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Picking Tools for Your Online Class

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Are you looking to expand the tools that you use for your online class beyond Canvas and Zoom? Here's a guide to how you might pick some additional tools to augment your students' online learning experience.

Check the Stanford UIT Website for Available Tool Options On-Campus

The market for educational technology is really large and it can be hard to know what tools not only facilitate effective learning, but also which tools will keep student data safe. Further, knowing which tools will offer robust support in case something doesn't work can be hard to assess quickly.

Stanford UIT has acquired a suite of tools for staff, faculty, and students to use on-campus, and it's worth knowing what the options are that Stanford has acquired. Every tool that Stanford makes available has undergone a robust review process, from cybersecurity and privacy to accessibility and technical support. 

The available tools for teaching and learning (that are most aligned with PWR pedagogy) are as follows: 

  • Google (G) Suite, including
    • Google Drive (including Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms): document creation and storage
    • Google Meet: audio-video conferencing
    • Google Jamboard: digital "sticky note" creation
    • Google Keep: digital "to-do" lists and note-taking
    • Google Sites: website creation
    • Google Classroom: announcement and document aggregation (NOTE: Google Classroom is not supported as our learning management system, so wide-scale adoption across multiple sections may not be supported. Contact Stanford ServiceNow if you are interested in using Google Classroom in a robust capacity).
  • PollEverywhere
  • Slack
  • Stanford Domains
  • Panopto

There are also some additional Canvas tool add-ons that are currently available in a pilot capacity through the Stanford Canvas team: 

In Fall 2020, all PWR Canvas sites have available for instructors to use. For more information about getting Harmonize in your Canvas site, contact

PWR in particular also can offer advice on using and accessing the following tools:

What to Do if Adopting a Tool for Teaching Outside of Stanford UIT

There are several tools that writing instructors may use that are not currently supported by Stanford UIT. While the PWR ATS may be able to offer direct advice on a tool that you're considering, you might use the following questions to help you with your decision in adopting a new tool:

  • Do students need to create new accounts (outside of their existing Stanford accounts) to use this tool? Given that Stanford has G suite access, there are many tools that can be authenticated or logged into through Google. However, some tools do not have this option, and it is worth considering whether it is necessary to have students use a tool that encourages additional account creation. The consequences of an additional log-in are twofold: an additional log-in might require students to submit password information, which may be sensitive, to a third-party system outside of Stanford. Some students also feel reluctant about creating new accounts with websites that they may only use for one use case (i.e. your class). That said, if the tool has long-term benefit for your students beyond your class, you can make a case for their adoption of that tool so long as you frame the context as going beyond the space of your class.
  • Does the tool list a VPAT (or accessibility guidelines) on its website? Many third-party tools, especially new ones, may not have robust accessibility checks built in. Scour the website for the tool to see if there is language about accessibility or official documentation. A VPAT is a document that all software companies must produce to demonstrate compliance with web accessibility guidelines. If you've looked at the website and you're still not sure if the tool you're using is accessible, contact the Office of Accessible Education to see if they've checked or explored the tool you're considering.
  • What does technical support or help for this tool look like if a student is having trouble using it? If you are looking at an app or tool's website, check out the help documentation or support resources available. Check to see that there is support available for users, both live and in written document form, so that students have options to seek help directly from the vendor if something goes wrong. 
  • If this is a free tool, how is data entered being used? As an old adage goes, if something is free, the user is likely the "product." See what you can learn about how this tool uses user data and consider what risks you maybe posing to your students if inputting information into a new tool. 
  • If this is not a free tool (or if it's "freemium" or free within a limited set of parameters), what can students do within the free version? Consider whether the free version of a particular tool may be frustratingly prohibitive or whether the free version will still be able to accomplish what your students need to do with the tool for your class. 
  • Can this tool only be used with one kind of device or in only one kind of browser? For any tool you adopt, you'll want to make sure that students using different kinds of devices or operating systems can engage with the tool. For example, adopting a tool that can only be used as an iPhone application may not be a great choice for your students since not all students use iPhones. Similarly, some tools may only work in certain Web browsers (e.g. Google Chrome) and that might also limit the options for students who do not have access to any one particular Web browser. 
  • Is this tool a browser add-on, a desktop application, or a web-based application? You'll want to consider the potential hardware and infrastructure environments required of this tool. Do students have to download anything to use this tool? Can they use this tool offline? Helping your students understand up front the requirements and limitations will help them understand whether and how the tool can be helpful for them.