Online Teaching

5 EdTech tools to try in 2021

There is a well known saying that says a bad worker blames their tools, but maybe some tools are just a whole lot better at getting the job done than others. I’m not much of a handyman, but I sure find the job a whole lot easier when I have better tools. Recently we invested in a cordless drill – wow, what a game-changer. Besides the reduced sweat, there is the speed with which I can now get things done. So, while this won’t necessarily address my underlying lack of carpentry skill, it sure takes away a lot of the pain and makes me a lot more efficient.

I suppose the same can be said for the tools we use as educators. Trying to get the job done with PowerPoint and Zoom and Teams and Google Classroom…Yes, they’re great, but are there others that could shift our teaching into a whole new gear?

I would like to not only share five amazing tools with you, but also five digital-age pedagogies that will empower you to take any tools and become an edtech master teacher. You see, while learning about great tools will show you how to use the tools, learning about the ACT pedagogies will show you how to teach with these tools.

The ACT approach is a framework of digital-age pedagogies designed to encourage high levels of activity, plus increased engagement, recall, fun, etc. The ACT pedagogies are Curation, Conversation, Correction, Creation, and Chaos. 

Curation is about encouraging learning by finding, selecting, and arranging content. Conversation is about activating engagement through discussion, debate, and critique. Correction is about positively embracing mistakes and encouraging learning through failing forward. Creation is all about shifting from just consuming content to learning by creating content and learning artefacts. And finally, Chaos is about disrupting the boring by using pressure and perception to create higher levels of focus and understanding.

By intentionally using these pedagogies, what I call making pedagogy visible, you will dramatically transform your teaching. Below are five easy-to-use tools that you can use to apply each of these pedagogies in your teaching.

If you haven’t heard of Padlet you’re missing out. It’s like a whiteboard…although it can be any colour, pattern, or picture you like. But it’s more than this. It’s a collaborative space where you can allow students to curate (and have a conversation) around content. Come on over and experience Padlet – try this Padlet, where teachers are creating a curated list of apps that are great for curating. It’s like a meta-padlet 😉

One of my favourite apps to encourage conversation is the no-nonsense, easy-setup, disposable chat room, Conversation is a powerful way to keep students engaged. If you’re using Zoom or Teams it can often feel like they have vanished into the ether, often too shy to appear on camera or say something. Let them pop into and get them chatting around the topic and you will activate their learning. It’s as simple as choosing a unique URL and that becomes your private room. Join in with the conversation at and share how you could use conversation in your teaching.

Let’s stop seeing assessment as separate from teaching. Correction is about making assessment an intentional pedagogy. We are way past the boring style assessments that we had to have, we can now bring correction into our courses in a fun and gamified ways and get a vital insight into our students’ understanding. One of my favourite tools is mentimeter. It’s Powerpoint for the Connected Era. Imagine slides but with interactive questions, gamified and fun, between the slides. This is a great tool to encourage active learning – and it also supports curation, conversation, creation, and chaos! Check out this example!

We have never existed in a time where students have so many great tools that can encourage learning through creating. From their mobile phone which is a video camera and editing tool, to endless apps on the web that allow them to become creative. Flipgrid is an amazing tool that lets your students create short video responses to your prompt question. You can control the length and allow them to add extra effects too. And once they submit it, you can allow video responses to other students (conversation) and give them feedback (correction). Come on, grab your smartphone and create a video response here.

If there is one pedagogy that strikes fear into most educators, it is chaos. It seems like this is the opposite of the control and order we need in a classroom. However, planned chaos is a powerful way of forcing our students out of their comfort zones into the think zone. One way to do that is to create time pressure. Our ACT Quick tool does just that. Go here and give it a try. Set the timer to 3 minutes (more if you’re brave) and click Submit. Take a deep breath and start typing – Write about how you could use time pressure to encourage focused thinking. Oh, by the way, once you start typing, if you stop for more than a few seconds, you will lose everything! That’s pressure, but it’s also focus! Come on, give it a try if you’re brave enough!

There are many amazing tools we can use to transform how we teach in the new Connected era. While these “cordless drill” type tools will make you more efficient, learning about carpentry – or the pedagogies in our case – will make you more effective!

To find out more about the ACT approach to teaching check out our courses at

Online Teaching

Lights, Camera, Action – Effective Online Teaching

I am sure that you are familiar with the phrase “Lights, Camera, Action” that is used by Hollywood directors when they are filming. This phrase is as important to Hollywood directors as it needs to be for us when it comes to live online teaching. This does not mean you need to be a Hollywood actor with Hollywood equipment. 

We have already spoken about the need for authentic video-based teaching. However, this does not mean we shouldn’t strive for a minimum level of professionalism if we are going to teach using live video. When it comes to using live video-based teaching and tools like Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, etc. it is important to spend some time on the three aspects – Lights – Camera – Action.


