Ed Tech #5: InsertLearning

What is it?

InsertLearning is a Chrome extension that you can use to insert your own educational content into a webpage. If you go to InsertLearning’s homepage, you can check it out before you download and install the extension.

How does it work?

Below is a screenshot from a sample lesson. If you want to see the teacher view, you can use this link (you will probably be prompted to install the extension and login before you can view it). It’s an NPR article on the Declaration of Independence:

Screenshot of InsertLearning that explains each of the icons/things you can insert


On the left, you can see what all you can insert into a webpage. I annotated what each of the icons mean.

  • Assign Lesson.  You can share the lesson with the students, either by sharing it directly to Google classroom, or by sending students to this link: insertlearning.com/signup and providing them with a class code.
  • Highlight Text. This is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Sticky Note. This allows you to type your own commentary on the webpage, or you can insert media, like a YouTube video, embed code, or (I like this alot) you can record a video of your own and insert that.
  • Assessment Questions. These can be either open-ended questions or multiple choice questions. You can give these questions point values and view student achievement in your InsertLearning dashboard.
  • Discussions. You can insert a discussion prompt; students can respond and then view their classmates’ responses.

Strengths, Limitations, and Applications

The free version of InsertLearning lets you store 5 lessons. Upgrading to a $40/year plan gives you unlimited lessons, which seems reasonable.

InsertLearning has a Google integration, and so teachers/student sign in with their Google accounts. It also works well with Chromebooks, and can be shared directly to Google classroom. Because of this Google integration, you’re able to create “enhanced” Google docs. In other words, you could create a worksheet with Google docs, and then turn it into something more interactive by inserting sticky notes, video explanations, assessments, discussions, etc.

I really liked this tool and think that it could have a number of applications, for K-12, higher ed, and in an online context. When I taught political science I would frequently assign students online articles– and they weren’t always easy reading. With InsertLearning, it would be simple to turn those reading assignments into something more interactive. If the article referenced a concept I think they would find difficult, I could insert a YouTube video or record my own quick explanation. If the article brought up something controversial, I could add a discussion question. If the article was lengthy and I wanted to make sure they made it to the end, I could add in assessment questions throughout. Overall, I love that this tool turns reading into a more interactive and social experience, which would undoubtedly enhance student engagement with and retention of the content.

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Ed Tech #4: Packback

What is it?

This week, I chose to review Packback. Packback started off as an e-textbook rental company, and was awarded an investment by Mark Cuban on Shark Tank in 2014. (This article is an interesting read). As the article discusses, Packback recently switched gears to something entirely different: its new mission is to encourage curiosity in college students; it uses AI to “grade” curiosity.

How does it work?

Professors create a professor account, and then invite students to join their online community by providing them with an access code. Students have to pay $18 a semester. This is a screenshot of a sample community:

Screenshot of packback community


Students post and respond to questions. Students get a certain number of “sparks” to use – sparks are similar to “likes,” but they are designed to be used to indicate what questions “sparked” your curiosity.

Packback’s algorithm grades student posts and assigns them a curiosity score. Students’ curiosity scores are displayed in a learner leaderboard. The curiosity scoring system is based on three criteria: presentation, credibility, and effort. For presentation, the algorithm looks for formatting, legibility, and supplemental materials (like videos or images). For credibility, the algorithm looks to see if the post contains reliable sources, and also checks for “behaviors” that often go hand-in-hand with credibility, like the time of the post and the depth of the post. Lastly, for effort, the algorithm looks to see if the user added new insight to the post or just provided a straightforward answer. Packback claims their algorithm was derived by identifying what high-quality posts had in common, and that the algorithm performs quite similarly to how a human grader would score/rank posts.

