Best Upgraded Software

My Big Campus: Wrapup

This school year, I have been using and reviewing My Big Campus from Lightspeed Systems, an online service that allows schools to create an engaging, collaborative, online environment. It was extremely easy to set up and use, and there are great help resources, a blog with tips for using it, and a user forum. Below are some highlights in my final review of this product:

* Resource Library: I include files and links and use the calendar feature to put in assignment due dates, test dates, and more. These are all filed under the “Your Stuff” section.

* Assignments: The assignments feature allows you to easily assign students work, manage assignments, and see who has completed what assignments. Students get notified about new assignments so they won’t forget.

* Apps: My Big Campus has apps for iOS and Android. The apps include most of the functions that the full Web site does.

* EduTalk: EduTalk is MBC’s “social network for educators.” It is made up of status updates from educators, not students, and allows educators to share resources, tips, ideas, and more.

* Calendar: The calendar feature allows you to add events, reminders, due dates, and more. Your students can subscribe to the class calendar to stay current and get reminders.

* Conversations: The conversations feature is a great place to hold virtual study and help sessions. It can be used in real time, or can be done as you and your students have time to connect.

* Schoolwork: Here you can assign work to your students and post assignments. It also keeps track of what is graded and what still needs to be graded.

My Big Campus is a very useful and powerful tool for educators and students. To give it a try, visit

This is one in a series of posts about our year-old pilot with the STEM Web site The site allows teachers to assign math, science, and technology lessons or units.

Formative and Summative Assessments: The feature that our students and teachers most enjoy is the ability for students to gather immediate feedback. This provides students with a real sense of motivation that their work—evening game playing—is being viewed as skill progress. Students feel comfortable going back and reviewing videos.

We, as a district, are working on making decisions based on formative assessments and have been experimenting with making quizzes using Google forms and the widget, Flubaroo, to grade the quizzes. This process gave us some minimal data to make decisions on. After we had the students take a quick math quiz using our Google form, we created an assessment using These questions are lengthy and can include diagrams. After we had the students take both assessments that covered the same standards, we discussed which was more challenging and reviewed their scores. The assessments in are problem-based questions that make students practice their skills in context. Although our students found these questions challenging, the assessment questions provided were allowing us to see if they could transfer the skill into a new, novel problem environment.

We will continue to use both of our formative assessment tools, but seeing the difference in skill that occurs when students are asked to transfer knowledge into new word and diagram problems is causing us to think about our assessment creation differently.

The video and assessment support that this program provides has been extremely engaging to our students and has allowed us to see them as independent learners who need feedback to continue growing.

Peg Keiner is an instructional technology coach for Oak Lawn- Hometown District 123. Retail Price: $29.95, educational pricing. Volume pricing available.

The latest release of Snagit from TechSmith (available for both Mac and Windows) offers digital “publishers” a very helpful tool for adding visual impact to electronic documents.

Quality and Effectiveness: Snagit does much more than simple screen capture. Version 2.0 for Mac and Version 11.0 for Windows add support for video, giving users tools to capture narrated clips of screen activity in addition to static screens. Teachers interested in showing students how to use a feature in a particular software program can create narrated step-by-step tutorials. Thanks to a powerful editor, users can still crop, resize, or select a portion of the screen for copying, cutting, adding callouts, and other image effects.

Ease of Use: Editor tools in Snagit toggle on or off. Each tool can be customized to suit user needs. On the PC side you can create profiles for capture tasks and download additional profiles from the Snagit Web site. Mac doesn’t have options for profiles, but you can customize the tools in the editing palette and save those customized tools for later reuse.


• Captures both static and moving screens with or without time delay.
• Comes with an editor to add special effects or markup the captured screen with annotations, stamps and filters.
• Sharing options allow users to send images to social media sites or copy images to the Clipboard for pasting in other programs. Retail Price: $645 single DVD or USB flash drive (Read&Write GOLD MOBILE); also available in unlimited site licenses, concurrent site licenses, and volume license discounts.

Texthelp Systems’ Read&Write 5 GOLD for Mac (R&W Gold 5) provides robust text-to-speech software designed to assist children and adults who struggle with reading and writing. More than just a text-to-speech reader, the floating toolbar in R&W Gold 5 works well with other popular Mac applications.

Quality and Effectiveness: When used together with the program’s Scan tool, the application can easily read aloud a scanned worksheet, teacher’s notes, or whatever is placed on the scanner bed. The R&W Gold Screenshot Reader can read Flash by using its OCR magic to convert a selection into readable text.

One important new tool is the Picture Dictionary, offering visual references to support comprehension and independent learning. R&W Gold’s Verb Checker, also new to version 5, supports literacy building, while helping users determine if they are using the correct tense of a chosen verb.

Ease of Use: R&W Gold 5 for Mac is a program with many features and optional settings. When using the floating toolbar, helpful textbased tooltips pop up. Given the program’s many built-in applets and settings, it will take time to learn how best to use all those features or personalize the settings for use with a particular student. Fortunately, Texthelp provides Video Tours for many program features.

Creative Use of Technology: R&W Gold gives you two ways to use the program. In Toolbar View you can continue working in your favorite application and call R&W Gold into play from the floating toolbar as needed. Application View, on the other hand, automatically displays text copied from a Web browser so that it can be read aloud, checked for spelling errors, and more.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: R&W Gold 5 for Mac is highly suitable for use both in and out of the classroom. Its versatile toolkit promotes student-centered, self-paced learning independence, because it reads aloud virtually any text that displays on screen.


• Floating Toolbar provides access to the application toolkit while users work in their everyday applications.
• Built-in tools read aloud text that is typically inaccessible (e.g., Flash).
• Flexible licensing options to accommodate a variety of installation needs. Retail Price: Inspiration Full Version—$14.99. Inspiration Lite—Free.

Quality and Effectiveness: Inspiration Maps for the iPad allows students and educators to easily create concept maps and graphic organizers. The beauty of the app is its intuitive capabilities. You can create a map with more than 26 built in templates.

Ease of Use: The organizers are pre-made for the student and teacher. There are templates for just about every subject. Thinking maps are extremely helpful for students who need a visual graph to comprehend cause and effect and compare and contrast.

Creative Use of Technology: Inspiration Maps allows you to import pictures, add notes, change colors, and add hyperlinks. You can easily convert diagrams into outlines. All diagrams are saved, or you can send your diagrams to Dropbox or iTunes. Diagrams can be saved in saved as images or sent via email.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: This app is perfect for the school environment, from administrative meetings to teaching students how to take notes. The graphic organizers make beautiful displays for presentations.


• Teaches students how to take notes.
• A great visual tool that uses color coding, images, and notes to clarify difficult material.
• Can be used in the one-iPad classroom.

OVERALL RATING: This is a must-have app for all classrooms. Taking notes and learning to extract the significant points in English, Social Studies, and Science is difficult for most students. Here is an app that gives you the template for you to fill in.

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