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Technology for Teaching

Whether you teach face-to-face, online, blended, or any combination thereof, chances are you use some form of technology in your teaching: PowerPoint presentations, slides, word processing, spreadsheets, blogs, wikis, gradebooks, and so on. The number of potentially useful tools for communication, collaboration, and administrative tasks in your classes seems to be rising exponentially, but this page is focused on the tools that we've found to be most useful for JHSPH faculty.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Instructional Design (ID) team is your go-to group for advice, implementation and assistance with technology and teaching techniques in your courses. Our strategy is to start with the end - the learning objectives, and work back from them to see what specific functional and technical needs there are, and which tools can best meet those needs. A prime example of this type of matching of learning objectives to technology tools is the Learning Asset Technology Integration Support Tool (LATIST) from George Mason University, where you can view research, explore tools in relation to Bloom's taxonomy and learning objectives, and see applications of various tools.

Below are brief blurbs on some of the most popular and available tools, some of which have links to more full pages of information. Whatever tools you use, keep the FERPA Best Practices in mind to help protect student privacy as you navigate the digital learning landscape.
We invite you to use the Contact Us tab above to explore or learn more!

Technology Tools

Tools used in CTL environments (CoursePlus, Online Courses)

CTL has developed and supports the teaching and learning platform used for online courses on campus courses, known as CoursePlus.  Several tools are available for use in this environment. When you are using CoursePlus, you will find easy access to help tutorials by clicking the "Help" link in the upper right of most tool pages.


A wiki is a collaborative online workspace where multiple students can access and edit a single web page or collection of web pages using a simple WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor.  Many courses use the wiki for group projects, papers, or discussion areas. Instructors can also use wikis to present information to students and then have students build upon that information. 

Faculty can determine who (e.g. course groups) has editing privileges for the wiki workspace and who has "read only" privileges. Individuals who can read a wikis can leave comments on its pages if faculty sets up the wiki to allow commenting. Faculty can also lock wikis to prevent further editing, or hide them entirely. Students can mark wikis as "finished" to indicate they have completed their work on it and submit the wiki for an assignment. This action sends an email alert to faculty if this option has been selected in the wiki setup.

More information on wikis in CoursePlus can be found here in the CoursePlus Guide.

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Discussion Forum

The Discussion Forum, formerly referred to as the 'BBS', is used for online, asynchronous discussions.  Basically, it's a place where students or instructors can post questions or updates, and others in the class can respond with their own comments or questions.  The Discussion Forum can be set up so that there are "Categories" which are groupings of posts, and then "Topics" which are the individual threads within the category.  Faculty and TAs have the ability to set the Discussion Forum up so that there are a variety of different restrictions or requirements - students can be required to post their own message before they can view the others in the category or topic; a topic can become read-only at a specific time; the topic can be made "sticky" so that it appears at the top of the listing; and many others.

For more information and instructions on using the Discussion Forum in Online Courses and CoursePlus, see the CTL tutorials for the Discussion Forum: 

Further information on the Discussion Forum:
Baiyun Chen, Aimee DeNoyelles, Kelvin Thompson, Amy Sugar and Jessica Vargas (2014). Discussion Rubrics. In K. Thompson and B. Chen (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning. Retrieved November 15, 2016 from

Baker, D. L. (2011). Designing and orchestrating online discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(3), 401. Retrieved from

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Drop Box

The Drop Box is a virtual tool serving as the professor's "in box." Here you can electronically "drop off" documents for assignments, papers, labs – any coursework that is specified in the course Drop Box assignment list. Benefits of using the CoursePlus Drop Box tool from the faculty perspective include organization and the ease of grading assignments, including commenting inline, and returning the saved documents using the Gradebook tool. Instructions for grading items submitted through the Drop Box are available in our Faculty Guide, which can be found on our Toolkit Shelf.

More information on the Drop Box can be found in the CoursePlus Guide.

