Review of Tools

The first tool I chose to review was Socrative. I picked this tool because it was relatively new to me and because feedback on my unit suggests the assessments need work. I’m planning to present my unit online for other teachers to utilize. It seemed that Socrative could be an alternative and possibly engaging way to assess knowledge acquisition.

When I first navigated to, the first thing that jumped out at me was “Get a FREE account. I’m all about free things, especially at the exploration stage when you don’t know if it’s going to be a value-adding tool or not. The main page is attractive and uncluttered, offering a brief product description and demo video. The website states: “Socrative empowers you to engage and assess your students as learning happens. Through the use of real-time questioning, result aggregation, and visualization, you have instant insight into levels of understanding so you can use class time to better collaborate and grow as a community of learners.” Essentially, the teacher has a digital device that collects and organizes data submitted from student devices. The demo was really helpful in giving an overview of the software capabilities. New users are then given an option of looking at the user manual. Maybe it defines my generation, but I’m still one to look over a manual before jumping in and “mucking around” with something new. One of the potential barriers to effective use that I found was that the user manual is very cluttered and confusing. There are arrows from text boxes to screencast images everywhere and in no particular sequence or structure. The lack of continuity with this makes it hard to know where to start reading a page and what description is related to what graphic.

After briefly reviewing the manual, I dove in, starting with a quiz for my first unit activity. When creating a quiz, you have the option of selecting a multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions. The format of Socrative makes this process a breeze. It’s simple to add, delete, or re-order questions to fine-tune your assessments. One of the best features of this program is the “explanation” box following each question. Teachers can choose to include an explanation that will appear after students select or articulate their answer. I love the immediate feedback this provides students. If they answer correctly, the explanation is a confirmation of their understanding. If they answer incorrectly, the explanation immediately addresses the shortcoming. The feedback happens instantaneously, allowing students to reflect on their answers while the new ideas are still fresh in working memory. The “explanation” box would also be an asset to a teacher who finds the unit online and wants to teach it, but has a limited knowledge of the subject matter. There was one problem I encountered while creating quizzes in Socrative. I couldn’t find a way to add graphics, shapes, or text boxes to the quiz. One of my original quiz questions focused on the proportion of freshwater available relative to the total amount of water on Earth. I used text boxes in Pages to graphically represent volumes. I wasn’t able to replicate anything close to this in Socrative.

Beyond simple quiz generation, there are other features of Socrative that I think would be advantageous in education.
Teacher Collaboration – Teachers can share quizzes based on the code assigned. Importing/exporting quizzes is efficient for sharing course design and delivery.
Real-Time Questioning – The Quick Question feature allows teachers to stop instruction at any point, ask a question of the class, and gauge understanding based on instantaneous results they receive. This “snapshot in time” seems like it would provide the basis for real data-driven instruction. If results show most of the class “gets it,” the teacher can move on. If results show one particular concept is proving difficult, they can re-teach that day. Teachers have the ability to see exactly who is giving each answer, providing opportunities for differentiation. The live results provide an option for customized teaching difficult to match with paper.
Exit Ticket – This is another assessment option, which the teacher would have students complete digitally at the end of the lesson. Teachers can customize questions for the Exit Ticket that tell them whether students understood and can achieve objectives. The Exit Ticket could be used to solicit personalized and confidential feedback from students about delivery, effectiveness, gaps in understanding, etc. Based on this, teachers could work individually with students or choose to cover a lesson again on a subsequent day.
Space Race – A fun and engaging way to introduce a little competition into assessment. Students can compete individually or in teams against others. Students are “competing” to correctly answer quiz questions. Results are displayed as rockets moving along a racetrack and show competitors progress as well.

Overall, I thought this tool was easy to use with a fast learning curve. If one can get past the equipment resources necessary to implement, the advantages of real-time feedback are constrained only by imagination. Once I got over my initial (predictable) hurdle of diving in and messing around to learn how to use the tool, I began to see many educational advantages. With about 3 hours invested, I learned the software, revamped, and re-producing all my lesson assessments on Socrative.

