sources on Google. However, the resources below should help with going beyond the obvious and extending students particularly going into their HSC transitioning to University level research.
Trove is a search engine or database that has come from a huge collaboration across Australia. With hundreds of libraries and partners throughout Australia, the database is extensive and not limited to academic papers only.
The playlist on the right has been set up by Trove with tips for how to use the website, both as a publisher and researcher. Students can use Trove to find a wide variety of sources from magazines to reports, diaries to letters and more.
- Students are free to use the search engine, even without signing up.
- The range of sources goes beyond even what Google offers, such as physical artefacts and archives.
Google Scholar is one of the more hidden apps in the Google family. Oddly enough it was one of the default apps in the top-right hand corner of Google, but often needs searching to be found now-a-days. For many you will have to search it and add it to your default shortcuts if you want quick access.
To show some of the Pros and Cons of Google Scholar I’ve taken some screenshots and edited them on the right. You will realistically only ever encourage senior students to use Google Scholar as the database is definitely closer to university level than any primary or secondary level students will be able to access.
- Access to peer-reviewed articles and books that are far more reliable than what is often found in Google’s regular database.
- Sometimes there is greater access to university journals with free publications.
- A good intro to explain referencing and the depth of academic, expert research to students.
- Could be more useful for students in the Sciences as their can be more technical language there or more free publications around medical and health research papers.
- The level of access is often restricted to those who have university memberships.
- The language is often very high order so likely even a challenge for Extension students.
University Library Student Memberships
Students can often gain free access to University library memberships. When I studied Extension History I remember getting access to Macquarie University library to research for my historical investigation. Sadly, I struggled to find anywhere on their site that continues this offer. You should encourage students to look to their local or regional university as they often provide free membership with evidence of their high school enrolment (such as a student ID card). Disappointingly, it appears that the ‘sandstone universities’ don’t tend to offer these free library memberships. However, do check as I’ve listed just a few that I’ve seen below who offer a similar program:
Study Skills Resources for Students
As students work from home, there remains a wide gap in study habits between households and individuals. There is an absolute wealth of knowledge and support for study skills on the internet. I’ve run these courses in my own school and have tried to synthesise what is both the most practical and most inspired by recent research in neuroscience and behavioural psychology. The reality is these areas will depend from student to student, so I’ve more-so compiled a list of videos, websites, extensions and apps to share with students. In light of this, you can see the resources below tackle the following study skills – habits, focus or concentration, time management and procrastination, revision and memory. I’ve not included essay writing really given the feedback tools mentioned above.
For students and everyone, the reality of study is it starts with good habits. Charles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit‘ is an extremely useful book in both summarising the research behind how habits work, while giving practical advice to help identify poor ones and steps to change them. Duhigg creates a good summary of this process on the right, though it is more applicable to adults than kids. I can’t say I’ve used any of the apps for habit tracking, but here is a worthwhile article on the best free habit tracking apps available.
In my experience students struggle to identify what their own habits are, but when you prompt them to think about what things they do a lot or too much (like gaming or checking their phone), the lightbulb starts to turn on. Of the apps in that article, I would probably recommend Coach.Me given it is available across iOS and Android, while it offers more support beyond just tracking habits and goal setting.
Beyond habits and going into specifics about study I would really recommend to any student looking at Thomas Frank’s YouTube channel. Thomas Frank would often be my starting point as his work explains the research in understandable examples and analogies, while providing good advice and hacks to better study. His own channel is approachable and has various videos on productivity.
However, even just his collaboration with the wonderful Green brothers at Crash Course is honestly all you need to point a student in the right direction. As evidence of this, you will see many of these on the right-hand side to show you how great this 10 part series is for any student.
Focus and Concentration
For many students their greatest challenge today is their ability to focus. It is common conversation among teachers to be frustrated by the spiralling of attention spans in kids today. While there are also ample apps and extensions to help students focus, I am just highlighting one below accompanied by a great episode on this issue from the Thomas Frank Crash Course Study Skills series.
