Using the Can Opener- 5 Tools for Learning in the Open

2017 is the Year of the Open according to It is a celebration of transformative Open Education initiatives as well as a push for more educators and learners to embrace learning in the open. Two of the most important tenets of Open Education are that course materials are available to anyone and that open communication and collaboration are key.

You can learn more about Open Education Here

I’ve been teaching for about 17 years. I have taught in K-12 as a special educator and technology teacher as well as in Higher Education as an adjunct instructor for the past 6 years. I am currently an Instructional Technologist at St. Norbert College in De Pere, WI. It’s a small Liberal Arts institution with big ideas. One part of my role is to help with our Open Education initiatives on campus and I often get asked about tools that are available to educators. In this article, I’ll talk about 5 tools I find to be indispensable in my classrooms. First, let’s get a quick overview of the Open Education concept.

Teaching and Learning in the open can seem like a daunting task and many instructors may feel overwhelmed by what is possible. It is important to note that while learning in the open requires using open resources, we do not have to create these resources with open tools. Some tools are free and open, while others may cost money, but provide FERPA and COPPA protections that educators and students need. Some tools are simply worth paying for because they are easy to learn and fun to use. With that information in mind I am going to suggest 5 tools that are great for learning in the open, but are also great tools for any classroom.

1. is a tool that personifies openness. It's based on an open platform and the concept of is open as well. is free and can allow anyone to make comments on the pages you choose. This tool allows for open collaboration on the web.One simply makes comments and adds tags in a slide out tool bar. Much like commenting in the margins on paper. can be used to simply get rid of a textbook altogether and use current resources and articles. Students can share what they find and then have class discussions around that it. can also be used to look at and discuss the validity of different sources on the we. This is a skill that is ever more important in today’s world. Using that example you might extend this activity by making this public and seeing what other people have to say or by simply helping others to determine the validity of sources.

Why is it wonderful?

  • Annotate and collaborate on virtually any web based content
  • It can take a direct link or be used with a browser extension
  • It can be completely open or closed to only those you invite
  • It allows sharing of pictures, links, and commentsIt is based on open source software is a great tool collaborating and conversation around any web content. and you should add it to your bag. The only downside to it is having to remember another password. Hopefully, they'll build in some other sign-in options in the future.

To give this tool a try, click here and add some discussion on the best Bond!

2. Screencastify

Screencastify is a web-based tool that allows instructors quickly to easily create screen recordings. Screencastify allows you to be in charge of your content unlike many other video platforms. You choose where and how you share the content. It is very easy to use and works on any computer.  Using Screencastify to create instruction videos or having students create content to share is actually a joy. Being able to upload your content to YouTube or just share a link to it from Google Drive makes learning in the open easier too.

Using Screencastify, you can create small, bite-sized talks or lectures for your students. Keeping them bite-sized is really important. Students can learn quickly, take a break and then learn again. They can also go back and reference the material as today’s students are ever more Just in Time learners. This means the want to learn when they need or want to learn. Screencastify is a great tool to help save instructors precious time in creating this material.

What is fantastic about Screencastify?

  • It is very easy to use
  • Alternate login options(Google OAuth)
  • Reassignable licenses (paid version)
  • It can save directly to Google Drive or your computer
  • It has editing, annotation and mouse highlighting tools
  • It can record your webcam and computer screen at the same time
  • It records system audio on Windows and Chromebooks (Sorry not on Macs)
  • it records tab audio on all Platforms

In terms of cost, there is a free tier that allows up to 10 minute recordings with a watermark (not all features work in the free tier), and then there are multiple paid tiers.   Screencastify is similar to Snagit and Camtasia, but is more cost effective if you need to purchase it.  One more note about Screencastify at the enterprise level is that it has reassignable licenses. This is a huge deal as we can easily add and remove users as they need the product and therefore saves us money here at St. Norbert College.

