Helpful Teaching Tools

I am still something of a noob at this teaching thing, but I've found a few helpful tools this past summer and fall that have proven extremely helpful to me in organizing my work, being efficient with planning, and creating effective lessons. I wanted to record these somewhere so that I can find them all later, and thought perhaps right here is as good as any place, because I can also manage to share them at the same time. Hopefully someone else finds these useful as well.

Obviously I'm not the first to discover any of these, but I have had to search around quite a bit (and attend a few orientations and lectures) to find them all. One stop shopping would have been useful... a year ago. I may update this periodically as I discover new things.

1. QuickTime Player screen recording
For hybrid and online classes, we frequently have to record our screens and mouse clicks to show students the steps to complete a project, or use a program. I'm teaching a technology class for designers right now, and will be converting it to online format next year. I've used a couple of random free-software type programs to do this in the past, and they haven't been great. Then I found out that QuickTime Player can do this without the need to install shady software!
Just open the player and click on File>New Screen Recording. It's not even hidden. You can select to record voice from the computer's speakers, or to show mouse clicks. It does this by highlighting each click with a circle around the cursor, making it really easy to follow. When done, just click the stop button and save your file.

2. Stormboard for organizing lesson plans
I have really struggled to figure out how to lay out everything I want done in a term, and break the work out in an order and volume that makes sense and has a regular work cadence. I can store a lot in my brain, but it's tough to keep track of how much I'm piling up each week. Enter Stormboard.
I've used this website in the past to brainstorm with groups on design projects, and or organize big design tasks using something like the Kanban method. Then I rediscovered that the plain old digital post-it is also really helpful when you're moving around tasks and small projects within the context of a course plan. I use a different color "note" for each type of assignment or lecture topic, and just start adding notes with time estimates on each to the board, which I split up by week of the term. Then, once I've got everything on there, I begin to organize the weeks and move from a big mess toward an organized lesson plan. I can also refer back any time, and move things around or delete based on how the class is progressing.

3. Evernote for bookmarking and notetaking
Everyone already knows about Evernote, but I use it religiously for taking notes in meeting, randomly jotting down ideas for things I should mention in class, drawing up lecture notes, and bookmarking or storing articles I want to save that are relevant to a class. I keep a notebook for each course I teach and add notes specific to them, and also keep a generally "teaching ideas" notebook, to record when I want to do something differently next time. It helps that I can also draw these up on my iPhone using their app, and if others are using Evernote, I can share notebooks to learn or brainstorm collaboratively.

4. aText for Mac for scripting frequently typed phrases
Have you ever noticed how, when grading a big assignment, you tend to have similar feedback for multiple students, and end up typing the same damn phrases 45 times? aText allows you to set up shorthand, hashtag-based commands that insert phrases (or even whole paragraphs) automatically. If I type, "Attached is your grading rubric for assignment x" in literally ever student's eval, I could set up a script (#attached). Each time I write #attached, my longer sentence will be inserted in its place. It really speeds up the feedback process, and keeps me from making stupid typos as I start to get tired.

5. Lynda
Lynda.com is much more than dry tutorials on how to use a program. In my technology course, I've found it's illustration technique-based lessons to be extremely valuable in helping my students practice with tools without getting bored. I especially like Von Glitschka's Vector Arts Lab lesson series, which focuses mainly on Illustrator (with a little photoshop) and teaches actually drawing technique. I have the students watch for 15 minutes, then go spend a few hours working on their own drawings, honing their hand skills, design eye, and practicing their tools, while coming up with a fun original illustration they can perhaps apply in the future. This is obviously less helpful for upper classmen, but can be ideal for incoming students. And many schools offer free Lynda access to their students.

6. The New York Times student access
It's important to me that my design students stay current on cultural events. I suggest an NYT membership, which they offer to students at reduced or free rates. The public can sponsor a student membership as well, giving access to someone who otherwise won't get it.

7. Online teaching tools Canvas or Blackboard
If you've got access to one of these for an in-person class and you're not using them to store and deliver content to your students, or to present and organize your grades, you're missing out. I use Canvas at my full-time job, and Blackboard at my adjunct online position. Both allow flexibility in presentation to some degree, but the main benefit to the instructor is the organization. Next year, my courses will be totally planned when school starts - all I have to do it copy last year's assignments over to the new section (imported automatically) and do any minor updates based on results. 
When I used to do all my organizing in files on my desktop, it was a mess. Online platforms make it easy to see what you've assigned, what you've already corrected, what's left to do, and what your students need from you. I now require my students to check Canvas each Monday for that week's assignments, then answer any question in class, but do not waste valuable in-person time reading assignment and project briefs to them out loud. They become more independent, and I get to spend classtime on more important things.

I'm sure that I have forgotten several tools I use every day within this list. As I remember, or discover more, I'll update this blog with my experience. Do you have an awesome tool? Send it my way!