Instructional Technologies

After you have weighed the reasons you want to use technology in the classroom and decided how to use it meaningfully to achieve course objectives, you can begin to explore what the technological landscape looks like and discover technology that will enhance your students’ learning. Michelle D. Miller (2019) in her article for The Chronicle of Higher Education recommends that you narrow the field by asking yourself “whether you want to use a general ed-tech tool that is discipline-independent,” such as Kahoot, “or one that is discipline-specific,” such as Cengage’s Sniffy the Virtual Rat for lab simulations or online content modules like Noba for Psychology courses.

Once you settle on the instructional technologies you want to use, you will decide how you want to use them. Make sure you have a “crystal-clear picture of what you want to accomplish with technology” (Miller, 2019). In doing so, you want to “uncover which aspects of your course would be best served by bringing in technology” while also avoiding “superfluous, why-are-we-using-this tech choices” (Miller, 2019). Finally, consider the cost of the technology you want to use. Who will pay for it? The institution? Your department? You? The students? Make sure that you conduct a cost-benefit analysis before adopting any instructional technology, both in terms of price tag but also in the time and effort it will require of you to incorporate the technology into your course (Miller, 2019).

... “uncover which aspects of your course would be best served by bringing in technology” while also avoiding “superfluous, why-are-we-using-this tech choices” (Miller, 2019).

This section will explore different options for instructional technology that are available. These options are not exhaustive and do not include discipline-specific instructional technologies, but they do provide an overview of the types of technologies available and how they could be used in an educational setting.

Customized Lessons

You can create customized lessons with corresponding assessments in Blackboard, but you could also create these experiences with TED-Ed. Through TED-Ed, you can create a lesson for your students surrounding any TED talk. You can trim the TED talk video to focus on the part you want students to access for your lesson. Then, you create lesson content that draws upon the TED talk. You also have the option to design assessments and add discussion questions. Students participate in discussions and complete the assessments directly in the lesson. TED-Ed also provides access to a repository of already-created lessons, which you can customize to fit your needs.

Video Content

Incorporating video content on your subject matter can help students understand course concepts or spark critical thinking and discussion about relevant topics. There are many resources for video content online, but this section will focus on three that are useful for educational purposes: TED Talks, The Moth, and Big Think.

TED Talks are probably the most recognizable of these three resources. TED includes thousands of short, impactful talks on a range of subjects from literature to technology to business to science to global issues—almost any topic you can think of has a TED Talk. You can search for TED Talks by keyword, topic, duration, speaker, and language.

The Moth presents personal stories told by those who experienced them. These stories cover a range of themes, which storytellers explore live without notes. For audio content, you can browse the Story Library and filter by Podcast or Radio Hour, or you can search for a keyword and find relevant stories. For video content, you can visit The Moth Channel on YouTube. In addition, The Moth released a book compilation of stories called Occasional Magic, which could be used as a companion piece for audio or video content or an alternative to a traditional reader (e.g. for composition courses).

Big Think provides access to expert interviews and roundtable discussions as well as presentations on a variety of topics to facilitate online learning. Content includes videos, podcasts, and newsletters. You can search for content using keywords, or you can discover trending content by scrolling through the content collections. You can also access Big Think video content through their YouTube channel.

Learning Support

If you want real-time assessment to help gauge students’ grasp of course content, you could try Socrative. Socrative works on all platforms and is also available as an app that works on Chrome, iOS, and Android. You can sign up for free to access quizzes and quiz bowl features, in addition to polls and other personalized activities. Socrative Pro Higher Education is also available for a yearly fee and includes additional features, such as increased user capacity, class roster import, silent hand-raising, and custom folders to organize your content.


Hypothesis is a tool to annotate content digitally. You can use Hypothesis in your classes to facilitate class discussions, have students read and annotate texts together, help students organize their research, and encourage students to take personal notes on required content.


For presentations, instructors and students alike can use any of the sundry presentation media available, including the standby PowerPoint. Some other options for presentations include Haiku Deck, Google Slides, and Microsoft Sway.

Haiku Deck is a paid option (there is a nonprofit discount for educators) that uses professional-looking layouts and themes to help you create your presentations. Haiku Deck could be used for both lecture presentation development and student presentation development.

Two free options are Google Slides and Microsoft Sway. Google Slides allows students to collaborate on presentations and helps with division of labor by allowing multiple users to edit the document online at the same time. Google Slides includes templates to help users get started, or users can begin with a blank presentation and build from scratch.

Microsoft Sway affords users multiple templates for different types of presentations and visual projects, including Photo, Student Reports, and Presentations. Templates include embedded tutorial instructions.


In addition to the many collaborative features of Blackboard (e.g. discussions, Collaborate, Class Conversations in ULTRA, Groups), not to mention the third-party instructional tools available for integration, there are other online tools available to facilitate collaboration between students in your classes. OneNote Class Notebook, available on Office 365, allows the instructor to create class notebooks, add students to individual notebooks, and designate private spaces within the class notebook. Section areas of class notebooks include a collaboration space, content library, and private student notebooks (instructors can view and edit, but other students cannot). Private notebooks can include prepopulated sections for handouts, class notes, homework, and/or quizzes, or any other sections you want to create for students.


Myriad platforms exist for keeping notes and lists. With Google Keep, users can take notes and make lists, and images can be attached to notes and lists. Users can also add labels to organize their content, and they can set reminders (e.g. due dates). Google Keep can be used on a browser or through the app.

A more sophisticated notetaking option is Evernote, a note-tracking app that allows users to type notes; add attachments and images; clip web content; create to-do lists; record audio; and highlight, annotate, and comment on images. Notebooks can also be shared with others.


MindMeister is an online tool that allows students (or anyone) to create mind maps, which can be useful for brainstorming, organization, note-taking, and outlining. The free version includes a small number of mind maps, and there are also paid monthly subscriptions for unlimited mind maps and export capability.

Canva also offers free, completely-online mind mapping software. Free templates and images are available to use in mind maps, and users can pay for premium templates, images, and illustrations if desired. Users can also create graphs and diagrams.

Infographics (and More)

To present information in a visual format, you may want to incorporate infographics into your classes, either as a teaching aid or as an assignment to gauge student comprehension of course concepts. Just a few examples of free infographic tools are Canva, Infogram, and Piktochart.

Canva includes customizable templates in their infographic creator. Canva is free unless the user opts to integrate premium elements. Infogram allows users to create interactive charts and infographics. There is a basic free version as well as monthly or yearly subscription packages with added features. Piktochart allows users to create longform infographics, as well as presentations, reports, flyers, and posters. Users can use a template or create their infographic from a blank template. Piktochart has a free version but also offers subscription options.          


Developers are constantly innovating new instructional technologies and other technology that could be used in an educational setting. While there are many options, you should make purposeful decisions about your use of instructional technology and avoid using technology that does not further your instructional goals in a meaningful way.


Miller, M. D. (2019). How to make smart choices about tech for your course. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Suggested citation

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Instructional technologies. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from

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