10 free online tools for teaching and learning

Louisa Mellor reveals ten free online tools that might change your teaching for the better

Louisa Mellor
18 Feb 2012

If you can recall a time when using software in lessons meant spending a lunch break installing CD-ROMs in the computer suite, then the prospect of being a browser away from a huge selection of easy-to-use, exciting tools should put a smile on your face.

What's more, with ICT budgets being squeezed ever tighter, the fact that many quality on line teaching and learning tools are available for free will no doubt make that smile a little wider. Consider the potential for active, collaborative and personalised learning that these on line tools facilitate, and there's even more reason to be cheerful.

To the tech-savvy youngsters in our classrooms, the use of online applications is second nature. All we, as teachers and ICT coordinators, need do is introduce them to the on line apps that can help unlock their creativity and collaborative skills- and aid their study, revision and organisation.

The key is knowing which free online tools transcend the novelty factor and add real value. That's where this guide can help. Read on to discover ten online tools you can use straight away, without needing to raise a purchase order or barter for budget allocation.

1. Wallwisher

At first glance, online noticeboard tool Wallwisher may seem limited in application, but give it a go and you'll soon discover that it's more than a digital replacement for Post-it notes.

Wallwisher allows users to build virtual classroom Walls, in the sense you might be familiar with from Facebook, onto which 160-character messages, web links, images, videos and audio may be posted. Individuals can use it to mind-map, keep notes, or bookmark useful websites - but the real power of Wallwisher is in its potential for collaborative activities.

By sharing your wall URL with a class, whole year group, or even an entire school, anybody you choose is able to view and contribute to it. Wallwisher's security settings allow teachers to use what its designers have cheekily titled "The Idiot Filter" to approve entries before they're posted.


Ideas for use: Students can mind-map, build mood boards for creative projects, or create research walls on a given topic. Plenary discussions can be initiated by topic walls made collaboratively, or by teachers. For instance, a Key Stage 4 Media Studies teacher could create a wall ofYouTube film trailers to initiate a discussion on genre, classification or censorship.

How about having students post links to their own work, then using Wallwisher as a peer assessment tool? Teachers can also use the tool to gather feedback, anonymously if they so choose, on pupil confidence in specific curriculum areas.

Alternative: PrimaryWall is designed for primary schools, offering a user-friendly, text-only service with which to introduce Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils to group projects and collaborative storytelling.

2. Prezi

A presentation tool, Prezi provides users with a large canvas upon which to pin text slides, video clips and images. So far, so PowerPoint, you might say.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Prezi's selling point is its creation of a spatial narrative, meaning users can flow around presentation elements in the same non-linear way one might use an iPad: scrolling, enlarging, sliding and zooming in while always being able to return to the wider context. The trick is in learning to master these elements- not only in using Prezi to swoop between old linear PowerPoint-style slides.

Prezi is a sure-fire way to cure your classroom of PowerPoint fatigue. The finished product is leaps and bounds ahead of PowerPoint in terms of style, engaging the attention of pupils who groan with over-familiarity at seeing cheesy slide transitions on the whiteboard. it's one example of a free on line tool where novelty adds value.

One weakness is that Prezi doesn't yet support a master account to create student logins, so each pupil will need to apply for a separate EDU Enjoy account. lf your school allocates pupil email addresses (only educational addresses are accepted), this should be an easy hurdle to vault. If not, it still remains useful for teacher-led presentations.


Ideas for use: Whenever you or your pupils would use Microsoft PowerPoint, Prezi provides a more dynamic, engaging and visually attractive option. Innovative Science and Maths teachers of all key stages are already using Prezi to explain key concepts to pupils around the world.

Alternative: Ahead.com is a similar tool that's particularly useful for showcasing student portfolios as well as making presentations. Student projects are granted free educational licences.

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