To view the quizzes created for my unit of instruction, first sign up for a Socrative account. Then, log into Socrative as a teacher, and select manage quizzes. From here, choose import quiz. On the next screen you will have the option of importing a quiz from another teacher using the SOC share code (there is also the option to upload quizzes an from Excel file). The SOC code for my quizzes are:

Water Availability: SOC-19023441
Water Quality Testing: SOC-19025827
A Day in The Life of Campbell Creek: SOC-19025308

The second tool I chose to review was Camtasia. I picked this one because a classmate suggested I might use it for creating and sharing videos during our Peer Review session. I had no experience with it, so this was an ideal opportunity. The Camtasia website describes the software as follows: “A powerful, yet easy-to-use screen recorder, Camtasia helps you create more professional videos without having to be a video pro. Easily record your screen movements and actions, or import HD video from a camera or other source. Customize and edit content both on Mac and Windows platforms, and share your videos with viewers on nearly any device.”

Although they tout a “30-day free trial” it seemed to me they tried hard to make the free-trial process confusing enough to encourage frustrated people to just sign up for a paid subscription. In attempting to download the free trial version, I kept getting prompted for the activation key. I ended up downloading it 6 times trying to figure out where the activation key was displayed. Finally I called their support center for help and was told the activation key was only for customers buying a paid subscription. I was told how to skip this step and proceed with the free version. I find this type of thing very manipulative. I understand that companies are in business to make a profit. But if you offer trial product to stimulate interest in your for-profit product, you have a responsibility to cater to that user as well.

I wish I could say things got better when I finally got my free version downloaded. After looking over the new platform and exploring the menu bar, I found a “start a new project” tutorial. I watched this and the process for capturing a screenshot video seemed pretty straight forward. I set the same controls they recommended and tried to create my own. The video worked fine, but there was no audio. I tinkered with the internal input and output on my computer, changed settings, and tried every combination of built-in microphone, built-in input, built-in speaker possible. I made a dozen test screenshots and simply couldn’t get the audio to work. I’ve taken classes with Collaborate that require use of a headset, so I tried this next. Plug in the headset, change audio settings in system preferences, and try again. This yielded the same results. I spent another hour messing with connections, verifying that the headphones worked on another computer, changing settings, and trying to make a simple test video. Same results. The screen capture function worked fine in two dozen test videos, the audio never picked up sound.

Now I will be the first to admit that I’m not terribly tech savvy. I think it somewhat likely that operator error was to blame in this scenario and not necessarily a problem with the software. But if I’m having this problem, isn’t it likely that someone else has experienced it? I searched their in-house help service extensively trying to find answers to my questions, but there was nothing on the topic. I ran out of time and finally walked away. With 24 hours to reflect on the process though, I don’t know exactly what I would do differently. I had already spent 20 minutes on hold and conversing with tech support to just get the free version. I felt stupid calling back with another simple issue. I would argue that a service is hardly free when it takes 2-3 hours to figure out how to access the point where you start learning the tool.

I spent enough time scratching around the software to realize it isn’t what I thought it was anyway. I had a vision of a movie making software, this wasn’t it. Camtasia is great if you want to teach how to navigate somewhere online or demonstrate some technical skill that requires multiple steps. It basically records your cursor actions, what’s on your screen, and your voice (apparently). It would be very beneficial for teaching someone the process of getting to a desired location or the steps necessary to set something up. The editing capability appeared to be efficient and the sample screencast I watched look very polished. I see plenty of value in the software for educational purposes, sorry I can’t give a better review.

The third tool I chose to review was TeacherTube. I selected this one because I thought supplemental videos may help hook interest and engage students in the activities I’m putting together. The TeacherTube website states: “Stop wasting hours looking for learning tools and relevant content. TeacherTube is your one stop shop for user generated educational videos from around the world. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Find exactly what you’re looking for within a quick search.” It was love at first read. They had me at “stop wasting hours looking for learning tools,” after my Camtasia experience.