Note: The course Drop Box (the one in CoursePlus)is different from the commercial tool DropBox.  While both are valuable in an academic setting, there is a significant difference in how they are used.  This entry refers to the course tool at JHSPH where students can submit work.  For more information on the commercial tool, see the DropBox website.

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Gradebook is a tool that instructors can use to setup the grading system for online courses.

Gradebook allows you to:
  • Setup the Gradebook with a percentage- or points-based grading method

  • Pull grades from Quiz Generator

  • Create and send graded files, text, and/or audio feedback

  • Prepare final course grades

  • Create a final grade roster to submit to ISIS

  • Generate statistical reports

For more information on the gradebook tool, see the Gradebook section in the CoursePlus Guide.

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Quiz Generator

The Quiz Generator is a tool which makes it possible for instructors to create graded and non-graded (review) quizzes and exams. 

Features of Quiz Generator include: 
  • Setup a graded or non-graded quiz

  • Set results sharing options

  • Create and add 5 different types of questions to a quiz

  • Manually calculate grades

  • Set special access

  • Allow students to retake quiz

For more information on the tool, see the Quiz Generator section in the CoursePlus Guide.

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Tools licensed by CTL

The following tools are those that have been researched by the Center for Teaching and Learning, and for which a school-wide license exists.  If you would like to get more information about these tools, including account access information, please contact a CTL Instructional Designer, or use our Contact Form

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is an audience response system.  For those familiar with the concept of "clickers," it functions in a similar manner.  Here is more general information about Poll Everywhere. To learn about specific educational uses of Poll Everywhere, including examples of classroom use and Presenter Tips, you should review the Educator's Guide:

JHSPH has a School-wide Premium account for Poll Everywhere. Registered users under this account can set up unlimited polls. Contact your Instructional Designer or CTL Help ( to obtain a Poll Everywhere account if you need one. After your account is completely set up, to get started you may want to view the Poll Everywhere support videos. You can also visit the Instructor Guide. And, if you use Poll Everywhere as part of a regular lecture, you may also want to consider downloading and using the PowerPoint add-in: NOTE: The Poll Everywhere add-in is said to be installed on all the teaching (podium) computers at the school. These are Windows PCs. If you regularly use a Mac, polls created in your version of PowerPoint will not work being displayed on Windows. Instead, you will want to connect your Mac directly to the projector if you want to display polls inside of PowerPoint. 

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Tools Licensed by JHU


VoiceThread is an online, collaborative tool that allow students and faculty to upload presentations, images, and video, and to comment on their content in multiple different ways – via text, voice, or webcam. It can be used in online or on-campus courses for student group or individual presentations, short lecture updates, discussions of current events or research, and more.  For more information on VoiceThread, please see the VoiceThread page.

There is also a recorded VoiceThread CTL Toolkit Workshop session that is available on the  VoiceThread Toolkit Workshop page. 

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Adobe Connect

This might ring a bell: Adobe Connect is the software used for "LiveTalks" - which are synchronous audio/visual discussions and presentations. These are used for many purposes: live discussion, Q&A, student presentations, guest speakers, live lectures, break-out group discussions, team, group, or class meetings, and so on. LiveTalks are able to be both streamed live and recorded for later archive viewing. 

It's also important to note that JHU has an enterprise Adobe Connect server ( which any faculty, student or staff with a JHED ID can log into and use. Once logged in, you can create, manage and record meetings/sessions. This means you can also use this to stream live and/or record presentations on your own. (When the weather isn't so bad, you could even use this live from the classroom as a way to stream and record your classes, like a lecture capture system.) It's possible to upload a presentation or share your desktop screen and record a presentation (with audio and video) using Adobe Connect, and then provide a link to the recording to students. There's even an editing function to cut out portions you don't want to keep.

Here is an example of a classroom session that was streamed live, recorded, and edited:

Please see our Adobe Connect page for instructions on some of the basics in using Connect in the host role. There are several how-to tutorials on using Adobe Connect here:

A caveat: if you use audio for live group sessions, everyone should use headphones - not external speakers. Use of external speakers will create endless and frustrating echo. Please plan to use a headset.