The two aspects, Lights and Camera, are to do with your environment. Just like it is important to be aware of your environment when teaching in a classroom – lighting, the distance of students from the screen, sound, etc. so too it is important to get this right, or as close to right as possible when teaching online.

Often, when it comes to teaching with live video using a tool like Zoom, you are not in an ideal studio or workplace environment. This means you need to prepare a suitable place at home (or wherever you are) for conducting your lesson. The following are the key elements that you need to be aware of when setting up this space in terms of lighting. These also apply when you are creating videos for self-paced learning.

  • Light Direction – Lighting is really important. The single most important thing to consider in terms of lighting is the direction of your light source. As you can see in the image below, back-lighting (light coming from behind) makes it almost impossible for people to see you. This is not difficult to get right, as you can normally see what you look like in the video conferencing tool. Try and ensure that the light source is from in front of you or from the side and not from behind.
  • Natural or Not – While natural light is great, it is not consistent. Some days the sun is too harsh while other times it is cloudy. So, even if you have natural light streaming through your window, it is a good idea (if possible) to try and set up another light source. This could be as simple as a lamp or if you want to get slightly more professional a box-light (shown below), gives a more diffused and consistent lighting.


The second aspect of your environment is related to getting the camera right – as this is the only “eye” to see what you are going to be sharing. Your camera is either a webcam that is mounted atop your computer/laptop or as is often the case, it is a built-in camera within your computer/laptop. If you have a separate webcam, these often provide more features that can control lighting, zoom, angle, etc. Whether you have a separate webcam or not, the following are important to get right.

  • Angle – Unlike with face-to-face teaching, which has the teacher/lecturer standing, most online video teaching is done with the teacher/lecturer seated. This sometimes results in some rather strange and unflattering angles. After all, who really wants to look up their teacher’s nostrils during a lesson. Typically your computer is on your desk, which while the ideal height for working is not the ideal height for camera angle. A desk tends to course the camera to look up at you, which creates an unflattering view. Ideally, you should try and raise your computer so that the camera is in line with your face. Placing a laptop on a box is a simple but effective low-tech hack to get the camera angle right.
  • Background – Another detail to consider is your background. Unlike in a classroom or lecture room, there is not a lot for the students to look at – it’s just you and your background. If the background is distracting this can cause students to lose focus on what is being taught. Once again, it is often difficult to ensure you have a decent background when working from home or other places, but a little planning can go a long way. Try and position your computer so that the background avoids distracting elements, especially people walking behind you. I make use of a really affordable (and portable) green screen that simply attaches to my chair. This allows me to replace the background with a virtual background. If you are a member of Activated Academy you can access the ACT Toolbox to find out more about using Zoom and other tools for live teaching. If you are not an ACT member, go here to find out more about joining. Even if you don’t have a green screen, simply moving your computer around (remembering the lighting too) can enable you to have a better background.
  • Eyes – There is a saying that “The eyes are the window to the soul“. Eye contact is really important in teaching and even more so when it comes to online teaching. However, we can easily lose this connection when teaching using technology. Our natural inclination is to look at ourselves on our screen. While the camera may be just above the screen there is a noticeable difference (as shown below) in eye contact between looking at the screen and at the camera. Raising your computer as suggested above and trying to look more at the camera will improve your eye contact and make you come across a lot more engaging.
  • Ears – While this is not strictly about “camera” another key element to consider is your audio. Tools like Zoom give preference to audio over visuals. You may notice that sometimes during a live video streaming session the image freezes or becomes fuzzy while the audio continues. This is because without audio there is really little online teaching happening. Even if the visual lags or gets fuzzy, the connection remains as long as there is an audio feed. As such, it is important to be aware of how you are sounding to others. This means trying to avoid noisy environments and background sounds. These could be others talking, the washing machine running, or the dog barking. Also, large empty environments can cause you to sound hollow. It is not always possible to do a lot about where we teach from, however, you can invest in a simple headset that either links wirelessly to your computer or plugs into the audio connection. A quick Google search will show you many affordable options. Wearing a headset enables you to dramatically reduce background noise as the headset typically focuses on amplifying the sounds nearest the mic. 


And so with everything in place you deliver your lesson. Maybe you just speak to the class, or maybe you share your PowerPoint slideshow – but either way, you quickly find that there is more Zzzzoom than Action! 

The problem is not the amazing technology that we now have available, its HOW we are teaching with it. It’s quite simply not knowing how to activate these technologies for maximum engagement and learning. To discover how to do this, signup with Activated Academy for one of our courses and you will soon be on your way towards engaging, effective 21st-century teaching. 

Lights – Camera – ACTion!