3. WeVideo

WeVideo is a completely online video editor. Yes, you can edit professional looking videos from your web browser on any laptop. There is even an app for Android and iOS! I have been using WeVideo in my classes for about 4 years now. At St. Norbert we have several courses that are using WeVideo for video projects and it gets exceptional feedback from both students and instructors.

WeVideo is a tool you should look at integrating into any course where you want to use video. Again the content is controlled by the user and can be placed anywhere. A quick side note on video in the classroom. Using video projects with short time requirements (less than 5 minutes) is an outstanding way to find out what students really understand. It is often better than other summative assessments as it requires planning, analyzing and synthesizing to create a good video in a limited amount of time.

What is amazing about WeVideo?

  • It works on every device(The do recommend Google Chrome)
  • It can do screen recordings or webcam recordings (paid version only)
  • It has both a basic mode and advanced mode so anyone can create videos
  • It can save directly to Google Drive, YouTube, and many other cloud services
  • It can create green screen videos and use slow/fast motion (paid version only)
  • It has many great built-in titles, transitions, motion backgrounds and music
  • It can handle almost any video format
  • It can grab content directly from Google Drive and many other sources
  • Alternate login options(Google OAuth/Facebook)
  • Reassignable licenses (paid version)

You can try WeVideo for free and get 5 minutes per month of published videos. There is also a paid tier and institutions can get 50 licenses for around $300 per year. Again WeVideo allows for reassignable licenses meaning that 50 licenses can go a long way. At St. Norbert we assign a course to WeVideo and then remove the users when the course is finished.

4. Google Plus Communities

Google Plus Communities is a terrific place to have online, open discussions. I have used Communities in my courses for several years and the most important thing I have learned by using Google+ is that a great discussion tool breeds great discussion. When instructors take the time to be active participants in their own assigned discussions, students get a great value out of the discussions as well. Because Google+ allows you to +1 things you can easily keep track of what you have read and what you have not. It also has a great notification system to help stay on top of things. One tip I would provide is giving students a very basic rubric to follow. 0-Didn’t post, 5 Posted, but didn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion, and 10- Posted and did contribute in a meaningful way. Lastly, Google+ is completely free. All anyone needs is a Google account which anyone can sign up for.

Why is it a terrific tool?

  • You can control who can see and/or post into your Community
  • It can be completely open, completely closed or somewhere in between.
  • Mentions make it easy to engage students with each other and in the material
  • Anyone can post links, images, videos, polls or text as posts or in comments
  • The user controls how much they get notified and how they get notifications
  • It has a great mobile appIt is free to join (You just need a Google Account)

I have found that by using Google+ Communities, my discussions have grown organically and therefore have often been cited as one of the best parts of the course. Give it a try. There are thousands of communities you can join to test it out.

5. Recap

Recap is a very new tool built by the makers of Swivl, a video capture tool the moves with you as you talk. I have not been able to use Recap in a course yet, but the product looks promising and is currently free to try. I would use it by posing a question that requires a thoughtful answer and then only giving my students 30 seconds to a minute to answer. I might even post different question to different students. Then when it was time to comment students had different views or questions to comment on. This would further enhance a really cool tool.

What is cool about Recap?

  • Instructors post question to students via text or vides
  • Students answer with a predetermined amount of time like 30s via their webcam
  • It works on any computer as it's web based
  • Student answers can be kept private to the classroom or shared publicly where anyone can comment on them and have a discussion around the answer
  • Alternate login options(Google OAuth)

It is currently early days for Recap, but this type of tool can bring more engagement in learning with others. Often, text only responses do not engage today's students. Short videos are a great way to enhance discussions. Set up a classroom and take it for a test drive today!

Now, it’s time to use that can opener and try some of these tools out at your your institution! Please feel free to leave comments or contact me with questions!

Ben Hommerding is an Instructional Technologist and Tech Geek at St. Norbert College who believes every student deserves the best education we can provide.