Strengths, Limitations, and Applications

Packback claims it can create high-quality discussions by: (1) “scaling personalized feedback,” (2) “analysis of posts,” and (3) “managing a large number of students.” Packback also claims that, “While the Learning Management System forum serves the purpose for in-class logistics (ex: Where do I find the case study? What’s on the exam?”), it’s not possible to conduct a high quality academic discussion (or grade for it) due to a lack of quality control, lack of feedback delivery, and lack of a technological capability of assessing quality.”

I disagree with this statement (except maybe in the case of a very large class). In smaller or average-sized college classes, I do think it is entirely possible to design and conduct high quality academic discussions via an LMS. Instructors are very capable of performing quality control, giving feedback/guidance to student responses, and assessing quality (without an algorithm) in the context of an LMS discussion board. I also think instructors can achieve the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy using well-designed traditional assessment methods, and even large classes can potentially use TAs or group work to encourage high-quality discussion.

That being said, I do think Packback could be useful in a very large class (at least 50+). Class discussion is virtually impossible in such large classes without a tool like Packback, so in that regards, Packback fills an important gap.

Many of the other educational technologies we’ve talked about in this class are virtual “aids” – they help us do what we’ve always done, just more efficiently (hopefully). I think Packback is a little different in that it has a unique starting point, which is: get students asking questions. And not just asking any questions, but guide students into asking good questions. This represents a shift in the conversation. Instead of being focused on what students can answer or retain, we focus on teaching them how to question their world, and how to be curious, critical thinkers.

I’ll leave you with this TedX video by the founder of Packback:

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Ed Tech #3: Nearpod

What is it?

Nearpod is a tool that lets teachers create and share interactive lessons. These lessons can be live or student-paced. Teachers can sign up for a free account, or there are paid accounts / site licenses available, too. You can search for, modify, and use already-created Nearpod lessons, or create your own. To make your own, you can upload Google Slides, PowerPoints, PDFs, or Sway. In the free account, you can add in interactive quizzes, open-ended questions, and polls to these slides. To get more of the advanced features (like the student-paced mode, “virtual field trips,” fill-in-the-blank questions, etc.), you have to upgrade to a paid plan.

How does it work?

In the live lesson option, teachers give students a code. Then, students open the Nearpod app or website (the app/website is compatible on iOS, Android, etc). When students type in that code, it syncs their device to the teacher’s presentation. In other words, if the teacher flips to the next slide, the presentation on the student’s device goes to the next slide, too. You can have assessment activities (multiple choice questions, polls, etc.) built in to the presentation, so teachers get feedback on student comprehension as they progress through their lesson. In student-paced lessons, students still get the code, but can advance through the presentations on their own and teachers get the assessment data after the student completes the lesson.

This is what the teacher dashboard looks like:Screen shot of the teacher dashboard in Nearpod


You can see the roster in the bottom left, the code (for students to join the presentation) in the top left, and then in the top right, the +Add Activity button. You can use that button to insert an assessment into the presentation.

Strengths, Applications, and Limitations

One drawback to Nearpod is that it is primarily geared to K-12. I know some college faculty would be turned off by the cutesy graphics, and even though it let me select “higher ed” to search for already-created Nearpod lessons, all the ones it found are labeled (and clearly intended for) grades 9-12. I think Nearpod could be very useful in higher ed applications, and so I would like to see it expand its target audience.

If you’re using Nearpod in an in-person class for a live lesson, I imagine one of the biggest concerns will be keeping students on task. As you can see in the screenshot above, the teacher view will show which of your students are logged in. If a student opens another app, the Nearpod app will close and the teacher will see that student is no longer logged in. (This Nearpod article explains it). I think that accountability feature could come in handy!

Lastly, I do think it would be nice if the student-paced option was available in the free account, since a student-paced lesson would work best for an online course. This is especially true because (according to this Nearpod article) you can add audio to a slide. I think this could make a particularly engaging online lesson video. Essentially, students could progress through a video presentation of PowerPoint slides, but have built-in breaks throughout the lesson for assessment questions or other forms of engagement.

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