George Lucas Educational Foundation
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When students use tool technologies to create content, their engagement is largely based on how successfully teachers craft the learning assignments, rather than on the technology itself. This is different from what happens with other types of technologies, such as tutor technologies (e.g. software for learning). Here, student engagement depends principally on technology, taking teachers almost completely out of the equation.

Having said that, there is ample evidence that when meaningful instruction designed by the teacher is combined with motivational tool technologies, students' cognitive, emotional, and behavioral engagement can be significantly increased -- more than technology could ever achieve alone. Motivational tool technologies, amongst others, possess the following key characteristics:

  • Innovative (fresh, cutting-edge)
  • Authentic (tools with real-world applications)
  • Easy-to-use (for both teachers and students)
  • User-friendly (attractive interface enabling easy navigation)
  • Reliable (does not crash often or lose content)
  • Ease of sharing (via social networks and beyond)
  • Control over content (manageable, suitable privacy settings)

Below, I introduce what I consider some great examples of (free) motivational tool technologies that meet the above criteria, which you can use (along with thorough instruction) to help boost student engagement.


myBrainshark is a superb tool that allows students to add a voiceover to PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, videos, and photo albums -- or to simply produce podcasts. It then blends the visual and audio components together into a video presentation. In the classroom, your students can present completed projects using myBrainshark, rather than face-to-face, or they can use it for mock presentations allowing the teacher to give feedback before the real presentation. The former can help bolster the confidence and communication skills of introverted and/or passive learners. Teachers can also turn their PowerPoint presentations into narrated video presentations (e.g. explanation of concepts) that students can watch outside of school hours. The most immediate limitation of this tool is that presentations cannot be downloaded in the free version. If you are looking for a tool that also allows for video narratives along with PowerPoint presentations (instead of basic audio), I would suggest


PosterMyWall is a fantastic tool for creating artistic, high-quality posters, collages, photo calendars and/or photo cards that can either be shared online or printed out and inexpensively shipped home. Students can upload their own pictures or simply search for photos on the same site through a search function that is connected to Pixebay and Flickr, which provides access to photos licensed for educational purposes. Perhaps the best use of PosterMyWall for teaching purposes is to have students create posters as the culmination of a project to demonstrate what they have learned. Another interesting idea would be creating a poster as a means of introducing the students to a specific topic in an innovative way that stimulates discussion. PosterMyWall is slightly restricted in terms of the amount of options available for customization (mostly pictures and text), but other services, such as Glogster, offer a wider range of options.


Screencast-o-matic is a powerful screen recorder that allows users to capture anything happening on their screen, as well as voice and video from the webcam for up to 15 minutes in the recorder's free version. Regarding its pedagogical use, students can record their own videos describing how they solved a particular problem step-by-step (e.g. a trigonometry problem) or explaining their thinking process about the structure of an essay. Teachers, on the other hand, can create video tutorials on virtually any subject, perhaps explaining how to use a certain piece of software for students. These can be watched at home, saving teachers valuable time that can be used for other activities in the classroom. Also, teachers can use Screencast-o-matic to provide multimedia feedback on written work (e.g. essays) both at the personal or class level. Unfortunately, Screencast-o-matic requires Java 1.5 or a later version for reproduction, which some users may need to download. However, this can be easily downloaded for free. Some high-quality alternatives to Screencast-o-matic are Jing and Ezvid, both of which are very powerful and offer unique features.


Padlet is another free program that facilitates the creation of virtual walls where students and teachers can post sticky notes with almost anything they want. These notes can include (but are not limited to) text, images, videos, or files. Posts can be arranged in a stream or scattered around the wall. Owners can moderate newly added posts through an extensive set of privacy settings. Padlet is an excellent place for collaborative work since it supports many people working together in real time. In a collaborative writing project, students could present their writing in a stream, embellished with related videos, links or images for deeper understanding. Students can also use Padlet to assemble an e-portfolio where they can organize, archive and display pieces of their work. Perhaps the most noticeable disadvantage is that visibility of walls is not set to "full private" by default. You can simply encourage students to select an appropriate level of privacy when creating personal walls. Other similar sites are Linoit or NoteApp.

Have you used any of these tool technologies or similar ones with your students? If so, how did you engage your students with them?

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Floricely Dzay Chulim's picture
Floricely Dzay Chulim
University teacher trainer

Thank you, Nicolas, for the information. I am not really good at using technology but I am aware of the many benefits it has.
I'll try some of the excellent options and see how they work! :D

Nicolás Pino-James, PhD's picture
Nicolás Pino-James, PhD
Educational Researcher

Thanks for your message Floricely. Please, let me know how it goes - and don't worry if you don't feel confident with using technology, we all have been there at some point. Just keep your positive attitude and the rest will follow.

Jimmy Brewer's picture
Jimmy Brewer
High school chemistry teacher

Thanks for the tips on some technology tools. My school recently did a training on Screencast-O-Matic and, as a science teacher, I have found it to be an excellent tool to use to explain/demonstrate procedure steps, etc. for pre-lab activities. It is so nice not to have to repeat the same set of instructions multiple times each day (or each class period). Students can go back and review a part of the procedure that they found more complicated at their own pace and as many times as they like. I've found it to be a real time and energy saver.

Nicolás Pino-James, PhD's picture
Nicolás Pino-James, PhD
Educational Researcher

Thanks for you reply Jimmy. I'm glad to see that Screencast-O-Matic is really working well for you and now you have lots of time for doing other things! I guess this is a good example of technology making our lives easier rather than the other way round!

Ron Starc's picture

My Screen Recorder Pro will work better for you. It is an excellent screencasting tool. Records your screen and audio from the speakers or your voice from the microphone - or both simultaneously. The recordings are clear and look great when played back on your PC or uploaded to YouTube. It will record directly to AVI, WMV, MP4, or FLV. Just perfect for creating tutorials, demos, and presentations. Plus, java is not required and there are no limits on recording length. Also, the recordings play back on any device.

Neilly's picture

Thanks for the tips! My daughter really enjoys the poster making software. She also found a scrapbooking site that she found very helpful, even with ideas for her projects, etc.
Thanks again!

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