I started exploring this tool with the intention of eventually creating a short video introducing topic(s) covered in my unit. After searching the site for a half hour, however, I realized there were already a plethora of videos hosted there that were relevant to my project and probably better than I could produce with time constraints in place. However, the creation of a video was a part of my unit, so I further explored TeacherTube by creating and uploading a video. (The tool I used to create the movie is an iPad app called Doodlecast Pro Video Whiteboard This awesome resource is available for $4.99)

Learning curve – I was quick to pick up the basics. Within 20 minutes I was searching for content related to my unit. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pool of videos related to catchment.
Ease of use -The site was relatively easy to navigate. The help section needs some improvement. All tutorials are screen recordings without audio. It is difficult to watch a tutorial video without audio because I am wasn’t really sure what skill I was learning in the help video. Constant pop-ups and advertisements are distractions that take away from the instructional value of the resource. In my search, I did not find enough videos that would warrant a paid subscription.

Time required to create – TeachTube is not a tool for content creation. It is a resource to host instructional videos. I choose to use Doodlecast Pro as the tool to create videos. In order to upload content to TeacherTube, you will have to have software to create content. According to TeacherTube, the following file formats can be uploaded: wmv, avi, mov, flv, mp4, jpg, png, gif, mp3, doc, docx, .ppt, .pdf, .txt, .csv, .xls, .mp3, and .wav. Having used Doodlecast Pro in the past, it took a total of about an hour to create the script, graphics and compile the content to upload it to TeacherTube.

Problems encountered – Constant splash ads. Every time a user selects a video to view, a splash ad appears in the video window. This is confusing, annoying and distracting from content. While I watched many good videos, there were a lot of movies that were poor in quality. For example, some movies had pixelated images and very poor audio.
Barriers to use – A paid subscription is required for many of the features. This also does away with all the advertising pop-ups. When videos are uploaded they are not available immediately, so teachers will need to plan ahead if videos are included in lesson plans. Also, when I uploaded, I received notification my movie needed to be reviewed before publishing. I imagine content is vetted for copyright etc; however, in order for me to endorse and recommend this resource, the review process needs to cover video quality.
Educational Uses – There is a lot of value in using movies as instructional resources. I support video use (creation of instructional content, telling stories, PSAs….) in the classroom. As a parent, my children’s privacy is a concern. I think schools should consider internal servers and software services for video use, especially if the videos include students. To me, resources such as TeacherTube should be local (site based) to assist in student privacy and quality control.

View the short video I produced with Doodlecast and posted to TeacherTube here:

3 thoughts on “Review of Tools

  1. Hi Craig,

    Nice review. Like you, I think the main exciting potential here is with the live or interactive potential within the classroom. There are many quizzing tools, but I can see this being particularly engaging in a traditional lecture context.

    I’ve had similar experiences with Camtasia, so I feel your pain. From a pedagogical perspective, however, it is useful to reflect a bit on how frustrating it can be for the student user, trying just to demonstrate their understanding of some content knowledge and spending hours fiddling with a tool. Also, I agree with your assessment of the manipulative nature of their model. If it feels more like malware than an actual product, I’m likely to trash it. Easy, cheap, free alternative, Screencastify. It’s a Google Chrome plugin you may find similar and useful.

    TeacherTube. Again, sounds kind of malware-ish. Nice that you could find some materials for your own purposes – that is always helpful. But, YouTube is the heavyweight competitor in this space and TeacherTube would have to provide something that YouTube doesn’t. Do you think it does that?

    You mentioned having your students/classes submit their own videos. How would you suggest they do this? What is your vision? Is there a particular app or process you have in mind?


    1. I think the vetting that happens on TeacherTube sets it apart from YouTube in terms of credibility and reliability. I also think it has a niche within the education world because content is geared toward teaching rather than entertainment.

  2. Socrative sounds like one of those “lots of work up front but totally awesome” tools. Sounds like a real winner. I think of all the tools we’ve reviewed as a class, this looks like the most interesting to play around with over winter break!

    Sorry (and surprised) to hear that both you and Owen have had negative experiences with Camtasia. I guess maybe I’ve been sort of lucky with that program but I have used it on and off for a couple of years and have always found it very useful, but admittedly not easy to use when compared to other screencast programs. I think it is because it tries to be “feature packed” when it really doesn’t need to be.

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