Monday, January 26, 2009

Ten Top Free Tools | Epic Thinking | Ericka Newton | 20 January 2009

Ten Top Free Tools

Ten Top Free Tools | Epic Thinking | Ericka Newton | 20 January 2009

There are a huge number of online tools and applications now available to help organise and manage your e-learning, educational and publishing activities and resources. In this article we take a look at the 10 most popular tools that are invaluable to users involved in any area of e-learning, educational publishing, resource-sharing or even just social networking. And best of all, they’re all free or open-source.

Moodle Icon
The premiere open-source learning management system (LMS), used worldwide by universities and colleges to host and deliver online learning. Originally designed for use in formal education environments to upload student work and provide grades and feedback, its flexibility has now attracted businesses and public sector organisations looking to deliver custom learning to their employees. The ideal platform for delivering powerful, community-driven custom learning and resources.
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Blogger Icon
These two popular content management system (CMS) tools allow you to easily create your own blog or even complete website in a matter of minutes. Although they both share the same basic publishing functionality and both have highly active user communities, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Blogger is slightly easier to use (and being Google-owned is easily integrated into other Google services), but Wordpress has the edge for extensibility; its wide range of plugins cover practically all areas of publishing, design and layout to full e-commerce functionality, allowing you to create complete and powerful Web 2.0 interactive websites and shared resources with ease.
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Firefox Icon
It sounds obvious, but a browser forms the heart of your online experience and whilst Microsoft have only recently made improvements to Internet Explorer 7, it’s really too little, too late. Firefox is the browser to turn to if you’re a serious web-user looking to really extend and personalise your online habits. Themes control the basic look and feel of the browser but, using add-ons, users can easily add extensive functionality for email, blogging/news feeds, web development and debugging, media playback, bookmarking, FTP, language translations, accessibility and much more. If you use the internet for any specific function, the chances are there’s a Firefox add-on available to enhance it.
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Delicious Icon
Delicious is a free bookmarking tool that allows you to store your site bookmarks online, then tag and share them with your students or work colleagues through RSS feeds or community networks. Bookmarks can be easily imported, stored, exported and searched for from any computer, meaning all your valuable resources can be available from work or home. Its simplicity underlies a host of features which can make organising and sharing your essential online links and learning resources a simple task.
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Twitter Icon
An online real-time messaging service for communicating between friends, colleagues and students via short and simple messages. A cross between blogging and instant messaging (also known as microblogging), it allows users to get fast responses to learning questions, stay current with the latest education news and technology resources and quickly see what links, comments, blogs and discussions are being discussed. Twitter is fast becoming an essential way to keep up with friends and colleagues, no matter where you are.
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Google Reader
Google Reader Icon
Google Reader is an online application that lets you aggregate all your RSS news and blog feeds into one place. Think of it as having access to all your favourite newspapers and current stories in one easily readable place. Although there are many alternative RSS readers available, Google is making it increasingly more attractive by having all your productivity tools in one place when you login to your Google account (Google Reader, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Groups, Picasa etc.).
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Google Docs
Google Docs Icon
Another of Google’s increasingly useful hosted services, this allows users to remotely collaborate on documents by creating, storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Although there’s definitely still a place for open source productivity suites such as OpenOffice, Google Docs is fast becoming a favourite alternative due to its collaborative nature, quick online availability, ease of use and features such as the ability to import documents in MS Office and OpenOffice formats.
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Flickr Icon
Upload, edit, store, tag and share photos or learning resource images by either linking to them on Flickr or embedding them directly into your website or blog. Flickr also allows you to search for Creative Commons-licensed images which you can legally use in published documents or presentations, organise images into album collections, tag images by geographic location, subscribe to RSS feeds and also add video. An essential resource if you use any kind of images in your learning publishing.
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Audacity Icon
Audacity is an open-source cross-platform audio recording and editing application that can be used for a wide range of uses in learning environments. Audio resources can form an essential part of a user’s learning experience, and Audacity can help to create and edit audio, improve sound quality (removing static and hiss with built-in filters), create podcasts or mp3 audio clips and much more. A fully-featured user-friendly and free alternative to expensive commercial audio editing packages.
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Wikispaces Icon
While there are now a multitude of excellent wiki platform creation tools available, Wikispaces offers a simple, easy-to-use hosted solution that allows users to quickly create wikis for collaborative working environments. Users can submit assignments, notes and resources, and upload audio, YouTube videos, documents, pdfs, links and much more. An excellent way for educational groups, communities and businesses to learn how to build, edit and share information and useful resources collaboratively and effectively.
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