As schools get ready for the 2021-22 school year, Tech & Learning's new Awards of Excellence program, “The Best Tools for Back to School” is designed to help our readers find the most impressive products and solutions that will support their work in any learning environment. Eligible products included hardware, software, curriculum, and more, all divided by grade levels to make it easier for readers to find the solutions they need.
“As we head into another uncertain year in education, technology will continue to be one of the key drivers for innovation,” says Tech & Learning Group Publisher Christine Weiser. “Our judges chose the winning products recognized here for their versatility, compatibility, value, and ability to help schools solve challenges and support continuous instruction. Congratulations to all of our winners.”
Best Higher Education Tools for Back to School
The universal AE-75 communication headset by AVID Products includes features such as deluxe ear padding, a padded adjustable headband, and an adjustable noise-canceling boom microphone that cancels out ambient noise. "This is a solid headset with durability features that are needed for education," TL judges said. "The price point is also very appealing."
The BenQ InstaShow WDC20E is an affordable wireless presentation system. Educators can share their screen to the classroom's interactive displays or projectors at the touch of a button. It streams 4K video and 16-bit stereo audio, with up to 32 participants or input sources at a time. The judges said, "We really like that it needs no network configuration and is compatible with a variety of systems that are currently in use."
Built on the Microsoft Azure software platform, Crestron XiO Cloud’s IoT-based platform enables IT managers to deploy and manage thousands of devices in the time it would ordinarily take to manage just one. "This is a very good solution for larger higher ed institutions that have a large investment in Crestron products," said our judges. "The cost per month is reasonable and it is built on a solid platform (Azure)."
Crestron DM-NVX-363 is a compact AV-over-IP encoder/decoder designed to function as either a transmitter or receiver. The DM- NVX-363 includes secure web-based control and management, a scaling HDMI output, video wall processing, and more. "This is another good solution for various deployments, especially for large institutions," said TL judges. "The manageability and flexibility are excellent, and we also like the ease of installation and low network latency."
Crestron Flex is a portfolio of videoconferencing solutions that transform any classroom into a collaborative learning environment. Innovations include the mobile Crestron Flex R-Series rapid deployment collaboration system, which provides a shared resource that helps bring videoconferencing where it’s needed most. The added flexibility of BYOD makes it easy to connect with other platforms. TL judges especially liked the variety of configurations available as well as the scheduling and management features.
The CTL Chromebox CBx2 is a cost-effective and high-powered computing solution that provides the functionality of a desktop in a compact, high-powered device. A high-powered Intel Celeron Processors makes multitasking quick and easy, and it includes an SD card reader plus USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports to access external media. The judges really liked the features of this Chromebox for the price. “The ports as well as configuration options are excellent,” they said.
NEO is an LMS for use by schools and universities, known for its intuitive user interface, extensive feature set, and strong return on investment. It offers a centralized environment for creating classes, organizing learning material, assigning and submitting homework, taking assessments, collaborating with classmates, and analyzing results. "This is a full-featured LMS with everything a teacher and student needs," said our judges.
eGlass allows teachers to write on the board without turning their backs, increasing student engagement and allowing students to see the teacher’s facial expressions, gestures, and gaze alongside their writing. Our judges were impressed and noted, "eGlass is THE tool for interactive classroom teaching for both in-person and hybrid or concurrent lessons simultaneously! The software that reverses the teacher's handwriting so that the teacher can see what they write correctly is outstanding, and the ability to add graphics and multimedia to your lessons in real-time is amazing."
The IPEVO VZ-X document camera features three connection modes: Wi-Fi, HDMI, and USB, and allows users to stream real-time images to a computer, iOS/Android devices, Apple TV, projector, TV, or monitor. VZ-X comes with an 8MP camera equipped with the Sony CMOS image sensor and Ambarella integrated system-on-a-chip. Our judges liked the small footprint, durability, battery life, and ease of connection for distance learning.
ProctorU proctors verify identity and monitor exams in real time or review recorded exam sessions after the exam is completed. This active monitoring and intervention reduces the number of sessions that need administrative review by the testing organization to just 1 percent. "This product is a great solution for any online testing done by colleges and universities," TL judges said. "The live proctors ensure the integrity of testing and are key to the security of the testing environment."
