Ever wonder what are the must-have free tools for the digital classroom? Well read on…Over my next few posts, I’m going list my own personal favourites, ones I regularly use in school. I’m going to start with (Good old-fashioned) installable software and move on in parts 2 & 3 to online tools and apps. Needless to say the list is not exhaustive (A Top 10 in my case for the purposes of this series) and a tad subjective of course so if there are any glaring omissions or alternatives, please let us know @teachnetireland or use the Leave a Reply option below…
Photo Manipulation & Management
Today, digital photography is all encompassing and whilst there are plenty of free (And paid-for) feature-packed tools out there, these tend be overkill for the relatively modest digital photography requirements of a classroom. What’s required is a simple image browser, convertor and editor and Faststone Image Viewer ticks all those boxes. This brilliant free tool boasts an intuitive interface, manages both photos and videos collections easily, offers batch processing and has a powerful inbuilt image editor. At just a 16mb download, it well worth a try…
Ever considered recording a class podcast? You’ll find plenty of tools and apps out there that offer the whole nine yards but I’d suggest looking no further than the tried and tested Audacity. Now on version 2.3, Audacity is an open source multi-track audio editor that offers the equivalent functionality of premium and professional tools like Adobe Auditionand Steinberg Cubase. In truth you’ll never use a fraction of these for classroom podcasting but importantly these high-end tools don’t distract from a user-friendly interface that makes recording audio on PC straightforward. Simply, plug in a microphone and click the record button. With that said, it’s worth investing in a USB condenser microphone if you want quality sound, standard mini-jack mics won’t cut the mustard.
For years Microsoft’s free Windows Movie Maker was the stock and trade tool for educators using digital video in the classroom and its demise (And subsequent lack of a replacement tool on PC) was bemoaned by many. Whilst very basic in comparison professional video editing suites like Audition etc. WMM offered the perfect balance of functionality and ease-of-use for many teachers. I wrote previously about StoryMix (An addon for the Windows 10 Photos App) which Microsoft claims is its successor but as a video editing tool it’s too limited and better used as a windows 10 replacement for the brilliant (but dated) Photostory 3 . Instead, try Shotcut a like-for-like WMM replacement. Like Audacity, Shotcut is open-source so free to download and use without restrictions. While not big on advanced features (Again like WMM) it’s easy to use and will more than adequately take care of all your classroom digital video requisites.
If your school’s broadband filtering still blocks YouTube or indeed if you prefer not to run the inevitable gauntlet of suggested videos and obtrusive advertising in class, a video downloading tool is a must. One that strips out the aforementioned online detritus, bypasses filtering constraints and works offline if necessary. A quick search online for ‘YouTube downloader’ returns a plethora of free tools (Allegedly) for this very purpose but in reality, most are either plagued with adverts or pester you to upgrade (And sometimes both). To boot, this time round there’s no open-source equivalent (AFAIK) to save the day so it’s a case of trial and error until you find a downloader that works for you. To date the best downloadable tool I’ve found is 4K Video Downloader. Once installed, just copy and paste the relevant video web address, select format, quality and then Download. That’s it, in no time you’ll have a local copy free of adverts and associated paraphernalia. Granted, 4K Downloader has some restrictions which an upgraded premium version (€15 one-off payment) will remove. However unless you’re into downloading large video playlists, unlimited subtitles and/or channel subscriptions, you’ll be blissfully unaware of any limitations.
So four down and six to go, check back in early 2019 for Part 2…