Freedom is another app blocker that has done a good article on the best apps for stopping distracting websites from stealing your time and attention. However, I am highlighting Leechblock here as one extension that can be added to any browser with significant flexibility. You can block up to 30 websites and their sub-domains, set it for different days or times and time limits.
The downside is that even testing it myself it may take some self-teaching for a student. The interface is very old school and bare so may be a bit confusing to set up.
Time Management and Procrastination
Part of helping minimise distractions is to avoid procrastination. Time management is talked about often and while there are also many apps and extensions, students own organisation will ultimately make a big difference here. Having students spend time organising their folders, their study space and their notes is fundamental to stopping procrastination since the harder it is to start something, the easier it is to find something better to do.
OneNote and Google Calendar
There are a variety of calendar and note-taking apps, some of the best well-known described in the video to the right. For students, I would generally encourage them to use OneNote and Google Calendar for a couple of reasons:
- OneNote is part of Microsoft Office, which remains free for NSW students*. OneNote is available on or offline and can sync across all platforms. It also has a good flexibility of structure if used properly – from sections down to pages and sub-pages, alongside tick-a-boxes for to-do-lists. Here is a great overall tutorial for setting it up and understanding the features.
- Google Calendar is also free and available across all platforms and phones. It is very user-friendly with easy reminders to set and if students are on Google Classroom already then work you set students syncs to their calendar. Another useful tutorial is available here.
*For non-government school students you may have to check with your school to see if they offer free Microsoft Office.
The Pomodoro technique has been renowned for a long-time to simply manage procrastination through time-set goals. The principle is explained in the Crash Course episode to the right, but effectively it encourages you to set a timer and focus on one task before having a break. There are many apps that replicate this process, but I’m recommending Focus-to-Do here. Here is a useful tutorial for the app.
The free version is great, but you can pay around $13 for premium for life. I literally used it for this blog and to track the various projects of starting and building EduLinx. It’s great in that it combines all of the above research into one minimalist app:
- Create multiple projects and sub-tasks within them.
- Change the timer for longer periods of focus or breaks, as well as customise how many ‘pomodoros’ you need per task.
- Block apps when using the focus timer.
- Detailed reports to show you how much time you’re spending on tasks.
- Sync the app across devices.
- Available as both a mobile and laptop application.
Revision and Memory
Finally for students, especially leading into exams, understanding memory and how to revise is critical. When I’ve taught students about memory I’ve often used the analogy of following a map and coming home from school. The more times you travel to and from school, the less energy and time it takes looking down at a map to think about where to go to next. It’s actually a really complex process we take for granted. Within it we have lots of ‘checkpoints’ or ‘triggers’ – such as that big round about or your favourite local cornershop or fast food outlet you pass by – that your brain plots to remind you where to go next or how far you have to go. It’s a great analogy to show students how your brain understands something more deeply by repeated exposure or revision. The more you travel it, the less you have to think about it and the easier it becomes. This concept also transfers into skills in practicing sport, music, art or construction.
However, students tend to not think of practice or training as applying to abstract, academic work. This is why revising matters and the Memory video below goes through some great techniques – like mnemonics and the Leitner system – to help simplify chunks of information and test your memory over time. Flashcards are a useful way to integrate the research behind long-term memory and practice for strengthening it. Below I’ve highlighted the two main websites that help build or borrow flashcards for revision.
- For students, particularly juniors, it has a very easy to use interface.
- Gamification is possible for the flashcards.
- There are also collaborative options.
- Importing lots of info for quick ‘quizzifying’ is very useful.
- You do need to pay for extra features.
- It lacks spaced repetition, like the Leitner system.
- Not available offline.
Anki is also a free flashcard building website that students can use to create their own flashcards. While it is more geared towards senior students and university level content, it has greater customisability than Quizlet.
- Very customisable with an easy ability to include images and videos within flashcards.
- Available as an app offline.
- Has an extremely large library of flashcards already to search and use.
- Has spaced repetition functionality.
- Not as user friendly with a very bare, coder feel to its interface.
- Lacks social features and gamification.