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Office 365 (JHU Enterprise Subscription)

All JHU faculty, staff, and current students have access to Microsoft Office 365 with their JHed ID and password when logging in through or through the my.JH portal, following the instructions at (If logging in directly through Microsoft, make sure you use your JHU email in the format JHedID @ with no spaces.) This subscription provides both web apps (online) and full versions of the Microsoft Office Education Suite (MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote -- downloadable on up to 5 devices, including macs, PCs, and mobile devices) as well as 1TB of cloud storage in OneDrive for Business. Office 365 also allows each user to define levels of sharing toward collaboration on individual documents or file directories. Sharing is made easy for JHSPH students and faculty by the built-in address book tied to the Johns Hopkins accounts.

To download the full Office 365 suite with 2016 apps/programs on up to 5 different devices, you can go directly to and log in with your JHED ID followed by (note that this is and not Microsoft will recognize that you're trying to log in via the JHU's enterprise subscription and will navigate you to the familiar JHU login screen. Once you're logged in successfully, you may be prompted by Microsoft to confirm that you want to stay logged into the account. If so, go ahead & agree. Then look for the "Install" button on that screen. (You may have to scroll down on the page.) After installation, you will need to log into your Office account the first time you open any of the programs. This account info is the same JHED ID with your JHED password.

Sway is the newest of the Microsoft cloud apps that is available with your login to Office 365. In Sway, you can easily build and share a website that could be static or interactive, formal or more casual. It could be used as an artistic Glogster-like bulletin board website with photos, video, and other electronic documents. Or it could be used for organized reports or presentations. There are examples of Sway at this webpage under the header "Real Sways by Real People" and nice tutorials available on Microsoft Office's YouTube channel, including this one that overviews collaboration on Sway.

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Other Useful Tools

The tools described in this section are here simply to make you aware of their possible use in educational settings.  CTL does not endorse or support any of these tools.  However, if you would like to discuss how they (or others) might be incorporated into your courses, please feel free to contact CTL to request the assistance of an Instructional Designer or Technologist. 

Google Docs & Drive

Google Docs provide a suite similar to Microsoft Office: word processor documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, forms, etc. The major difference is that they are stored and accessed primarily "in the cloud" - on Google's servers, so you can access them from any computer and you can share them, simultaneously edit them and chat with collaborators as you work. Google Docs are commonly used for note taking, creating PowerPoint presentations (which can also be downloaded and opened in PPT), collaborative authoring, documentation, and group activities. One of the primary advantages of this tool over say, using PowerPoint and emailing file attachments is that all participants access and update one single file, so there is not a discrepancy about which is the latest version, since all are seeing the current document being edited in real time. Google Drive is the latest development which integrates functionality like DropBox (sharing files on your computer with others - where all files are syncing across all computers) with the normal Google Docs functions of seeing which files have been recently updated in your web browser.

Example: for a group project, students research a particular topic, create a Google presentation and collaboratively add text, images, and create a set of slides. Students can edit the same presentation synchronously or asynchronously, and each saved revision is available in the revision history. They can also leave comments to each other and have discussion about the presentation itself as it develops, and once complete, they can either download the PPT and submit it, share a link to the presentation online, or collaboratively give a talk using the presentation. This task helps students develop research skills, sift and sort through information, strategize and synthesize information into succinct, comprehensible presentations, and acquire knowledge while analyzing and creating.

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Google Sites

Google Sites ( are basically a web site or wiki which foster collaboration and can very easily be built and edited. Students may use them to collaborate on group activities, publish their work, as an e-portfolio system, or simply as a place to store files, images, or notes. A disadvantage of Sites is that they require a separate set of credentials/login (a Google account), but one advantage is that students or faculty who use them maintain the ability to edit and store their contents in perpetuity. You are currently looking at a Google Site, and it was built by a team of about eight people.