The NVIDIA Jetson Nano is a platform for teaching and learning AI and robotics. Intermediate and advanced teachers can use Jetbot and other DIY robot kits powered by Jetson Nano to explain concepts ranging from programmatic motor control to training a custom AI to avoid obstacles and collisions. TL judges especially liked the affordability and called the network of resources "excellent."
Othot is an advanced data analytics and AI platform used in higher ed institutions. Othot focuses on each institution’s specific enrollment, student success, and advancement goals, and then applies an advanced analytics software solution leveraging AI to develop real-time intelligence to meet those goals. "Othot offers colleges powerful data to recruit new as well as maintain their students by using advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence," said TL judges. "This product would help many higher ed schools reach their goals."
Created by the co-founder of MasterClass, Outlier.org offers online courses for just $400, 80% less than the cost of a traditional college course. Students enjoy access to one-on-one tutoring for math courses, AI-proctored assessments, dynamically-generated problem sets, and cutting-edge, active learning materials. TL judges said, "The courses are taught by very high-level instructors and can be done completely online."
Screencast-O-Matic is a screen capture, video-editing, and video-hosting platform. The end-to-end solution provides educational institutions convenient tools to share information and streamline learning and development. Teachers, students, districts, and universities can record, edit, and share videos to enhance and improve learning. "Screencast-O-Matic has a very user-friendly platform that allows users to create, edit, share, and manage your videos. It is also priced very well for education," said the judges.
The MXA710 Linear Array Microphone is designed for high-quality audio capture in contemporary teaching and learning environments. The sleek form factor allows for placement virtually anywhere on a college campus including on a wall, around a display, ceiling, or into a table. TL judges called it "perfect for classrooms" and particularly liked the Steerable audio feature, which shifts when students change their positions around the room.
Sololearn aims to change how people learn to code by building a habit-forming experience in which people learn at their own pace with bite-sized lessons and unique ways to practice. Students learn programming languages from Python to C++, Java, SQL, and many more. "SoloLearn is a wonderful platform for learning how to code in different programming languages," our judges noted. "It works on any device and the courses are designed for students of all ages, including professionals.
The new generation of Mediasite’s automated and scalable video platform is a modern video experience enabling engaging, interactive, and personalized content regardless of time and distance. More efficient video delivery, smaller file sizes, accessibility updates, new integrations with web conferencing systems are among the list of new features. "This product is a very powerful tool for districts to create, organize, and share videos quickly," said our judges, who especially liked the polls, bookmarks, search, and cloud editing features.
Gradescope by Turnitin helps educators build, administer, organize, grade, and report on assessments and assignments. Supporting in-person, online, and hybrid learning, Gradescope works across all subjects and assessment types, including paper-based, digital, and code. "This product digitizes handwriting work to reduce the amount of time professors spend on grading," said TL judges. "This ensures more time for learning and acting on feedback."
TutorMe is an online platform that provides high-quality academic support to all students, regardless of location, time of day, or financial resources. Students are connected within seconds to tutors who are available to help with more than 300 subjects, and all sessions are recorded to review material at any time. Our judges said, "This program also partners with teachers regarding student progress to support what is going on in the classroom."
The enhanced Vernier Graphical Analysis Pro app lets educators and students insert, view, and sync a video to sensor data for analysis, and it features the ability to perform live experiments and share data in real time. It includes videos with sample experiments synced with data and instructions that cover common topics in biology, chemistry, physics, and middle school science. Said the judges: "The interface looks very easy to use and the product is priced right."
The ViewSonic LD163-181 is an all-in-one, 163-inch Direct View LED display solution designed for professional-grade, 24/7 operation on higher ed campuses. It delivers content without lines or distortion for one continuous image, with a 4,440Hz refresh rate and 600 nits of brightness. "ViewSonic has put together an all-in-one LED display that can be installed by pretty much any handy employee," said our judges. "Just a beautiful display!”
The Cintiq Pro 24 pen display offers an RGB rating and a large 4K screen with a soft, matte finish with virtually no parallax. It includes a battery-free Wacom Pro Pen 2 and adjustable stand allowing freedom to artists. "The Cintiq Pro is a great addition to any graphic arts classroom," said the TL judges, who particularly liked the flexibility provided by the Ergo stand and Flex arm.