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Social Bookmarking is an education-friendly social bookmarking tool. It can be used for class participants to collaboratively build a set of links to resources about a certain topic, share, tag and comment on web links, and even to highlight notable text on resources found on the web.

You may also like to see the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) 7 Things You Should Know About Social Bookmarking article.

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What is a backchannel?

verb °To employ a back channel. °(linguistics) To employ non-verbal (oral and visual) means to influence a speaker without interruption. noun °(computing) a real-time online discussion that occurs simultaneously with a verbal presentation. Ninjaword

Backchannel conversations are pertinent to a common experience, such as a lecture or presentation, which transform the event from personal to communal. Usually this conversation is accessible through a mobile app or website. Twitter is probably the most familiar backchannel tool, using a predetermined hashtag as the common thread to the conversation. The backchannel communication can be linked from a course site or, when there’s face-to-face events, projected alongside the speaker/facilitator, reaching as many participants concurrently as possible. A course moderator (designated student or TA) can keep the back channel focused toward the subject as well as answer any relevant questions that are asked which can’t immediately be addressed by the presiding faculty.

Here is a video that provides an overview of a Twitter backchannel being used in a college classroom for both on-site and remote students. We've also created a CTL backchannel page which, in addition to laying out more advantages the tool, will give you some additional information about using Twitter or other tools to capture and use the backchannel in your courses.

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URL Shortening

Have you ever been to a presentation where a web link was on the screen that you could not click on, and took you a whole minute - or even longer - to write down? URL shorteners, like,,, and many others, make it possible to present a super short URL that is much quicker to write down or connect to in your web browser. TinyURL, for example, can change something like this:  into something like this:

Keep in mind that not all URL shorteners allow you to choose your own custom alias as we have above, with "jhsphtoolkit" - some will assign random letters and numbers into your shortened URL. We prefer the following that allow you to add your own custom alias (as long as someone else hasn't taken it already):

One other feature you might enjoy is that some of these tools include the ability to track how many people use the shortened URL. Here's a page with more info on some of these handy tools, which we highly recommend for a more user-friendly presentation.

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PDF Annotation

One type of tool that Faculty, TAs and Students have all found useful is the PDF Annotator.  There are several different versions of this tool, some specifically for Mac or PC or iPad, but the general idea is that the tools allow you to highlight, mark up, and take notes on PDF files.  For students (and faculty!), this can be very useful for annotating journal articles.  For faculty and TAs, these tools can be useful when grading papers that have been submitted as PDF files - you're able to make comments and point out areas of assignments without actually needing to edit the PDF document directly.  

When selecting an Annotator, consider how you plan to use it - there are many sites which provide reviews, so you may want to evaluate how each tool performs the functions you'll need, rather than just the reviewer's opinion based on his/her needs. 

Some commonly used PDF Annotation tools, and sites with reviews of tools (not an exhaustive list):

We suggest you do a web search for PDF Annotators, read some reviews, and choose the one that fits your needs the best.  And feel free to comment below if you have a suggestion for one that has worked well for you! 

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Glogster is a web-based tool used to create online, multimedia "posters".  Posters can include text, photos, videos, graphics, sounds, drawings, data attachments and more.

Here's a page with several examples of "Glogs" used for education.  Note that this tool is often used in K-12 education, but it can easily be adapted for Graduate level use, by selecting more professional looking backgrounds and appropriate content.

Note that Sway (discussed above, under Office 365) is an alternative to Glogster for individual creations that does not require a separate subscription.

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Cartoon/Animation Tools - Pixton, Nawmal, etc

These tools can be used to create your own cartoon/comic strips, or animated cartoons with the images, movements, and script that you choose.   These may be used to illustrate a point, or to have a lighthearted introduction to a new topic or module.  Your imagination is the limit when using these types of tools!

Pixton can be used to create comic strip-like graphics, with whatever captions you want.  Example 1  Example 2  Example 3

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Subpages (1): iPad Apps for Teaching